Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Canberra-Goulburn update: positive steps

Apologies for the quietness, I've been ill and preoccupied with other things.

But I thought I should provide an update on the situation in the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese that I have previously reported on, particularly as they represent a welcome step forward.

In short, the Archbishop has commissioned an outside review of what occurred, and committed to making it (and the response) public.  Bravo!
Re. Independent Review following decisions about residential arrangements at Lanigan House
Mistakes have been made and I accept full responsibility for my poor judgement in deciding to place Fr Brian Hassett, a retired priest removed from ministry due to allegations of abuse, at Lanigan House in Garran.
I sincerely apologise for the hurt and pain that my decision has caused across the Canberra community over the past fortnight.
Last night, 16 March, I attended a meeting of parents, families and staff at Saints Peter and Paul primary school, Garran. Questions were asked, concerns raised and mistakes highlighted.
As a result of the failings in how this matter was dealt with, I have decided to launch an independent review of the decision to relocate Fr Brian Hassett to Lanigan House.
Barrister, Ms Jane Seymour, will carry out this independent review.
The review will investigate the basis for the original decision, the evidence used including the findings of the risk assessment, the key people involved in the decision and the legislation that was relied upon at the time of the decision.
The review will also examine my response to the matter once the location of Fr Brian Hassett became public and community concerns were raised.
The findings and recommendations of the review will be published in May 2017 and my response to the review report will also be published in June 2017.
I reiterate that as a Church we cannot be careful enough in the area of child protection. The lessons learnt from this experience must change our processes to ensure that such failings do not occur again.
The statement is slightly strange in that there is no signature on it, so we have to presume that the 'I' in question is the Archbishop, and not the media advisor contact or some other diocesan official, but still.

The terms of reference for the review can be found here.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Mea minima culpa

Just by way of a footnote to my earlier post today on the latest Canberra developments, can I recommend a couple f other opinion pieces.

First Jack Waterford's deadly piece from the Canberra Times and John Menadue's blog.  Here are a couple of extracts:
The major intersection between the child abuse royal commission and the Catholic Church went into act four over the past week. The drama, plot and moral of the miracle play would be much enhanced if scene one, rather than scene four, of act five began with the resignations of each of Australia’s archbishops, along with that of the nuncio, the archbishop representing the Pope in Australia.  
Each is, no doubt, a splendid person whose services would be much missed. But each represents in a real way the organisational and leadership failures that have brought the Church in Australia to its lowest ebb. Mass resignation would be a tiny, inadequate but still entirely appropriate act of atonement – a compound Yom Kippur – for both the personal failings of most of the archbishops, representing Australia’s capital cities, and for the institutional failings of the offices they hold and their predecessors....
No doubt, the creation of some episcopal vacancies would be a bitter blow to the hundreds of thousands – once millions – of Catholic parishioners who would be suddenly deprived of their archbishops’ spiritual guidance, zest for the good life and penchant for travel at the front end of jet aircraft... 
 I come from within the bosom of the Catholic Church and, from 56 years ago, was a regular altar boy, proficient in my Latin responses (which I understood) to the priest’s words. The early part of the Mass included the confiteor, or confession, and, within it, the server would say “peccavi nimis cogitatione, verbo et opere: mea culpa” (here, one theatrically struck one’s tum), “mea culpa” (strike breast again), “mea maxima culpa” (strike breast again): I have sinned exceedingly, in thought, word and deed: through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.
A reading of royal commission transcripts made me wonder whether the modern form is “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea minima culpa“. Penance has not yet been performed.
 And also on John Menadue's blog, a response from Garry Eastman, who points out that there are now no abuse survivors on any of the institutions supposedly dealing with abuse in the Church:
There are now no survivors or parents of survivors on the Commission nor are there any on the Australian Towards Healing or Melbourne Response agencies for handling complaints by victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The same criticism applies to the Truth, the Justice and Healing Council and the newly created company, Catholic Professional Standards Ltd.  
He is also damning about the bishops' refusal to take responsibility in front of the Royal Commission:
For all the heartfelt gestures by bishops appearing at the Royal Commission, nothing of substance has changed. The greatest failure of responsibility was to leave it to Francis Sullivan, the Director of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, to respond in tears to counsel Gail Furness’ listing of the extent of abuse in the Catholic Church. Where was Archbishop Hart, President of the Bishops Conference, offering a response and shedding a tear?
Please do let me know if you have come across any other responses (or written them) to this continuing disaster.

Our bishops as Jobs?!

There is a quite extraordinary article in today's Canberra Times in which Archbishop Prowse of Canberra compares himself to the Biblical figure of Job, and tells us how 'he had needed emotional support' to deal with the criticisms made of him in relation to the handling of an abuse case.



As it happens, I'm reading St Gregory the Great's Commentary on Job as my book this Lent, and I have to say that I struggle to see the relevance of Job in this situation.

Job, you will recall, is described by the Bible as a 'simple and upright man, who feared God and avoided evil', but who loses his family, property and health due to a series of trials God allows the devil to make of him in order to test him.

The Book of Job, the introduction to the edition of the commentary I'm reading, describes the book of Job as:
 a searing theological reflection on divine justice and the suffering of the innocent. The book begins with God, impressed with Job’s innocence and uprightness, allowing Satan— here conceived as a kind of prosecutor of the heavenly court, not the devil—to test if Job’s piety is genuine and not simply the result of his being the beneficiary of divine favor. Satan orchestrates a series of disasters to induce Job to curse God. In short order Job suffers the devastating loss of his flocks and children. He is then afflicted with physical pain. Even his wife rails against him. After these calamities, he is visited by three friends who attempt to comfort him: Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Na’amathite. Job winds up debating with them because they insist that he has somehow sinned. They accept the idea that divine justice is retributive: God gives you what you deserve. But Job is certain of his innocence and claims that he has done nothing wrong to warrant such suffering. (Mark DelCogliano)
So is the Archbishop really comparing any opprobrium he may have incurred due to the actions of paedophile priests to the sufferings of Job?  Personally I would have said the victims of abuse might more properly be cast as the Job's in this situation.

And is the Archbishop really saying he has done absolutely nothing wrong at all in the handling of the current and other scandals?  Is he truly comparing those who like myself are criticising him to Job's so-called friends?  That is a bit disappointing given that he had, I thought, more or less admitted that perhaps he had stuffed up last week.

The role of the bishops

It is true of course that most priests are not paedophiles, and the Archbishop rightly calls those who are Judases.

But the issue the Royal Commission, loyal Catholics - and everyone else - keeps stumbling over is the cover-up, mismanagement and apparent lack of empathy and self-awareness of the hierarchy in responding to the 'Judases'.

So far we've learnt that, as far as I can gather, when the priest was removed from ministry, no one actually admitted this to his parishioners immediately; instead they were told he was sick.  So others who might also have come forward with complaints were not encouraged to do so, and others were encouraged to continue in the delusion that this was a holy priest, resulting in new pain for the victims as some of their fellow parishioners turned on them in the media last week.

There should have been a proper process to clear the air, allow everyone involved to come to terms with what had happened, and deal with the fallout both when he was initially removed from ministry, and when the claims against the priest were substantiated.  And again now.

Secondly, there seems to have been no consultation or even information on his placement in Canberra provided to those who needed to know, viz at the very least, the principals of the two primary schools located where he was housed.  The Archdiocese has admitted that the special needs school was not informed, but claimed that the Principal of the Catholic school was - but the Principal disputes this and so far no documentation has been produced to counter his claims.

At the very least it seems that the Canberra Archdiocese's record-keeping practices were poor, and oversight and review processes were inadequate or non-existent.

We've also been told that that the priest placed near two schools was or is 'virtually immobile' and so couldn't have posed a risk to anyone.  Without knowing more details of his medical status it is impossible for us to assess the validity of that claim, but if he really is paralysed, with no possibility of temporary or permanent remission, it seems odd to me that he isn't in a nursing home or some other full-time care facility.  And what about the other two priests removed from previously resident there, and now suddenly moved in response to potential 'community concern'?

David, the Ninevites and penance

The right response to all of this is surely to admit that the Archdiocese - and Archbishop - stuffed this one up.  The Archbishop said as much last week.  Or was that just his spokesperson?  According to the Canberra Times:
When Fairfax Media called the archdiocese on Monday night after speaking to Father Brian at Lanigan House, a spokesman said he was "not even going to pretend it's a good look".
The sensible approach, I think, would have been to follow this up not with protestations of innocence, but with a commitment to bring in some outside expertise to review what happened, make a report on it that would be publicly available and includes recommendations to ensure there are no future repeats.

And with a commitment to do penance for this and many other similar and related cases.  This is, after all, the Archbishop who 'declined' to attend healing service for victims late last year.

The Biblical text it seems to me that the Archbishop and all concerned might care to contemplate is Matthew 18:
At that hour the disciples came to Jesus, saying: Who thinkest thou is the greater in the kingdom of heaven?  And Jesus calling unto him a little child, set him in the midst of them, And said: Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven. And he that shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me. But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh.
Who are the real Judases here?

To me this latest salvo on the part of the bishop raises afresh the question of just when the bishops will realise that it is them, and the systems and structures they have adopted to uphold their crumbling empires that are the scandal, not just the odd Judas?

The continuing scandals are the product of lax morality and a corrupted theology; of a failure to uphold and teach what the Church has always held and believed about what constitutes sin and its consequences.

The product of a liturgy that reflects a twisted clericalism that places the priest and not the sacred presence of Our Lord at the centre of the Mass; that views the Mass as a celebration of a community centred on the priest, not a sacrifice offered by him in persona Christi.

It is a product of a mentality where the Church's charitable efforts have become commercialised and conformed to societal norms rather than the Gospel, in the interests of obtaining Government funding.

Of a world where dealing with hurt feelings are apparently of more importance than taking appropriate action.

Lent and repentance

There are plenty of Biblical types for those for whom the scales eventually drop from their eyes, and do penance.when they are finally confronted with reality: David when confronted by the prophet Nathan; and the Ninevites, warned (eventually) by Jonah, who told them that they had forty days before God destroyed them.

The forty days warning given to the Ninevites  is a number that calls to mind this sacred time of Lent.

I'm no Jonah, but I do rather think that the clock is ticking.

Penances for Lent: say the Gradual Psalms

I  should perhaps have drawn attention earlier here to the series I'm posting on one of my other blogs on saying the Gradual Psalms.

It is not too late to start this, particularly if you haven't yet settled into saying some extra prayers for Lent.

The Gradual Psalms and the spiritual ascent through humility

The fifteen Gradual psalms, Psalms 119 to 133, were originally used both as pilgrim songs and liturgically: they were probably originally sung on the journey to Jerusalem, as well as liturgically when priests and people ascended each of the fifteen steps of the outer Temple to the inner at Jerusalem, on the three major feasts of the Jewish calendar.

As the temple itself was viewed as a microcosm of heaven, they seem always to have been interpreted as a mystical ascent to heaven as well.

The Gradual Psalms are traditionally used both devotionally, as a group, and as part of the Divine Office.

St Benedict Rule and Office, drawing on Patristic and monastic tradition, actually makes a link between these psalms and Jacob's Ladder, which he argues we climb through humility, and fall from through pride.

The Gradual Psalms arranged for devotional use

You can find the whole set of the Gradual Psalms arranged for devotional use here.  Traditionally the first five psalms are said for the souls in purgatory; the second five for the forgiveness of our own sins; and the third and final set for our specific intentions.

Alternatively, you could take one of these psalms each day and meditate on it.

Either way, to help you in this endeavour, I'm posting notes on each of these psalms over at my Psalm Domino blog.  You can find the first couple over there already:

Friday, 3 March 2017

Canberra cover-up update

In my last post I commented on an unfolding scandal in Canberra.

Canberra mismanagement

The short version of the story is that a priest was removed from his parish in 2013 following inappropriate conduct towards children.  The latest report says that although two particular cases were substantiated, he was the subject of 'sustained complaints' during his tenure in the parish.

But when he was finally removed, instead of telling his parish the truth, they were simply told that he was ill.

And he was then housed next to two primary schools (one of them for particularly vulnerable special needs children).

The latest update...

On the positive side, the claimed lack of alternative accommodation has apparently been miraculously resolved and he has been moved.

But also, it seems, so have two other priests also removed from ministry!

And claims that the Catholic primary school at least was consulted are being hotly disputed by the former principal of the school in question.

You can read more of the gory details here.

All in all, an unfolding disgrace that begs the question of what else has been going on under cover of clerical and episcopal privilege in this archdiocese.

Meanwhile in Rome...

Meanwhile in Rome, one of the member's of Pope Francis' special commission on child abuse has resigned in protest at the opposition encountered within the Vatican to its work.  One of the key recommendations of the Commission that has been stymied was a proposal for a tribunal to hear allegations against negligent bishops...

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Lent: if only our leaders would do some real penance for the cover up and mishandling of abuse complaints

I've refrained, up until now, from commenting on the spectacle of the Australian Archbishops in their recent appearances in front of the Royal Commission on child abuse.

But as today is the first day of Lent it seems an appropriate time to reflect on the need for prayer and penance not just for our own sins, but for those committed  - and continuing to be committed - by those who claim to lead us.

Child abuse and the Church

Let's start with the facts.  

The Royal Commission identified a total of 1,880 Catholic perpetrators, including 572 priests, abused 4,444 children in 1,000 Catholic Institutions in Australia between 1980 and 2015.   The real number of victims is likely to be much higher.

What continues to appal the laity though is not just the crimes themselves, but how they were and are being handled.

The cover-up.

The refusal to be upfront about what had happened; to be pro-active in identifying and helping other possible victims.

The failure to take appropriate action  - both in relation to individuals and structures - to prevent recurrences.

The reluctance or outright refusal to help victims

The continuing lack of empathy.

The Royal Commission hearings gave no good indication that our leaders have actually taken genuine stock of what they need to do and acted; quite the contrary.

Indeed, what we saw was an unedifying refusal to defend essential protections that all of our spiritual health depends on, such as the seal of the confessional; and more indications of negligence, incompetence and worse. 

The failure of leadership 

The old saying is that the fish rots from the head and this is of course particularly true in the Church.

There are repeated, well-documented, stories in credible places such as the UK Catholic Herald to the effect that Pope Francis' version of  'mercy' is, far from clamping down on this problem, leading him to reduce the penalties imposed on some paedophile priests.  Worse, it seems to be a highly selective mercy, based on who you know.

An extremely incisive satirical blog, Eccles is Saved recommends giving up the Pope for Lent.  

I can't claim this one for Lent as I've long since given up on (reading anything by) Pope Francis on the grounds that I rarely find his comments edifying or spiritually nourishing, quite the contrary.  But if you haven't as yet, I recommend giving serious consideration to this one!

Canberra scandal

And as the Pope leads, so our bishops follow.  

Take the case of the Canberra Archdiocese where it was revealed yesterday that a priest who had been removed from ministry for inappropriately touching children had been housed next to two primary schools, allegedly because there was no where else 'suitable' to house him.  

Really?  In the whole of Canberra there was absolutely no alternative accommodation?  

Sorry Archbishop but that explanation beggars belief.  

Even more gob-smacking is the revelation that when the priest in question was 'moved on', his congregation was not, apparently told the truth about what had happened, but instead was told that he was sick.

This didn't happen years and years ago.   Rather it all played out in 2013, presumably shortly after Archbishop Prowse was appointed to the job.

It seems that nothing has changed at all.

Yet today the Archbishop has issued a Lenten message trying once again to say all the right things, and embarking on a 'listening tour':
I also committed to a listening tour throughout our Archdiocese, to visit and talk with victims, their families and shocked communities. I want to assure the victims that we will focus on their care and on the prevention of further abuse. It is my highest priority across the Archdiocese. My aim is to conduct these listening sessions during Lent. The hope is then to invite people to an appropriate combined liturgy of healing/lament before Holy Week. Further details will be made available later.
Listening vs doing

Frankly I can't see the point of a 'listening tour'.  The hierarchy in Australia (and most other places) has consistently shown that it is utterly incapable of genuinely listening.

Instead, what we need is some doing.  

Here are my suggestions.

1. Resign

First, all those bishops and other clergy who have been complicit in covering up abuse - including feeding the laity 'alternative truths' about their priests - need to resign forthwith.  

The most egregious case, in my view, Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide, who continues to be the subject of a criminal investigation in relation to covering up abuse claims, yet remains in place.

Nothing the hierarchy does will have any credibility whatsoever while those who are, on the face of it, part of the problem, remain in place.

2.  Take responsibility for your priests

Secondly, we need a commitment from our priests and bishops that all serious sins on the part of the clergy, not just child abuse, will be treated appropriately.  The horror of child abuse could only occur because of the failure of genuinely catholic moral theology to be taught and practised.  

Priests who conduct sexual affairs with adults, practice homosexuality or otherwise fail to live a life consistent with their vocation are, in my view, just as potentially dangerous to souls.  Their double lives impact their immediate victims (for sexual sins by the clergy pretty much invariably involve abuse of power, cover-up and impacts on third parties).  But they also impact on their congregation, for few compromised priests are sufficiently hypocritical as to preach truth.

Yet at the recent Royal Commission hearings, how heard that Archbishop Coleridge of Brisbane, doesn't believe that whether priests are keeping their vows of celibacy is any of his business!

It is true of course, as the bishop comments, that priests of a diocese are not the bishop's employees. 

But aren't they supposed to be something much closer than that, his spiritual sons, his close collaborators?  

Surely one of the the bishop's most important roles is ensuring that his priests have the spiritual support and professional oversight they need.  Indeed, the Code of Canon Law actually says:
With special solicitude, a diocesan bishop is to attend to presbyters and listen to them as assistants and counselors. He is to protect their rights and take care that they correctly fulfill the obligations proper to their state and that the means and institutions which they need to foster spiritual and intellectual life are available to them.

3.  Refresher courses

Thirdly, and not unrelated to this, we need all of our clergy (including our bishops) to be given refreshers in solid moral theology based on St Thomas Aquinas.  All too many of them are the products of the faux theology of the 60s and 70s.  

Let them now be taught actual Catholicism, and be required to swear to uphold the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for example.

4.  Genuine transparency

Archbishop Coleridge amongst others talked about the need for greater transparency.  So I looked at the Brisbane website - does it include any information on abuse claims made, payouts etc?  The answer as far as I can see is no.

But of course transparency has to go much further than just the issue of child abuse, which is, as far as I can see just the tip of the iceberg of the Church's problems in Australia at the moment. 

5.  Public penance

Finally we need to see all those involved doing public penance.  

The idea of Lent is that before we celebrate the reconciliation of man and God we first acknowledge and do penance for our sins.  In an earlier era, public sin meant public penance, and the abuse scandal would best be addressed, in my view, by reviving this idea.  

Let's see all of those who have failed to act, who covered up, who misjudged the responses -  as well as those priests and religious who committed the crimes - wearing sackcloth and ashes and embarking on some genuine fasting this Lent.  

And let's see those found guilty genuinely committing to a life of prayer and penance to atone for their crimes.

What we can do:  Pray and fast

I hold out no hope that the Church in Australia will actually seriously consider or do any of these things.  There seems to be every indication that our leaders will continue to keep their heads in the sand and continue to ignore ever declining congregations and practice.

And in the face of the failure to teach (or worse) on the part of the Pope, we can have no hope of positive intervention from there.

Instead we need to look after our own spiritual lives.  The Catholics of Japan, after all, held fast for centuries with only the sacrament of baptism to sustain them; the time is surely coming (or in some cases is already here) where we too, may similarly be forced to rely on God alone as our help.

But there are things we can do.

Pray and fast this Lent, and offer our penances as reparation for the harms done.

Sing the Liturgy of the Hours/Divine Office, since the laity too, under the 1983 Code of Canon Law, are designated by the Church to offer this prayer liturgically. 

Read Scripture regularly, with the help of good orthodox commentaries.

And study the Catechism and other suitable texts to make sure you know the faith well and can defend it.