Friday, 30 November 2012

The Royal Commission and the ACBC plenary

The Australian Catholic Bishop's Conference is meeting at the moment, as you can tell from the typical stream of press releases on topics that are shall we say, of at best marginal relevance to the central concerns of most Catholics in this country at the moment.

But ACBC has now put out a statement on the bureaucratic for the handling of the Royal Commission (on which I'll post separately), which is, I guess a step forward.  Sort of.

Yet what Catholics are surely really waiting to hear is not what committees and Councils are being set up to manage the process, but some evidence that the bishops have a real understanding of the underlying drivers of the problem, such as the failure of our seminaries, the collapse of any genuine commitment to morality, and the rejection of the virtue of obedience.  And we are waiting to hear about the processes that will be put in place to identify and deal with these issues.  Let's hope there is something still to come on this...

What really matters?

ACBC meetings are inevitably marked by a stream of press releases on predictable topics such as asylum seekers, people with disabilities or some other distinguishing feature seen as marginalizing them, and some heart-tugging story about the third world.

They are rarely if ever about things that actually matter to the travails of the Australian Catholic Church: how to deal with falling Mass attendance rates; the de facto rejection of most Catholic teaching by most Catholics; or the recovery of a richer ascetic, devotional and spiritual life in this country.

With the Royal Commission on child abuse about to start one might have thought this week would be different.

But alas no, the week has been marked by statements on the possibility of war in the Congo, sales pitches for Christmas from Caritas Australia and Catholic Mission Australia, and more of that ilk.

Sr Cunliffe and Bishop o'Kelly

The two attempts at active media management for the week have been a statement from Sr Annette Cunliffe, President of Catholic Religious Australia, the peak body for Religious Orders in this country, who attempted to distance herself from Cardinal Pell's media statements, and Bishop Greg O'Kelly, who claimed a distinction between the actions of evil individuals and the Church.

Neither media foray seemed to advance the cause much in my view.

Sr Annette's billing as one of only two women in the room at the ACBC meeting just served to highlight the lack of any real lay input to the Church's decision-making processes in this country.  And while hearing a different voice might be a media plus in the short-term, it surely won't be long before the media wake up to the fact that the religious orders have actually been considerably slower to respond effectively to the abuse crisis than even most dioceses!

Bishop O'Kelly's Pastoral Letter to his diocese of Port Pirie seems even more problematic in attempting to pre-empt some of the issues likely to be considered by the Commission, and denying the systematic nature of the cover-up:

"While not shrinking from a clear vision that must keep the victims at the 
forefront of our consideration, and not wishing to put image above other needs 
in compassion and justice, it remains true that among those being interviewed 
there are some who make false claims, such as the accusation that the 
Church prevents victims from going to the Police.   The opposite is true; 
victims are encouraged to go to the Police.[That is surely a matter of debate!  The issue is not the words that used, but the underlying incentives and pressures on victims.] There is also the use of the term “the Catholic Church”.  In various Reports broadcast on the media statements  are made that “the Catholic Church” shielded offenders, or “the Catholic Church” obscured Police investigations, etc.  It was not “the Catholic Church” who did that; it was certain very sadly misguided, quite erroneous individuals within the Church.  The Catholic Church is you and I, our families, those who sit in our congregations, those who taught us, and so on.[And not all of us are wholly innocent either!  How many refused to believe that Fr X could have done something like that?  How many parents failed to pursue the matter with the police?  How many whistleblowers got the support they deserved?]  They or we have not been obstructing Police, or preventing investigations."

We are the Church!

In fact one of the better pieces on the subject of the Royal Commission I've read so far is I think Angela Shanahan's piece in the Australian earlier this week (google it to access if you are not a subscriber to the Oz).

Bishop O'Kelly's message is, I guess meant to tell us to stick with being catholic despite the failings of those within the Church.  Fair enough.  But we can't reject the communal dimension to what happened, and the need for communal solutions to it.

While I don't agree with Ms Shanahan's analysis on the reasons for and timing of the Commission, she makes the crucial point that sins of this kind are not just individual, private matters, but rather affect the whole community:

"Consequently, the evil of child abuse and systemic cover-up is much more than a terrible crime. It is a terrible sin, and not simply a terrible personal sin. The evil of this crime is twofold. First, there are the consequences of sexual molestation for individual victims, which are spiritually and psychologically disastrous. Anyone can see that. Second, an even more serious thing, is the spiritual consequences for the church itself. This is a sin of scandal against the whole body of the church, the laity as well as the clergy. This is worse than a crime. It is a mortal sin against the church itself."

She makes the point that we, collectively, have to take responsibility for solving the problems.  I agree.

Unlike Ms Shanahan, I do think the Commission can help even as it hurts the Church.  It might, for example, lead to something of a much-needed clean out in the ranks.  It might lead to a bit of genuine humility.

But ultimately things won't fundamentally change unless we co-operate with this possible moment of grace, and work to make things happen.

At the moment the media is filled with a predictable mix of genuine concern for what happened, opportunistic attempts to use the crisis to advance longstanding liberal agendas, and outright anti-Catholic bigotry.

It is surely time for that small remnant of faithful Catholics in this country to consider how we can seize the day.


Martin S. said...

'Kristor' here has some very good prescriptions: (I think he is Anglo-Catholic?)

Martin S. said...

P.s. glad you're back, was starting to get withdrawal symptoms.

Kate Edwards said...

Thanks - but my return seems to have been a little premature health-wise. And then my internet connection went dead for 48 hours due to some problem with the ISP link...