Monday, 6 March 2017

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.

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