Tuesday, 10 July 2012

When will they get it?

I heard one of those sermons on Sunday that would, I imagine, have enraged the victims of clerical abuse, just as Bishop Porteous' offer of prayers for victims at Mass at St Mary's Cathedral last Sunday apparently did.

I actually do support Bishop Porteous' initiative - acknowledgement of the issue and prayers are always a positive thing.

But I can see where the victims are coming from: in the absence of anything else, it does indeed just look like a relatively costless gesture with no real substance behind it.

Inadequate responses

Where, for example, is the apology for his failure to refer the matter to the police or investigate further from the then bishop of Armidale Bishop Kevin Manning, who is still Apostolic Administrator of Wilcannia-Forbes diocese?

Or from any of the other bishops of the time (those that are still alive that is) involved in shuffling Fr F and other guilty priests between dioceses?

Or from Cardinal Pell, who instead of passing a complaint to the right diocese (and the police) for action, is claimed to have responded to a victim by saying not my jurisdiction, go to the police?

Or for that matter, from any of the three priests who interviewed 'Fr F' back in 1992?

Where are the commitments to public penance by all those involved (including Fr F)?

Where is the official explanation of what would be done differently today?

Where is the explanation of what outreach (if any) has been offered to the victims of Fr F in the light of all of this coming up in the media and stirring up old, bad memories?

The bottom line is that the media management of the abuse issue in Australia continues to be pathetically poor in too many instances.

Tell the bishop!

The sermon I heard on Sunday was a classic example of the under-reaction that seems to characterise the Church on this issue.  The sermon was a list of nine ways in which we can be complicit in the sins of others. 

And yes, it did manage to mention the Four Corners program (the priest had belatedly watched it the night before).  But no more than a mention, on the grounds that priest 'didn't want to scandalize us'.  Far, far too late Father - most of us (though apparently not FSSP priests) do, after all, read the newspapers and watch tv news!

Worse, the advice, should we become aware of such cases was to 'tell the bishop', and 'if appropriate' the police.

Right. Because that worked so well for many of the victims.

And priests wonder why Catholics continue to be angry....

The stories keep coming

The Four Corners story has not, of course, been the only Catholic linked abuse case running this week in the media.  Nor will it be the last, either in this country or around the world.

Nor is the Church the only institution under attack at the moment for its handling of such cases - consider for example, the case of the Navy.  It too is facing the possibility of a Royal Commission.

Personally I'm not that keen on the idea of a Royal Commission - in Ireland, the Inquiry held there, far from leading to healing, seems instead to have unleashed a stream of anti-catholic legislation and other reaction, including an attack of the seal of the confessional, and now a proposal to legalise abortion.

But the Church really does need to get in front of the handling of these cases, and fast.

Already the usual suspects, such as Ms Horin are backing beating the anti-Catholic drum and blaming priestly celibacy as the cause of all evils, even while acknowledging that pretty much all religions and denominations have been affected by the issue...

What can and should be done

So here are some concrete suggestions on things that can and should be done in order to look like it is taking the issue seriously.

1.  Have all of those alleged to have failed to act on accusations relating to Fr F - Bishop Manning, and Frs Lucas, Peters and Usher - stand aside from their current positions until the investigations by police and that set up by the Bishop of Armidale are complete.

2.  Commission one of the young, vibrant religious orders that still have some credibility (the MGLs or the Franciscans of the Immaculate for example) to set up some fresh, genuine outreach to all of victims of F and others currently in the media, whether cases have gone to court yet or not.

3.  Set up an independent, well resourced review of the handling of all abuse cases in Australia, with a view to identifying cases where the action taken so far looks inadequate in the light of current standards, identifying responsibility, and making recommendations on changing procedures where necessary.

4.  Instigate a process of public penance (such as fasting) and prayer, individualland collectively, across the Church so that all can acknowledge their guilt and/or help make reparation.

And that includes the bishops and church bureaucrats who shuffled the guilty from parish to parish; all those who failed to uphold the churches teachings on morality; the psychologists and others who offered false hope that the guilty could be 'cured'; the parishioners and others in positions of power who refused that father could be guilty and so protected him; and the parents who failed to go to the police.

 5.  Put in place a concrete program of reform that addresses the root causes of abuse, as I suggested in a previous post - a program that seeks to restore the value of asceticism, reasserts the churches traditional teaching on morality, and makes a genuine commitment to greater transparency and accountability.


Felix said...

The terrible thing is that ecclesiastics have not changed. They're still trying to wriggle their way out of any responsibility.

And I'm saddened that Cardinal Pell has reportedly jointed in. Apparently he's said that, as the erring priest didn't name his victims, other priests had no duty to do anything about it.

Given such legalistic tricks, it's time for the secular authorities to take up the matter.

Yes, in the short term such action will probably damage to souls.

But some such action has to happen to restore the Church's leadership to its senses.

Anonymous said...

I believe what the priest said was that he did not want to scandalise the CHILDREN in the congregation, so he skated over it and I am glad he did. The list of nine ways in which we incur the guilt of other people's sins was a corker! I do not recall ever hearing this in a sermon before. I copied the list out of a book some time ago and frequently remind myself of it.

Peter said...

Yes it's always possible for us to increase our efforts and do better in this or in any other matter.

But come on now, the Catholic Church, for the past 15 years at least, has been setting the world's best practice in this area. She is doing far more to combat abuse among her employees than any other organisation in the world. And yet she cops the lion's share of the criticism by the secular mass media! And you seem to be joing in their chorus.

Yes of course we must hold the Church's leaders to a higher standard than we hold the leaders of countries, secular organisations, other religions and organisations such as the Boy Scouts. And we shouldn't be surprised that the secular media holds them to a higher standrad too, if only for the purpose of attacking the Church's doctrines. But these double standrads are just not fair. iN THE VAST MAJORITY OF CASES, THE ACTIONS OF cATHOLIC cHURCHMEN WHO LEARNED OF ALLEGATIONS OF ABUSE WERE PERFECTLY REASONABLE UNDER THE CIRCUMSTAMCES.

Anonymous said...

Apart from the obvious concerns we all have for the victims of Father F, I hope we can all spare a prayer for Bishop Michael Kennedy as well. He is very young for a bishop and has only 5 or 6 months experience in the job. All these allegations happened long before he became Bishop of Armidale, but he is being left to pick up the pieces or hold the baby, to coin a phrase, because of the errors of previous bishops of Armidale. Please pray that God will guide him to deal with this matter in the correct way.

Kate Edwards said...

Anon - Have to say I didn't hear the reference to children, but I'm certainly not suggesting it should have got down into the gory details. And I too quite liked the actual list. But having mentioned it, just a little more, with an acknowledgment that a large part of the scandal is that going to one's bishop did not result in appropriate action would have been good...

Kate Edwards said...

Anons - Please give yourself an identifying moniker.

Peter - World's best practice?! Appropriate action taken, when even very recently some of these priests were (and probably still are) in ministry? When inaction is still the cause of some recent bishop resignations? When some bishops are still spouting rationalisations for past inaction?

If this constitutes 'world best practice' then the world is stuffed (well yes it might be). But please, provide some evidence for this astonishing claim!

Fr Adrian-John said...

A Royal Commission in Ireland?

Kate Edwards said...

Father - The Irish Inquiry obviously wasn't a royal commission, but it was arguably the equivalent thereof...

Anonymous said...

How's this for a start:


Here's another (from the SSPX):


Obviously, with regard to the latter link, if priests are less likely to abuse than anyone else, the church must somehow be engaging in "best practice" mustn't it?

The double standards of those who ignore these ideologically uncomfortable realities ARE starting to cloy ...

+ Wolsey

Kate Edwards said...

Neither really goes to the argumetn Cardinal.

The first merely asserts that the Irish Church is handling things better than previously. Well, they could hardly do worse could they!

And the second goes to prevalence not how cases are handled, which is the fundamental issue at stake.

Anonymous said...


Yes, the world is stuffed. It's because of original sin. Even with your plan, you will never stop child abuse - ex hypothesi, it does not qualify as "best practice", either. All that can be done is, absent absolute perfection in the prevention of child abuse even when the most reasonable provisions of civil or canon law are in place as preventative measures, detection and punishment of perpetrators. And both canon and civil law are capable of that as they stand. In fact, arguably, canon law is superior, operating in an inquisitorial, not advesarial forensic context. These existing laws were not applied, as the report makes clear.

Guess what was responsible for that??

The spirit of a certain council.

+ Wolsey

P.S. Hetty Johnston, by her own admission, for her senate run accepted a donation from the (adult) pornography industry.

It's trite that pornography exploits women. I hope that when she accepted the donation, the inconsistency of her position was not apparent to her.

Peter said...

Yes indeed the Catholic Church, for the past 15 years at least, has been setting the world's best practice in this area.

Can you name even one other organisation (religious, secular, government or corporate) which has anything resembling in quality and quantity the "Towards Healing" program in the Catholic church in Australia and its equivalents in other countries around the world, to allow victims and alleged victims to gain healing and justice even where the claims are dubious or the victims do not wish to take their claims to the police or where teh police decline to prosecute or even where the alleged abuser has been acquitted?

Can you name even one other organisation which has such a comprehensive system of vetting its employees and volunteers to exclude as far as humanly possible potential abusers?

Can you name even one other organisation which has made such strenuous efforts at self-examination, at reform of its procedures and at compensating and caring for victims and alleged victims? I certainly don't know of any such organisation besides the Catholic Church.

Many of your suggestions for further action by the Church are good ones. But please drop the false implication that the Church's efforts so far in this area have been poor compared to other organisations, governments etc.

Kate Edwards said...

Peter - The test for whether something is 'promising', 'good', or 'best' practice is whether it shows signs of working. It is about outcomes.

And a process that leaves people feeling like they didn't get justice, because the perpetrator isn't part of these processes, and in many cases continues to enjoy the protection of anonymity, does not achieve this.

A process that leaves the victims still psychologically disturbed enough to take their own lives in a significant number of cases is not good enough.

And process that leaves the victims alienated from the Church is not even promising practice as far as I am concerned.