WelCom March 2017:
‘Ashamed. Humiliated. A kick in the guts.’ They’re some of the words Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher op used to describe his reaction to the extent of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church [in Australia], reported Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, after The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released figures on Monday 13 February on the extent of alleged abuse in the Catholic Church.
The numbers were shocking: 7 per cent of priests had been accused, and in some religious orders the rates were between 20 and 40 per cent. Between 1980 and 2015, some 4444 people reported being a victim, identifying 1880 perpetrators.
Archbishop Fisher said he and other clergy felt contaminated, betrayed and demoralised by the paedophiles in the Church. He understood why Australians felt so angry. ‘We knew (the report) would be bad, but it’s humiliating, it’s harrowing,’ Fisher said.
‘It really has hurt me and it has hurt a lot of priests and bishops, but that’s tiny compared with how it’s hurt the survivors. This is so awful that you lose perspective on everything else. On the really good things, the schools for poor kids, the orphanages, the hospitals, the wonderful things the Church – and not just the Catholic Church – did in building the social infrastructure of Australia,’ he said.
National Director for National Office for Professional Standards for the Catholic Church in Aotearoa-New Zealand, Bill Kilgallon, met with the Royal Commission on Thursday 23 February on behalf of the Pontifical Commission. He reports from Sydney.
‘I was a victim of sexual abuse by clergy when I first came to Australia, even though I was an adult and that had a powerful impact on me and how I want to walk in the shoes of other victims and really endeavour to attain justice and dignity for them.’ There was a stunned silence in the hearing of the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual abuse when an Australian Catholic Bishop ended his evidence with this statement. He had come to Australia from Vietnam a vulnerable 20-year-old refugee.
The Royal Commission has been examining a very wide range of institutions, schools, churches, government services, sports organisations, churches and other faith organisations. It is now drawing to a close and looking at each organisation to see what it has learnt from the past, what it is doing now and how it will ensure in the future that children are safe. The Commission has just spent three weeks focusing on the Catholic Church. The Commission has met more than 6500 individuals who have reported abuse and more than a third of them were abused in Catholic settings – schools, parishes, children’s homes. So the interest in the Church was expected and appropriate. The scale of abuse was staggering and the abject failure of the Church leadership to deal with it was scandalous.
A range of people – theologians, canon lawyers, psychologists, bishops, leaders of religious orders – were invited to give evidence. They were asked to explain how it could happen that behaviour so contrary to gospel values could have occurred – how so many people who had apparently committed to a life of Christian service could instead betray the trust of children, their families and the community. I, with two colleagues, gave evidence about our work as members of the Commission for the Protection of Minors set up by and reporting to Pope Francis. Our purpose is to assist the Catholic Church to prevent and respond to abuse in the Church.
Some important issues were raised including the extent to which the Catholic Church has failed to implement the vision of the Second Vatican Council of the Church as the people of God and has persisted with a ‘monarchical’ model of leadership. The lack of accountability of bishops and priests to the people of the Church and the absence of any effective governance were highlighted. Some identified a faulty theology that portrayed the celibate life as a higher calling than married life, which gave rise to a sense that ordination in itself changed a person and made him somehow closer to God. There were frequent references to the fact that organisations where leadership is exercised by women and men are better led. So how can the Church, which excludes women from ordained leadership, include women in leadership roles? Poor selection processes for priesthood and religious life and inadequate training and development were identified as contributing factors. These challenges were put by Catholics committed to the Church. They are challenges not just to the Church in Australia but worldwide.
The Royal Commission is doing a tremendous service to the Church and other organisations by making us face the enduring damage done to so many and giving us the opportunity to renew our commitment that the Church should be the place of safe welcome that Jesus intended.
The New Zealand bishops and congregational leaders established the National Office for Professional Standards to oversee the response to complaints of abuse within the Church. (www.catholic.org.nz or tinyurl.com/NZ-Catholic-NOPS).