MORE than 70 per cent of the Brothers from the St John of God order are suspected child abusers and the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney should immediately shut it down, says a psychologist who was employed by the order to meet scores of victims.
…Last week a Melbourne inquiry into child abuse heard allegations that Brothers had drugged and pack-raped boys at their operations in Victoria.
-SMH report, Nov. 12 2012
They’ve made a mockery of everything.
-my elderly, Catholic neighbours
These are just small snippets of a much-larger picture, which reaches beyond the RC church. The above allegations may not even be true. But what they point to is a tidal wave of distress and outrage which is currently breaking over the edifice of the Catholic church. The Royal Commission is rightly not limited to church behaviour. But Sydney’s Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell seems unable to articulate what everyone now knows – that the child abuse scandal has reached disastrous, monstrous, institution-breaking proportions.
Which raises the question, can the RC church in Australia survive this calamity?
What will the Catholic church look like in 5 years? How will attendance at its services be? We cannot help foreseeing a significant departure of sheep from the fold. A widespread implosion. It’s an old old church and this won’t be the finish of it, but it may be the long-term loss of its place of trust in Australian society.
Not just because of the crimes. But because of the cover ups, and above all because of the failure at the highest levels of leadership to realise what was needed, and respond properly to the crisis. The church’s addiction to secrecy and instinct to suppress evidence are looking like bringing it undone. For they give the strong impression that the institution’s first allegiance is to its leaders, not to the people. To the powerful, not the vulnerable.
And blind Freddy can see the hypocrisy in that, for a Christian set-up.
Without a kind of Glasnost, a new policy of openness, it’s hard to see how the church can have any sort of future. But how damaging that the state has to intervene and impose that policy, because the church is not willing. All signs suggest that the any regulations imposed by the state will be resisted and receive minimal compliance at best. (For OS readers, our Prime Minister has just announced a Royal Commission into the handling of child abuse cases by organisations like churches).
George Pell is clearly not the man for the hour. At a moment when clear-sighted, wise and sensitive leadership is needed, when there is a desperate need for someone who can inject some confidence and calm into the crisis scene, Pell’s public comments regularly make things worse.
Pell’s default mode seems to be denying things. He didn’t know, he wasn’t involved in the process, the Brothers don’t report to him, etc, etc. He gives the impression of admitting to the minimum possible, only to what is undeniable. And he never wants to accept personal responsibility, even for the things that have happened on his watch. This is disastrous. As his organisation self-destructs, he seems determined to keep up appearances. The trouble is, appearances are shot to pieces. What is needed is for Pell to be telling us the worst. Unless we hear it from Pell, he will not be able to escape inclusion in the sense of betrayal Australia is feeling.
There is a time when the best form of defence is attack, but this is not that time. It may be that the media exaggerates and singles out the RC church more than other groups. But now is not the time for Pell to be harping on that note. The pugilistic, defensive posture is all wrong. We won’t hear any contrition or sorrow for the victims coming through over that growling, whining noise. Pell just needs to let it go. If he’s seen to be straining out the media’s gnat while letting through the camel in his own eye, it’s all bad.
Nothing Pell has said or done has convinced us that he’s the man to fix things. And so now that state has had to step in to fix it for him – what an indictment that is.
At a time like this, the Catholic church simply can’t afford to have substandard leadership. Which returns us to the question: will the Catholic church be able to survive?
We take no pleasure in this. Our own team is not squeaky clean. But we can’t afford to ignore what’s happening, or not to learn its lessons. It’s just too close to home.
What will be the effect on our own cause of the RC church’s spectacular fall from grace?
- Will a smaller RC influence in society be a good or bad thing over-all?
- Will it make our job of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus easier or harder in the next generation?
- Will we evangelicals be tarred with the same brush, or will we manage to distinguish ourselves from the RC church clearly enough to escape the loss of credibility?
- How should we respond to what’s happening?
I’d like to hear people’s thoughts.