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How It's Going Down Under

Jun 11, 2013 — Categories: ,

The convergence of several very interesting situations in recent weeks in Australia reveals the complexity of the institutional responses of churches to child sexual abuse. In response to questions in a Victorian parliamentary inquiry, Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Melbourne, said he was “fully apologetic and absolutely sorry” about the years of sexual abuse of children by priests.

The convergence of several very interesting situations in recent weeks in Australia reveals the complexity of the institutional responses of churches to child sexual abuse. In response to questions in a Victorian parliamentary inquiry, Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Melbourne, said he was “fully apologetic and absolutely sorry” about the years of sexual abuse of children by priests.

He acknowledged the systematic cover ups and destruction of documents over the years. He seems to plead ignorance saying that the main problem was that many church leaders did not talk about the cases because they didn’t “gossip.” He asserts that things are much better now.

A week later, retired auxiliary Bishop Geoffrey Robinson from Sydney launched a petition requesting Pope Francis to call a Council to address the global problem of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. In his new book, For Christ’s Sake: End Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church...for Good, Robinson asserts that the only way to really deal with sexual abuse by clergy is to look critically at the Catholic Church as an institution. Calling for a Council is a big deal. The last one was Vatican II which brought sweeping changes, fresh air and daylight to the Church. Bishop Robinson is suggesting that anything less will not be adequate to deal with the worldwide failure of the institutional church to protect its most vulnerable members from false and predatory shepherds.

Whatever moral capital the Church had has been sorely compromised not only by the criminal misconduct of priests but perhaps, more importantly, by the misconduct of Bishops and administrators who did not hold abusive priests accountable and allowed them continued access to vulnerable children. The failure of individual priests is painful to individual children, families and parishes. But the failure of the hierarchy not only to turn a blind eye but also to actively protect abusers and move them on to the next parish is unconscionable and has done such incredible damage to the institution of the Church that it may never recover.

So here we have two very different views of the Church and its future: Cardinal Pell is still rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and Bishop Robinson is suggesting that we need to build a new boat. And Bishop Robinson is recommending that the new boat be built by the whole Church: non-bishops, laity, survivors, etc.

All of this is taking place in Australia against a backdrop of a 3 year Royal Commission inquiry into how institutions with a responsibility for children have managed and responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse. It will investigate a variety of organizations including churches where systems have failed to protect children, and make recommendations on how to improve laws, policies and practices to prevent and better respond to child sexual abuse in institutions.

Methinks the Aussies are serious. How refreshing it is to hear from a prominent church leader who actually “gets” it, who is asking the right questions and is pushing for real change! This is what leadership looks like.

Pray for the success of his petition to Pope Francis.

Rev Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute
www.faithtrustinstitute.org

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