Friday, 22 November 2013

Breaking up the club: can we really do anything about the Church's response to the abuse crisis?

Francis Sullivan, CEO of the Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council, put out a press release a day or two back calling on all Catholics to take responsibility for how the Church responds to the abuse crisis.

I have to say that ever since I saw his twitter post on this I've been quietly seething, for it seems to me to be oblivious of the realities of how the Church in Australia (and pretty much everywhere else in the West) actually works.

Because the reality, in my view, is that the laity - aside from a middle class club of church bureaucrats and the inner circle friends of the episcopacy - have little or no capacity to influence anything at all about the way the Church is run.

That's one of the reasons why there is so much passive resistance around, in the form of failure to attend Mass and more.

Sullivan on lay co-responsibility

Mr Sullivan argues that though we can't be blamed for the abuse itself:

"We are responsible for how we respond to the victims, how we deal with the perpetrators, how we get reform and cultural change, and how we talk about sexual abuse in the Church with our friends, our families, our colleagues."

Well, at the margin perhaps.

But the reality is that there are absolutely no mechanisms in place for the laity to have much effect on any of these fronts, and every reason for the laity to want to stay well away from any active engagement in this area.

The clericalist club

Consider the evidence.

There have been several apologies to victims, and, as a result of pressure from the Victorian and other inquiries, some constructive engagement at last on changing the Church's approach to handling child sex abuses cases.

But where are the apologies and compensation for whistleblower teachers, priests and others, many of whom lost their jobs or were otherwise marginalised?

Where is the internal action against those bishops (such as Bishop Mulkearns of Ballarat) and other senior clergy who aided and abetted the mishandling and coverup of these cases?

And how can the Church defend itself against attacks on the seal of the confessional and other matters effectively, when every time they speak up, dirty linen on this subject can be brought out to discredit them, as happened with Archbishop Hart on Lateline last week last week with this exchange:

EMMA ALBERICI: And do you believe that you yourself at times acted in a way that was inconsistent with the teachings of the Church?

DENIS HART: I've always tried to act in accordance with the teachings of the Church and I believe that my record as Archbishop stands by that.

EMMA ALBERICI: Even when you told a woman who'd been sexually abused by a priest, when you told that woman back in 2004 to - and I'm quoting the court record here - "Go to hell, bitch"?

DENIS HART: That was an unfortunate comment, one which I've regretted long since. I think it was in a moment of frustration when my house had been intruded and I've regretted it ever since and I do apologise.

So what needs to happen?

1.  Clean out the hierarchy

If the Church really wants to regain credibility on the abuse scandal, the first step has to be a clearing out of those in positions of power who have propped the system up.  Those bishops who supported a system that meant that cases were not reported to the police; those clergy who worked to tidy things up under the carpet, and more have to go.

2.  Action, not just words

And for those who remain, more than words are needed.  I agree with those who suggest that some public penance might be appropriate, though whether this particular suggestion is the right one (or enough!) I'm not sure:

I wonder if it's practicable for church leaders to prostrate themselves for half an hour before Mass as public penance for their failures.

3.  Recover the Church's moral teachings!

But the more fundamental problem is that the child sex abuse scandal cannot just be treated as one isolated problem.  Rather it needs to be seen just as one manifestation of that peculiarly post-V2 version of clericalism that says priests can do anything they want, regardless of Church law or teaching.

The Church needs to recover, first of all, the idea that celibacy for the sake of the kingdom is an objectively higher state of life, and insist that priestly celibacy is a much needed witness in the face of the pornification of our culture.

Flowing from that, it needs to insist that priests live up to their promise of celibacy.  The reality is that pretty much any sexual relationship involving a priest, homosexual or heterosexual is not just a serious sin, not just something that undermines his ministry, but almost invariably involves imbalances of power and pressures for further sins to cover up what is going on.

And they need to preach on these subjects, to insist that those who don't follow the Church's teaching cannot receive communion.

4.  Stop acting like a club and find ways of genuinely engaging people

The biggest problem of all though, are the governance processes of the Church, such as they are.

There have been a number of posts in various places recently about how to engage Catholics more effectively, and turn them into 'disciples'.  A classic of the genre is Daniel Ang's piece arguing that 'consumerism' has infected us all so that people look at the Church for what they can get out of it, rather than what they can give to it.

Maybe there is something in the argument (though I'm not sure why an attractive church is such a big ask!), but I think the far bigger problem is that most parishes act like clubs that far from welcoming newcomers, actively repel them.

There was a rather sad piece from a US Catholic blogger a while back, telling about how after a brief period of being actively engaged in a parish she is back to being a 'roaming catholic' wandering from parish to parish in search of one she can actually engage in as a single person.  It is a common problem.

5.  Transparency and accountability

The best way of opening parishes and dioceses up it seems to me, is by engaging in some genuine transparency and accountability.

But the hard reality is that these are not concepts that have penetrated very far into the Church as yet.

Most parishes barely have a website, let alone one that actually provides useful accountability information.

Indeed, few if any dioceses make much of the information they give to the Vatican publicly available in advance of it appearing in the Yearbook.


Rob Roseworne said...

The Church Has not changed in spite of Spin.

Since the first accusations against Catholic Clergy and employees surfaced in Australia many moons ago, a common thread has been voiced by Victims, being that at the time of the abuse they were not listened to. If any had the strength at the time are thereafter to speak out, again their cries fell upon deaf ears.

The most effective way of stopping accusations of Clergy Abuse is to silence the Accusers. Unfortunately the accusers were also the victims.

May have suffered as a result of the abuse which is not limited to the Victims themselves. Their families, spouses, children and friends have been scarred by this blight on the church. This is oft referred to as “vicarious injury” and can lead to suicides and often marriage failures with the damage passing on to a later generation of children.

A question often asked is why does it take years to speak out.

The very general answer to this is that the memories of those abusive actions that cause the least or manageable amount of damage when they are intentionally compartmented, which is very simply put in a box and victims try to forget. The important word is “try” as through not dealing with the trauma, a victim may trigger feelings when something simple in the present, a smell, a shirt colour or a location, provokes memories of the past.

Everyone has these triggers, and for most, thankfully, this is of good and fun memories. However for the Victims of a trauma, any trauma, these memories may provoke painful feelings that are debilitating. As they are never fully processed, they will sooner or later rise to the surface like a boil.

In our society there are groups that deal with Traumas as part of their occupations. Military, Fire and Police. They have training in how to process these feelings, often before these events occur and there is support after the events.

As regards Traumas sustained as a child, the events and feelings need to be processed with a child’s mind. An immature mind that should be concerned about whether the sand in the sand pit is dry, not trying to process why a sexual predator was violating their personal space and why the predator is doing exactly what the child had been warned about from strangers.

In a child’s mind, trust is something that is natural. They are born trusting. This is reinforced by Parents who tell children who they should trust. This knowledge of who to trust has been determined by the Parents through their own life experiences and also the social mores of the relevant cultures.

Priests, politicians, police, doctors, teachers and sport coaches are assumed to fall into those categories above risk.

Unfortunately a couple of sections come into question when Catholic abuse is considered. I personally was taught to tell the teacher when I had concerns. I did not have to clarify if they were a good or bad teacher as by virtue of their position in the school and society, that appropriate checks had been done. This same concept of being able to Trust without clarification extended to Priests and Religious ( Brothers and Nuns).

The pain of having that trust abused, the physical and psychological damage of the Betrayal goes far beyond the actual event of the abuse. The questions that evolve from that betrayal are often as difficult to deal with as the actual abuse.

• Why was I targeted?
• Why was I not listened to?
• Why did my parents and others not believe me?
• Why was I told I was at fault? Just a naughty boy.
• Why should I trust anyone again?
• Why did God let this happen?
• Were their other victims?

Rob Roseworne said...

The Church Has not changed in spite of Spin. (Part 2)

For a lot of victims / survivors the ability to process these questions, even in later life, is suspended in time and will always be viewed from a child eye.

Survivors have tried since the first accusations were made to get the Church to hear their cries, with varying degrees of success. This inability of the survivors to be listed to is unfortunately consistent with the experiences of most of the Churches in Australia where abuse has raised its ugly head.

The approach until the Australian Community said “enough is enough” and a number of Commissions have been established was to apply a strategy first noted as being used in the Catholic Church in the United States whereby a strategy of “Deny, Deny, Delegate, Deny and finally blame predecessors” proved to defray responsibility.

Finally through the concerted efforts of a number of Media persons including our own Joanne McCarthy, the individuals at the top of the Food Pile are being asked questions that they are finding difficult to answer and their actions and responses are showing that whilst there is a Public Face saying that the Church is changing for the better, the statements from the high ranking individuals are au contraire.

Lateline ABC 13 November 2013 (Emma Alberici and Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart)

EMMA ALBERICI: And do you believe that you yourself at times acted in a way that was inconsistent with the teachings of the Church?

DENIS HART: I've always tried to act in accordance with the teachings of the Church and I believe that my record as Archbishop stands by that.

EMMA ALBERICI: Even when you told a woman who'd been sexually abused by a priest, when you told that woman back in 2004 to - and I'm quoting the court record here - "Go to hell, bitch"?

DENIS HART: That was an unfortunate comment, one which I've regretted long since. I think it was in a moment of frustration when my house had been intruded and I've regretted it ever since and I do apologise.

Christian Brothers Head Br Julian McDonald (regarding Australia’s Worst Paedophile Br Robert Best et al)

In his submission to the inquiry, Br McDonald gave evidence on the situation at Ballarat's St Alipius primary school where four staff members were convicted of sexual offences, which he said was a coincidence.
"I have no explanation for that... it is certainly an accident of history," Br McDonald said of the men, including Brother Robert Best and Brother Edward Dowlan.
Victorian Betrayal of Trust Inquiry of Catholic Church Media Spokeman Fr Shane McKinlay
Father Shane McKinlay stated that clergy sexual abuse coincided with the social and moral collapse of the 1960s and '70s, including an attempt to lower the age of consent to 12, Mr McGuire said: "Is the church going to try to blame society?"

Notwithstanding the public goofs from Archbishop Denis Hart, Cardinal George Pell, Bishop Michael Malone and the current public front for the Church Fr Shane McKinlay, the Church has publicised through the Catholic Truth Justice and Healing Council head Francis Sullivan that the church is ready to confront the issues of the past head on for the good of the church.

Rob Roseworne said...

The Church Has not changed in spite of Spin. (Part 3)

They (The Church hierarchy) recognise and acknowledge the devastating harm caused by child sexual abuse, and demonstrate that Church leaders are committed to helping repair the wrongs of the past, listening to and hearing victims and survivors, putting victims' needs first, and doing everything possible to ensure a safer future for children.” ABC Religion and Ethics 12 October 2013 by Francis Sullivan.

In the recent experience of the writer of this article,it has become apparent that whilst the Church indicates the Church wants to be more understanding of victims, as voiced by Francis Sullivan, it appears that Mr Francis Sullivan personally is not prepared to listen to the Victims.

Mr Sullivan has been placed to assist the Catholic Church in the determination of how to deal with the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Abuse. It is of particular interest that whilst survivors have been advising the Church that a revision of the Towards Healing and Melbourne Response was needed, which was denied by messers Hart and Pell, and in spite of reviews and recommendations from their own advisor Prof Patrick Parkinson, it was not until a Royal Commission was set up that the Church agreed a review was needed.

Note that the council is to assist with the dealings with the royal commission not assisting with dealing with historical Child abuse.

Personally in the last four weeks I have contacted the office of the Catholic Truth Justice and Healing Council and have spoken to a lovely lady called Fran. I have asked Mr Sullivan to spare some time so I can show him the Investigation report done by a Private Investigator, Norm Maroney, which contains damming evidence against a high ranking Education Official who had knowledge of abuse in the 70’s and 8o’s and chose not to tell police and also documented threats from a Towards Healing Staff member.

First phone call was early in November without reply. Second phone call was 11 November without reply and again 21 November and I do not expect to receive a reply. Again the accuser is denied the right to speak to a person that might make a difference.

Nothing has changed, sorry Mr Sullivan, you may have started out with grand ideals to change and save the church, but your actions are not going to save the church but will save the careers of Messers Hart and Pell for now.

The talk is lovely but must be accompanied by the way or else it is just spin.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew West Wyalong NSW said...

Thanks Kate for making us think deeply, and long about these matters. I was ready to make a comment eighteen hours ago, but what I would have said then may have been interpreted as whinging.
What I would like to be heard now is a constructive critique of what I feel is the connection between clericalism and laicism.
You touched on the connection briefly in your post when you talked about inner circles and friends of the episcopacy.
But somehow, I do think the connection is broader and more pervasive than that.
I've always been a critic of the membership of the TJHC - no ordinary parish priests and no ordinary parishioners, the ones who keep their heads down and are ever faithful.
And I'm alarmed at the directions Francis Sullivan is trying to foist on the Church with his attacks on clericalism but never the same for the equally dangerous laicism.
Clericalism and laicism feed off each other and just as every priest must examine his conscience often about clericalism, just so must every lay member of the Church examine their hearts for traces and influences of laicism.
The recovery of integrity for the Church and its Christ given Mission will be slow and only achieved gradually. I don't think I'll see it in my lifetime and I'm in my sixth decade now.
The recovery needs some 'kick-starts' such as public rituals of repentance by bishops and priests and engagement with the wider community to continue to hear their disgust - public pillory in the stocks type of stuff.
What we don't need is the 'slickness' of get-even strategies the likes of which are being promoted by Francis Sullivan when he fails to discuss laicism alongside clericalism.
The recovery is already under way through the dedication of good priests, religious and laity who have always held onto the faith and practices of the Church through thick and thin, especially during the past forty years of turmoil.

Kate Edwards said...

Rob - I agree that the evidence of change is not nearly as convincing as the spin that claims it!

In theory I actually do think it is possible for some of the bishops to recover their positions by engaging in some imitation of Pope Francis style abasement and outreach. But I just don't see it happening in practice.

One keeps hearing mutterings about the poor handling of current cases. And the continuing refusal to reach out to victims and families personally, combined with the gaffs and flippancy by the bishops, including at the hearings of the Victorian Inquiry, are disturbing in my view.

Fr Mac - I agree that there are competing version of what constitutes clericalism around. The version I'm objecting to is the failure of the clergy to actually live out visibly their distinctive vocation, and the clericalisation of the laity that is the form of laicism that I agree is extremely dangerous.

I've said more on this subject previously, but I will try and post more in due course!

A Canberra Observer said...

Fr Mick says something I think too - "public rituals of repentence by the bishops"

Last weekend I hear the bishops' 'commitment statement' read out at Mass. It was better than the arrogant statement to the Royal Commission in November 2012 but it still had this shape shifting theme - leaders morphed to 'the Church' - subtext - collective (vicarious) guilt and thereby individual (episcopal) absolution from responsibility. It did say there would be attempts to redress wrongs but it did not include that there would be penance. It was obviously distessing for the good priest who had to read this out, and he was very frank about how utterly damaging this whole scandal has been to the credibility of the Church.
And while this goes on, the episcopate is apparently incapable of mounting any sort of opposition to the wave of psuedogamy and other social/moral abominations. In some cases I suspect it is because they are not even sure they disagree with the push to 'marriage equality'.

Anonymous said...

The abuse of children sexually is just one of the various forms of abuse which exists in the Church.

The common thread to all the manifestations of abuse is disempowerment of those who dare to complain and the all-pervading, self-protecting "Club".

R J said...

I am sure that most people will be as astonished as I was to notice that the following Age article by Mrs Mary Helen Woods (daughter of B.A. Santamaria) bears the date 2002. Yes, that's right, 2002, not 2013:

Did a single powerbroker in OzChurch bother to read this cri de coeur from a faithful Catholic at the time it was printed? Or at any point in the last 11 years? Every line of it could have been published yesterday. Plus ça change ...

GOR said...

Re: Public penance by the hierarchy.

I am not persuaded that this would be helpful or convincing.

In 2002 the recently resigned and disgraced Archbishop Weakland held a ‘penance’ service in Milwaukee. Many of us at the time were not convinced of his sincerity - deeming it a “made for TV” moment. His subsequent self-referential and exculpatory writings bore this out.

Your Option #1 Kate, seems to be the only solution. In the US and Ireland a few bishops did resign after the Scandal. For some it was in genuine remorse for their actions, or lack thereof, for others it was due to their public disgrace. The former is preferable.

What has been lacking in the Universal Church’s dealings in this matter is the lack of consequence for bishops and others in the hierarchy who facilitated or refused to act on the incidents of abuse. The Dallas Charter piously threw priests under the bus, but - much like the US Congress - they made laws for others but exempted themselves.

Granted, only the Pope can remove bishops, but they have been singularly reticent to exercise that authority. Given the ‘non-judgmental’ attitude of Pope Francis, I don’t see that changing.

A Canberra Observer said...

GOR - I agree that a 'penance service' may be just hot air but what I had in mind would leave no doubt that the material effects at the time were corporally penitential.

A barefoot pilgrimage, a many houred vigil upon their knees, perhaps over several days/weeks a witnessed fast of bread and water.