Monday, 24 May 2010

Do the bishops really understand why the laity are concerned about the abuse crisis?

Archbishop Coleridge of Canberra-Goulburn has issued a Pastoral Letter on the abuse crisis (see the post below).  

The Archbishop's letter

It largely takes the form of a personal history of the development of his understanding of the issue, though skipping lightly past (for perhaps obvious reasons) the internal debate within the Vatican during his period in the Secretariat of State (ie under Cardinal Sodano, one of those who apparently worked to block the Marciel investigation inter alia, and opposed the then Cardinal Ratzinger's more systematic view of the crisis) in the Vatican (1998-2001), though he does make an allusion to the American bishops' attempt to persuade the then Pope of the seriousness of the problem during his brief period as a chaplain to Pope John Paul II (in the first half of 2002). 

He makes some good points on the causes of the problem, and perhaps helps us understand a little more just why so many bishops didn't take the problem seriously enough and treat victims with greater sensitivity early enough (though I have to say, some of it still leaves me puzzled when I line it up against my own experiences, and what was happening in wider society through this period).

But do they get it now?

Unfortunately though, the Letter ends by largely dismissing the concerns of those who remain unsatisfied with the way abuse cases are being handled in Australia, and lamenting the consequent views about the impact on the credibility of our bishops. 

Some of the recent cases that have come to light, and the continuing lack of transparency, make many of us less than convinced that the lessons have been truly learnt, and in the end the letter is unsatisfying to me at least on this point.

The Archbishop talks, for example, about listening to the abused and the responsibility to assist them.  That's all good and true. 

But the issue goes well beyond that, to accountability to the laity as a whole.  The problem of clericalism to which the Archbishop alludes goes also to the sense of just who is entitled to know the extent of the problem, and to know about just how well it is being managed at the system-wide level.

Towards Healing does not go far enough

The Towards Healing document to which the bishops constantly point by way of defense is largely about handling individual cases of abuse. 

Towards Healing contains only three paragraphs about prevention and it is true that there are now much stricter procedures in place for those who work with children, and around prevention.  But the problem is that, as far as I have been able to discover, there is no reporting back to the wider Catholic community on how these procedures are operating; no accounting on just what changes have been made to training for the priesthood, or more importantly, updated retraining for those already priests; no regular reporting that is made public; no auditing of the adequacy of procedures.

And although the Letter talks about the 'cultural' dimensions of the issue, and the sin vs crime debate within the Church, it largely ignores the debate on the administrative structures at diocesan and bishops' Conference level, and in the Holy See, that have contributed to the poor handling of the issue. 

The Archbishop also makes no direct reference whatsoever to Pope Benedict XVI's role in tackling the issue, the action he has taken, or his various comments on the crisis. That's a shame (particularly the failure to consider the applicability to Canberra or Australia of some of the systematic actions he has asked to be taken in Ireland) because I think there are some good points that could have been made.

Reinstating moral theology

The Archbishop muses that in some ways society at large might be responsible for the abuse crisis.  I think that is true.

But that's why the Church is supposed to be 'in the world not of it' - in fact the very meaning of the term that the Archbishop puzzles over.

I think the real failing of the Church here has been the failure to stand up and fight the culture of instant gratification, sexual and otherwise, that has become the norm in our society.  The failure of priests to believe and teach the Church's moral doctrines on topics like sex outside of marriage, homosexuality and contraception: to persuade, rebuke and entreat the laity follow those teachings.

The rejection of the value of asceticism.

And the problem of clericalism as discussed by the Archbishop remains largely unchecked, constantly reinforced by the liturgy.  The new missal will go some way to addressing this.  But more is needed, including a push to return to ad orientem worship, so that the priest faces the same way as the congregation, not standing at the centre of their gaze; including a return to the use of chant and a banning of unorthodox folk pseudo-hymns; and including encouragement of the proper and regular celebration of the sacraments (it's worth noting, for example, that Canberra's Cathedral offers confession for the grand total of half an hour one evening during the week and an hour on Saturday morning).

Until a more consistent renewal occurs, including of processes, accountability, devotional practices and adherence to doctrine, child abuse will continue inside and outside the Church, even if hopefully less frequently by priests.

The real lesson of the crisis is surely that this is not just a problem of a few flawed individuals whose problems were not adequately recognized, or just a problem of a lack of adequate sympathy for the victims.  Both those things were and are certainly issues.

But in my view, the real problem is much bigger than the current child abuse crisis, and it needs to be treated as such.


gmck9431 said...

I agree; keep it up. God Bless!

Felix said...

The response virtually amounts to a statement that it was impossible to have done anything about it, given our ignorance at the time, but that we're working on it now.

He seems to see it as a managerial problem, rather than to be rocked how this could exist in Christ's Church and how this measure up to Christ's words about millstones.

As a trad, I note that he doesn't acknowledge the collapse in ascetical and doctrinal teaching after Vatican II.

I also note that he avoids mentioning the Pope's injunction that homosexuals should not be ordained. Given that such abuse seems mainly aimed at boys, this issue is surely relevant.

The opening comments about indigenous issues seem indicative of his outlook.

The treatment of indigenous people was mixed: outright murder, misguided paternalism, and actions that remain defensible. But the sexual abuse of minors is simply wrong.

Terra said...

Agreed Felix.

Could it all have been avoided, been handled better? Of course it could (and undoubtedly was handled in some dioceses better than others).

And even if you do take up his analogy with the Indigenous issue (which I really really really have a problem with on so many levels), Rudd did not just apologise. He also threw a lot of money and policy effort at the problem, and committed to annual reporting to the Parliament on progress.

When an administration fails, no one would just stand and accept it when they say its all ok now.

Schütz said...

Many of your comments and criticisms seem justified, Terra. I would simply add that I don't think the Archbishop was speaking for anyone but himself, and that (in his interview on the ABC) he was aware that he had already written more than he intended to, and that he couldn't cover everything. I still think it a helpful document, though. It would take a lot to try to say all that needed to be said, and to say it in a way that would meet with 100% approval. I applaud him for even addressing the issue.