Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Child abuse responses: too little, too late?

Two of Australia's largest dioceses, Sydney and Melbourne, have put out responses on child abuse this week designed, I suppose to try and neutralize the issue.

But neither, I think, is likely to have the slightest bit of impact in the face of continuing stream of stories that seem to contradict their claims.

There is a basic principle of media management they appear not to have taken on board: if you want to get in front of bad publicity, acting with too little too, too late will not work.

Sydney vs Melbourne

The Melbourne Response is yet another apology, and warning to Church goers that they aren't going to like what they hear coming out of the State parliament Inquiry going on down there!  The only new (and welcome) feature is that Catholic Religious Australia have joined in signing the letter to the Parliamentary Inquiry.

The Sydney response takes the form of a quite well argued and written pamphlet that sets out what the diocese's procedures for handling cases actually are and attempts to do some 'myth-busting'. 

The problem of course, is that it stands in immediate contrast with the allegations about how such cases have actually been dealt with in the past highlighted by the recent Four Corners show.

Now it is true of course that those events don't relate to the Sydney Archdiocese, happened a couple of decades ago, and that as the Cardinal has pointed out, he doesn't control what other dioceses do. 

But the problem is that the priests concerned still hold senior positions (including in the Sydney Archdiocese and ACBC) and have not been stood aside from those positions in response to the latest allegations.

Indeed, the immediate former President of the ACBC, Archbishop Wilson of Adelaide seems to be standing in danger of being charged with cover up in the near future!

And the bottom line is that if the Cardinal doesn't want to take responsibility for what other dioceses do, perhaps he shouldn't answer questions on behalf of them on shows like Four Corners!

How to really tackle the issue?

I've argued before that if the Church really wants to get in front of this issue in the media (and I think it should, in the interests of ordinary Catholics apart from anyone else) it needs to put out a really comprehensive response that goes beyond words of apology and assurances that it is all fixed now no none believes.

Now ideally that should happen on an Australian wide basis.  But if the bishops can't get their act together collectively, action on the part of individual dioceses would be better than nothing.

What do they need to do?  Well the stages of the sacrament of reconciliation provide, I think, a good guide.

The Church needs, I think, to be upfront about the real size of the problem it has had in the past and put out some hard statistics on the subject (confess in number and kind). 

It needs to undertake a new outreach to victims and see what more can be done to prevent the suicides and loss of faith amongst them (reparation). 

It needs to take action to address the root causes of immorality in the Church, in the abandonment of traditional doctrine and perpetuation of bad, self-indulgent narcissistic liturgy on the part of some priests to minimse the chances of it happening again. 

And our bishops, priests, religious need to do some public penance. 

For only then can the Church hope to obtain absolution...


Hardman Window said...

The Church does not need absolution from society or even the victioms of abuse by individual persons.

And the problem of abuse by individuals existed before the liturgical reforms, so you shouldn't blame it on "narcissistic" liturgy, as undesireable as it may be.

And, in connection lewith your recent post on Bishop Wright and Maitland -Newcastle, please remember that Dioceses have to have Finance Councils to help them in matters related to the money of the diocese. These include expert lay people.

Please resist the temptation to become anti-clerical.

Anonymous said...

"It needs to undertake a new outreach to victims and see what more can be done to prevent the suicides and loss of faith amongst them (reparation)."

How is this to be done? It's far too general a recommendation.

I've got an idea of what the basic problem is here - the concept of the angel-priest, which obviously cannot stand up to the sad reality of fallen human nature, and in these cases, because of the abuse, has shattered basic, but false, assumptions of the victims. There world then collapses around them, leading to tragic results.

+ Wolsey

Kate Edwards said...

Hardman Window - I'm not suggesting that the hierarchy literally need the absolution of society or victims; rather to regain the trust of its ordinary members.

And I don't think a hand-picked inner circle is a good substitute for genuine accountability.

And Wolsey - my previous posts do make some concrete suggestions on this, such as tasking one of the vibrant new groups such as the Franciscans of the Renewal or the MGLs to take on the task. Seems to me a monastery dedicated to pray for victims and offering free retreats for them and their families might be a good start. But the concrete details of what might be done requires some expert advice to be obtained.

Anonymous said...

Kate -

Please correct the spelling mistake in my above post. "There" should, of course, be "their", in the last sentence.

+ Wolsey

Anonymous said...


I think the monastery idea is a good one, but I don't think victims will be disposed to go on retreats.

Any idea of the location, etc.?

+ Wolsey

Kate Edwards said...

It is an entirely theoretical proposal Wolsey, which would depend on the bishops finding a group willing to understake the taks and supporting them in doing it. But there are lots of unused old convents around just waiting to be sold to fulfill assorted 'needs' of the Church, so I'm sure if they really wanted to do it, something suitable could be found!

In an ideal world perhaps a location like Newcastle would be ideal, but somehow I can't see Bishop Wright being a fan of the concept...