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by Fr Michael Whelan SM
During the days of 17-20 November 1998 – on the sidelines of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ ad limina visit and the Special Assembly for the Synod of Bishops for Oceania, in Rome – representatives of seven Dicasteries and fifteen members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference met. This meeting was at the request of Pope John Paul II. The Catholic media organization, Zenit, wrote at the time, that “similar meetings held with other Episcopal Conferences have proved to be equally beneficial as expressions of ecclesial communion”.
A document from that meeting – Statement of Conclusions – was published on 14 December 1998. The text of the statement is 10,420 words. Significantly, explicit references to “priest” and “priesthood” occur 88 times. There is one reference to the “baptized” and that is in the context of the “priesthood of the baptized”. Zenit explained the purpose of the meeting and the nature of the document as follows:
(T)hey discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the Church in Australia. In particular, this statement of conclusions examines the role of the Bishop, the clergy, and consecrated persons, as well as the sacraments, liturgy and Catholic education. In Australia, and throughout the entire world, there is a crisis of faith that is rooted in an attitude of tolerance and relativism. Because so many have lost confidence in their ability to know the truth, they have also lost their faith in God, and more particularly, in Christ. In response to this loss of faith and the moral problems that necessarily follow, the bishops must rise to their threefold vocation of teaching, sanctifying and governing. The document explains these three roles and why they are so necessary. It goes on to examine the identity, formation and spiritual life of the priest, which is of utmost importance for the church. It discusses the decline of vocations in Australia and offers some solutions, especially regarding the good example of consecrated religious. In examining the nature of the Liturgy, it calls for a more thorough liturgical catechesis for both priests and lay people. Priests must not introduce changes to the liturgy of their own initiative, but most subordinate themselves to the mind of the Church. In addition, priests must encourage those who no longer have a sense of personal sin and their need for Christ’s redemption to return to the sacrament of Penance.
Catalyst for Renewal organized a Public Forum in Sydney Town Hall on 22 April 1999 in response to the Statement. More than 2,000 people came to that Forum. In fact, the Town Hall security people closed the doors because the venue was filled to capacity. An unknown number were thus locked out. And all this on an evening of very inclement weather.
The then Archbishop of Melbourne – George Pell – was asked in a media conference in which he introduced the Statement of Conclusions in Melbourne on 19 March 1999, “What is the biggest threat, in your opinion, to the Catholic Church today?” The Archbishop replied: “Oh, that we’ll just merge into the background. We’re a minority church, fewer than 30 per cent of the people, and we’ll just take on the colours of our society, and that we’ll become the bland leading the bland.” The Archbishop went on to say that, “as a result of the Statement of Conclusions, for the foreseeable future the Church in Australia will never be the same again.”
Pope Pius XII reminded us of the importance of history in understanding the Church. In 1949, talking to a group of seminarians in Rome, the Pope said:
“The mystical Body of Christ, following the example of the physical members which comprise it, does not live and act in the abstract, outside the constantly changing conditions of time and place. It is not, and can never be, separated from the world which surrounds it. It is always of its century; it goes forward with it day by day, hour by hour, continually adapting its ways of doing things and its attitudes to those of the society in the midst of which it must act.” (Pius XII, “Speech at the Anagni Seminary,” April 29, 1949, in Discorsi e Radiomessaggi XI, p. 50; and R. Rouquette in Études, April 1951, p. 68).
To assist with our reflections tonight, I would like to briefly recall just three particular events of history. These events offer significant points of reference within which we can situate both the Statement of Conclusions and our current situation as Catholics in Australia.
1. The first event was instigated by the Roman Emperor, Constantine, with his Edict of Milan in 313 CE. Ostensibly an edict of toleration, the Edict of Milan had radical and far reaching effects for the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church – as Christianity had become known since the 2nd century. Through Constantine’s Edict, bishops and their clergy became integral to the daily running of the Roman Empire. As such they held much power within both the Empire and the Church. In fact, they gained increasing power as the 4th century unfolded. By the end of that century, Catholicism/Christianity had become the state religion.
Fr Yves Congar OP wrote in his journal on the day the Second Vatican Council opened, 11 October 1962:
“I see the weight, that has never been renounced, of the period when the Church behaved as a feudal lord, when it had temporal power, when popes and bishops were lords who had a court, gave patronage to artists and sought a pomp equal to that of the Caesars. That, the Church never repudiated in Rome. To emerge from the Constantinian era has never been part of its programme.” (Yves Congar OP, My Journal of the Council, trans. Mary John Ronayne OP and Mary Cecily Boulding OP, Liturgical Press, 2012, 88).
One of the major tasks of the Second Vatican Council – implicitly at least – was to facilitate the complex and difficult journey out of Constantinianism. Sixty years on, we are still beginning that journey.
I will mention just two parts of Catholic life that manifest what I am calling Constantinianism. The first is liturgy:
The effect of the Constantinian benevolences toward the Church are immediately visible in the liturgy. After Constantine’s conversion there came a dramatic shift from the simplicity of homes to the splendour of imperial basilicas. These roofed structures were rectangular in shape and divided inside into three or five naves marked by rows of columns. At the far end was the apse where the emperor had his throne. Taken over by Christians, the domestic dining room gave way to the large public halls where there was ample room at the nave for the assembly and enough space in the sanctuary for the table, the ambo, the bishop’s chair, and the seats for presbyters and ministers. The first Christian basilica was the Lateran palace, which Constantine gave as a gift to Pope Sylvester. The emperor ordered the construction of new basilicas on the Vatican hill where the apostle Peter was buried, at the Ostian Way where the apostle Paul had been martyred, at the Campo Verano where the deacon Lawrence was buried, and in several other places outside the city.
When Constantine decreed in 321 the observance of Sunday rest for the empire, the celebration of the Eucharist acquired a more solemn form. The atmosphere and architectural ambience of basilicas demanded, at any rate, a more splendid form of celebration. The prayer formularies were rhetorically enriched in consonance with the ambient of the imperial hall (Anscar J Chupungco, “History of the Liturgy Until the Fourth Century” in Anscar J Chupungco, editor, Handbook for Liturgical Studies – Volume 1: Introduction to the Liturgy, Collegeville, Minnesota, A Pueblo Book, 1997, 107-108). This essay is highly recommended, along with the others in this volume on the history of the Liturgy.
The second part of Catholic life that was profoundly affected by Constantinianism is that of the priesthood. The eminent medievalist, Jean Leclercq, wrote in a 1969 conference paper:
“The change which affected the priesthood at that time (ie in the 5th century) was itself a consequence of an even deeper change: one which affected ecclesiology as a whole. Mentalities passed from a conception of the ‘Church, community of Christians’ to one which accepted the ‘distance between the lay people and the Church of the clerics’. In the first state there was ‘an organic union between pastors and faithful’ in matters touching liturgical celebrations, councils and other activities of church life. In the second state the idea that predominates is that ‘the whole Christian life and the religious state depend upon the priests, their fidelity, the purity of their life, and their learning’. The ‘different stages of the progressive distancing which took place between the priest and the faithful’ seem to have arisen from a definition of the Church as ‘consisting mainly of priests’” [Jean Leclercq, “The Priesthood in the Patristic and Medieval Church,” The Christian Priesthood, edited by Nicholas Lash and Joseph Rhymer, Dimension Books, 1970, 73].
Today’s clericalism is in large measure a legacy of the shape of the priesthood given to the Church in the Constantinian era. In the same essay, Leclercq refers to the “clergification of the Church” and the “clericalisation of the clergy” that became established in the 4th century and remains pretty much the fact as we begin the 21st century.
2. The second event was instigated by Pope Paul VI with his encyclical, Humanae Vitae in 1968. Just as the Edict of Milan had significant unintended consequences, so Humanae Vitae – ostensibly about birth control – had significant unintended consequences. Specifically, the encyclical provoked widespread questioning among Catholics internationally as to the authority the Church holds in our lives. A most serious question, with profound ramifications, was raised: Would it be possible to follow an alternative path to that laid down in Humanae Vitae and still come to the sacraments in good faith?
A large number of Catholic theologians in the United States protested the encyclical’s teaching on birth control. This became known as “The Washington Case”. In April 1971, the Holy See published a Statement of Theological and Pastoral Principles by way of response. The Statement says in part:
“Conscience is the practical judgment or dictate of reason by which one judges what here and now is to be done as good, or to be avoided as evil. ….. Particular circumstances surrounding an objectively evil human act, while they cannot make it objectively virtuous, can make it inculpable, diminished in guilt or subjectively defensible. In the final analysis, conscience is inviolable and no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his or her conscience, as the moral tradition of the Church attests”.
The Australian Bishops wrote to Pope Paul VI on April 24 1972 and voiced their concern. They said there were “a number of interpretations of Humanae Vitae by episcopal conferences offering the faithful a less difficult course in situations where duties and obligations clash than would seem to be provided by the encyclical”. Several Australian Catholic doctors, on November 13 1973 also wrote to Pope Paul VI seeking clarification on these pastoral matters.
In September 1974, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference offered a guiding statement, having taken into account the ongoing debate and discussion worldwide, as well as the guidance from the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In part that statement said:
“It is not impossible, however, that an individual may fully accept the teaching authority of the Pope in general, may be aware of his teaching in the matter, and yet reach a position after honest study and prayer that is at variance with the papal teaching. Such a person could be without blame; he would certainly not have cut himself off from the Church; and in acting in accordance with his conscience he could be without subjective fault” (See Nicholas Kerr, editor, Australian Catholic Bishops’ Statements since Vatican II, St Paul, 1985).
The critical question of conscience – and with it the question of fidelity to the Church and the exercise of authority within the Church – had come to the fore. How could the rights of conscience be reconciled with the Church’s teaching as found in Lumen Gentium, #25? There we read that the teachings of the Church demand “loyal submission of will and intellect”. (It should be noted that, even in the Council documents there is tension on this matter – compare for example Lumen Gentium, #25 with Gaudium et Spes #16.)
Father Joseph Ratzinger – later Pope Benedict XVI – puts it more bluntly in his 1969 reflections on Gaudium et Spes #16:
“Over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, if necessary, even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. …. Conscience confronts (the individual) with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even of the official Church”. (Herbert Vorgrimler, editor, Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II – Volume V, Burns & Oates, 1969, 134.)
In his August 1993 encyclical, Veritatis Splendor, Pope John Paul II sums up the relationship between the individual and Church authority: “The Church puts herself always and only at the service of conscience” (#64).
The teaching on conscience found in Gaudium et Spes #16, the Holy See’s response to the “Washington Case”, Joseph Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II, is not new. This has been part of Catholic teaching, at least since the time of Pope St Gregory the Great (540-604), confirmed by St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), but largely forgotten under “the weight” of Constantinianism.
I would place the Catalyst Public Forum on the Statement of Conclusions in the same category as Humanae Vitae, as a part of the ongoing clarification of authority within the Catholic Church and the rights and responsibilities of individual Catholics.
3. The third event has been instigated by the sexual abuse crisis. Ironically, one of its unintended consequences might be the loosening of the hold that the Constantinian mentality has within the Catholic Church. Huge damage has been done to the authority of the Catholic Church. The consequences of a significant loss of trust would be hard to over-estimate. Catholics are being forced to find new ground for their Catholicity or abandon it altogether. This is both danger and opportunity.
The danger is twofold. In the first instance, as Church authorities attempt to recover the trust of people both within and outside the Catholic Church, there is a danger that excessive emphasis will be placed on law and doctrine and conformity. This would tragically confirm the Constantinianism. Sadly, there is strong evidence that this is precisely what is happening in some parts of the Catholic world at the moment. The second danger is that, thinking of the Church as just another multi-national corporation, we will yield to systems analysts, sociologists, psychologists, management consultants and the like and force changes on the Church that are more destructive than constructive. Sadly there is also strong evidence that this is a reality today as we approach the Plenary Council.
This does not present us with an either/or choice but a both/and choice. Let me briefly explain what I mean.
The Mystical Heart of Catholicism
In the Church, we need to constantly pay close attention to developing our understanding of the Incarnation and the doctrines pertaining to that central mystery; we also need to constantly pay close attention to developing good laws and good attitudes to our laws; we also need to constantly pay close attention to developing institutional structures, ensuring that they serve the Gospel we intend to embody. But more than these essential processes and grounding them is the recovery of the mystical heart of our faith. Without this, the rest will be pointless – maybe even destructive.
Alan Watts wrote more than 70 years ago:
“A Christianity which is not basically mystical must become either a political ideology or a mindless fundamentalism.” (Alan Watts, Behold The Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion, New York: Vintage Books, 1947/1972, xiii).
The oft-quoted words of Karl Rahner echo those of Alan Watts:
“The Christian of the future will be a mystic or he/she will not exist at all.” (Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations, Volume XX: Concern for the Church, London: Darton Longman and Todd, 1981, 149). 1
Google the word “mysticism” and you will get more than one million hits. This suggests there is a spectrum of definitions and understandings and usages of the word today. However, a fair definition of mysticism is found on Wikipedia:
“Mysticism is the pursuit of communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of an ultimate reality, divinity, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight. Mysticism usually centers on practices intended to nurture those experiences. Mysticism may be dualistic, maintaining a distinction between the self and the divine, or may be nondualistic.”
The mystical heart of Catholicism is found in the experience of being one with all in Jesus Christ. St Paul sums it up in expressions such as the following:
“God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:18 – NIV).
Everything in our doctrines and laws and institutions points to this, nurtures this and is in turn enlivened by this fact of our lives. Our life as Church can be summed up in that one word: Reconciliation! We are “baptized into Christ” (see Romans 6:3). We find our identity in Christ.
“If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 – NIV)
To say he is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (see John 14:6) is not a theological abstraction but a lived reality. When we have awakened to the mystical heart of our Catholicism we can say with a simple truthfulness, with the conviction of experience: Father, Son and Holy Spirit have made their home in me (see John 14:24). We have some inkling of the truth expressed by St Paul: “I live now not I but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:19).
Our communion in Christ allows us to live the tensions of both/and. In Him, and only in Him, we can find an ultimate reconciliation of all that seems contradictory, incomprehensible, beyond proof, imperfect, incompetent or inadequate. Perfectionism is idolatry. In Him we can live the tensions of the “not yet” and the “as yet” unattainable. Aspirations are not necessarily expectations.
In Him, kenosis becomes fruitful, full of promise rather than threat. The victory does not come at the achievement of an ego project or a clever syllogism or even an algorithm. It comes as grace. The kingdom is gift and it may not look like a victory.
In Him, our perspective is radically transformed. We begin to sense something of God’s logic. We begin to see the kingdom coming to birth amidst the multiple other kingdoms vying for ascendancy. “In God’s kingdom there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 – NIV).
I conclude with a brief meditation. About thirty five years ago, the monk, Carlo Carretto, returned to Italy from the Sahara Desert, after many years living among the Bedouin. He wrote a document entitled, “I Sought and I Found.” There he tells of his inner journey and his struggles with God. He concludes the document with a letter to the church. It is born of a mystical heart. The letter begins:
“How much I must criticise you, my church and yet how much I love you! You have made me suffer more than anyone and yet I owe you more than I owe anyone. I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence. You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness. Never in the world have I seen anything more obscurantist, more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous or more beautiful. Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face – and yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms! No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even if not completely you. Then too – where should I go? To build another church? But I cannot build another church without the same defects, for they are my own defects. And again, if I were to build another church, it would be my church, not Christ’s church. No, I am old enough. I know better!” (Messenger, Jan-Feb., 1989, 15. The piece originally appeared in the U.K. Catholic Herald. Carlo Carretto died on 4 October 1988 at the age of 78.)
1 Sr Jocelyn Kramer OCD forwarded to me the following comment on this quote from a German friend: “According to my information Rahner first used this quote in a talk in 1966 and subsequently repeated it in many talks. There are two different written versions in his collected works: (1). The longer one appeared in 1971, and it does not say ‘the Christian of the future’ but ‘the religious person (literally ‘the devout person’) of tomorrow will be a mystic or he will not exist at all’. Rahner then goes on to explain that by mysticism he does not mean an esoteric phenomenon, but ‘a genuine experience of God emerging from the very heart of our existence’. Then he says that the source of religious conviction is not theology but the personal experience of God. It’s a long and very intricate passage in German, with Rahner’s typically complicated, multi-clause sentences. It was published in: Karl Rahner, Schriften zur Theologie, Einsiedeln 1971, vol. VII, 22. (2) The shorter version is the one that is now more widely spread. It reads: “The Christian of the future etc.’ I suppose by this time Rahner had become aware of the fact that his original expression ‘der Fromme’ (‘the devout person’) was beginning to sound obsolete and likely to put readers off. It is found in: Karl Rahner, Schriften zur Theologie, vol. XIV, Zurich 1980, 161. You might find a reference to the English translation on the internet.”
Robert Fitzgerald AM served as a Commissioner for the duration of the Royal Commission. He was on leave from the Productivity Commission where he has served as a full time Commissioner since 2004. He was previously the Community and Disability Services Commissioner and Deputy Ombudsman in New South Wales. Further background information about Robert is available here.
Robert addressed ‘Q and A in the Crypt’ at St Patrick’s Church, the Rocks, Sydney for Catalyst for Renewal on 27 May 2018 and subsequently provided this extended presentation. Download the PDF here.
Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse:
Lessons and learnings for the People of God
Robert Fitzgerald AM
When the Royal Commission commenced its work more than five years ago it had three tasks: to bear witness to what had happened, to provide just responses to those abused and to recommend ways to create child safe institutions.
Fundamental to our work was to hear from those directly affected – the victims and survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Nearly 17,000 came forward. We gave voice to their stories through private sessions, case studies, written accounts, forums and community engagement initiatives. We published 4,000 de-identified narratives. And a commemorative book in the National Library contains over a thousand messages from survivors to the Australian community. They have been heard.
For you, as both leaders and members of faith based communities your response to what has been heard depends on whose voice you will listen to. As people of God, whose voices will resonate in both your head and your heart?
Will you listen to the voices of those that have spoken through the Commission and their calls for acknowledgement, redress, reform and healing? Or will you listen to the strident voices, within some parts of church and society, who seek to minimise the extent of the abuse claiming it was only a few rotten apples rather than the culture and practices of the church? They cast it as an historical problem which has passed, shift blame to the societal contexts rather than institutional failings and seek to restore the good order of the past, unreformed and unrepentant. They deny the truth of what has been exposed and the imperatives for reform.
Your response rests as much in the Gospel as it does in the recommendations of the Royal Commission. For in the Gospel it was the voice of the oppressed and marginalised that Christ used to declare a new order. It was through his engagement with the poor Christ proclaimed the truth and the light. He admonished those who sought to maintain the status quo and those who sought to maintain the privileges of power, abuse and influence.
Whose voice will you listen to in responding to the challenges of what has been revealed?
Fact from Fiction
The Commission’s work has covered so much territory, so many institutions and so many issues that this paper can only touch on a few issues. But importantly the Commission has debunked some long held and often claimed myths or inaccuracies in relation to the Church and abuse in Australia. It has sought to put the record straight to the extent possible. For me, some of those keys areas worth mentioning up front are:
- Child sexual abuse has been present within the Catholic Church for much of its history and is not a phenomenon only of the last century or more specifically the more permissive 1970s and 80s. Despite many positive changes in the church’s understandings, policies and practices it remains a contemporary issue and significant present day risks exist.
- Child sexual abuse in religious institutions and the Catholic Church was more extensive than admitted or expected with some specific institutions having very high levels of reported allegations of abuse.
- Abuse was not just an issue of bad conduct by a few ‘rotten apples’, rather there were systemic issues that enabled abuse to occur and hindered effective, just and compassionate responses especially prior to the mid-1990s.
- Many contributing factors collectively gave rise to personal and institutional failures including unhealthy clericalism, mandatory celibacy and inadequate selection, training and formation of religious and clergy. The absence of professional development and ongoing pastoral supervision exacerbated such weaknesses. And homosexuality was not generally a contributing factor to the sexual abuse of children.
- Poor governance, inadequate leadership, and an unhealthy culture that preferenced secrecy and the Church’s own interests contributed to the collective failure of the Catholic Church. The interests of children, and then later adult survivors, were not paramount or even adequately addressed until at least the mid 1990’s.
- Many of the improvements in good governance and child safe practices in the Church’s human service ministries appear not to have been adequately adopted in the operation of parishes and dioceses, at least until more recently.
- The Catholic Church in Australia did eventually take decisive action to address the complaints and needs of survivors especially with the adoption of Towards Healing (and many claims were satisfactorily dealt with), but inconsistent practices and implementation, and aggressive defences to civil claims lead to much criticism, injustice and unnecessary pain to many.
The story of Religious Institutions through the lens of the Royal Commission
More than 4,500 survivors told the Royal Commission in private sessions that they were sexually abused as children in religious institutions. The abuse occurred in religious schools, orphanages and missions, churches, presbyteries and rectories, confessionals, and various other settings. In private sessions we heard about child sexual abuse occurring in nearly 1,700 different religious institutions.
The sexual abuse took many forms, including rape. It was often accompanied by physical or emotional abuse. Most victims were aged between 10 and 14 years when the abuse first started. We heard about perpetrators including priests, religious brothers and sisters, ministers, church elders, teachers in religious schools, workers in residential institutions, youth group leaders and others.
We conducted 30 case studies on religious institutions. They revealed that many religious leaders knew of allegations of child sexual abuse yet failed to take effective action. Some ignored allegations and did not respond at all. Some treated alleged perpetrators leniently and failed to address the obvious risks they posed to children. Some concealed abuse and shielded perpetrators from accountability. Institutional reputations and individual perpetrators were prioritised over the needs of victims and their families.
Religious leaders and institutions across Australia have acknowledged that children suffered sexual abuse while in their care. Many have also accepted that their responses to this abuse were inadequate. These failures are not confined to religious institutions. However, the failures of religious institutions are particularly troubling because these institutions have played, and continue to play, an integral and unique role in the lives of many children.
They have also been key providers of education, health and social welfare services to children in Australia for many years. They have been among the most respected institutions in our society. The perpetrators of child sexual abuse in religious institutions were, in many cases, people that children and parents trusted the most and suspected the least.
Many people who experience child sexual abuse have the course of their lives altered forever.
Many of the survivors we heard from continue to experience the ongoing impacts. For some, these impacts have been profound. They include a devastating loss of religious faith and loss of trust in the religious organisation that was once a fundamental part of their life. The impacts have rippled out to affect their parents, siblings, partners, children and, in some cases, entire communities. Some victims have not survived the abuse, having since taken their own lives.
It would be a mistake to regard this child sexual abuse as historical; as something we no longer need to be concerned about. While much of the abuse we heard about in religious institutions occurred before 1990, long delays in victims disclosing abuse mean that an accurate contemporary understanding of the problem is not possible. Some of the abuse we heard about was recent. More than 200 survivors told us they had experienced child sexual abuse in a religious institution since 1990. We have no way of knowing how many others may have had similar experiences. It is and will be an issue today and into the future,
However, it would also be wrong to say that nothing has changed. In some religious institutions there has been progress during the past two decades. Some of the religious institutions examined told us about their child protection reforms. Others remained reluctant to accept the need for significant internal changes.
Some important numbers
As of May 2017, 15,249 people had contacted us about child sexual abuse that fell within our Terms of Reference. Of these, 7,382 people told us about child sexual abuse in religious institutions. Many went on to attend a private session. As of May 2017, we had heard from 6,875 survivors in private sessions, of whom 4,029 (58.6 per cent) told us about child sexual abuse in religious institutions. We heard more allegations of child sexual abuse in relation to the Catholic Church than any other religious organisation, followed by the Anglican Church, The Salvation Army and others.
Whilst there are no historic prevalence studies as to what percentage of children have been sexually abused in an institutional setting, nor in which institutional types, the numbers prepared to share their stories are alarming and cannot be minimised.
For instance by the end of the Commission’s work, 32% of all those who came forward identified an institution run by a government, yet nearly 37% identified an institution run by the Catholic Church. Whilst the church ran many schools and other institutions, they were far less than those run by governments.
In relation to schools more than 76% of those who reported abuse in schools, identified a non-government school- 74% catholic, 26% independent.
Furthermore notwithstanding large numbers of complaints received by institutions to date and participation in redress schemes by many, only 34% of all private session attendees indicated that they have advised the relevant institution of their abuse.
The occurrence of child sexual abuse in religious institutions – which we heard was most common in religious schools and residential institutions – should be considered against the backdrop of the roles that religious organisations have played in Australian society. In particular, religious organisations have provided educational and social welfare services to a large number of children, and have received considerable amounts of government funding for this service provision.
The majority of survivors who told us in private sessions about child sexual abuse in religious institutions were male. The average age of victims at the time of first abuse was 10.3 years. Most survivors told us about multiple incidents of abuse and many told us about abuse that continued for more than a year.
We heard about children experiencing sexual abuse in religious institutions in Australia from the late 1920s until well after the establishment of this Royal Commission. Because of delayed disclosure, information gathered from private sessions is likely to under-represent the number of survivors of more recent abuse. The survivors we heard from in private sessions took, on average, 23.9 years to disclose that they had been sexually abused.
The Catholic Church claims data showed that the average age of claimants at the time of the first alleged incident of child sexual abuse was 11.4 years for all claimants, 11.6 years for male claimants and 10.5 years for female claimants. Of those who made a claim, 78 per cent were male and 22 per cent were female. The largest proportion of first alleged incidents of child sexual abuse occurred in the 1970s. The average duration of abuse was 2.4 years. There was an average delay of 33 years between the date of the first alleged incident of abuse and the date the claim was made.
The most common religious contexts in which we heard about child sexual abuse occurring were religious schools, residential institutions, and places of worship or religious activities. As of May 2017 of the 4,029 survivors who told us in private sessions about child sexual abuse in religious institutions:
- 39.0 per cent told us about abuse in religious schools
- 35.2 per cent told us about abuse in residential institutions managed by religious organisations before 1990, such as orphanages, children’s homes and missions
- 24.8 per cent told us about abuse in places of worship or during religious activities
- 1.6 per cent told us about abuse during recreational activities affiliated with religious organisations, such as church-run camps.
Characteristics of child sexual abuse specific to religious institutions
We heard about some aspects of institutional child sexual abuse which were specific to religious institutions.
We heard that such abuse generally occurred in the context of a religious community. Survivors told us about characteristics of their religious communities that may have contributed to the risk of abuse, acted as a barrier to disclosure, or affected institutional responses.
We heard about some religious communities that could be described as ‘closed’, where children had limited interaction with the broader community. We also heard from survivors about growing up in religious communities with little or no education about sex, and about how this left them vulnerable to sexual abuse.
In devout religious families, parents often had such high regard for people in religious ministry that they naturally trusted them to supervise their children. People in religious ministry were considered to be representatives of God. Many parents were unable to believe they could be capable of sexually abusing a child. In this environment, perpetrators who were people in religious ministry often had unfettered access to children.
Children were often sexually abused by people in religious ministry after the perpetrator had groomed the child’s family members by becoming closely involved in their family life. We commonly heard about perpetrators who ingratiated themselves into the family and became regular visitors to the home. Sometimes perpetrators stepped into the role of ‘father figure’ or exploited particularly vulnerable families such as those experiencing marriage breakdown or mourning a death.
Survivors also told us that as children they were threatened or blamed for the sexual abuse they experienced, often in ways that manipulated their religious beliefs – such as the threat of being sent to hell if they resisted sexual abuse or disclosed it. The use of threats and blame in the name of God had a powerful effect on children.
We heard that some children experienced sexual abuse that involved the use of religious rituals, symbols or language and in confession. Some survivors described such experiences as amounting to a type of ‘spiritual abuse’, which profoundly damaged their religious beliefs and trust in their religious organisation.
Impacts of child sexual abuse in religious institutions
The impacts of child sexual abuse in institutional contexts can be devastating. There can be distinctive impacts where the abuse is inflicted in a religious context.
Some survivors told us they felt a sense of spiritual confusion or spiritual harm after being sexually abused as a child by a person in religious ministry. Many survivors said they lost their religious faith. We heard that children were raised to have the utmost respect for the religious organisation their family was a part of, and were often taught that people in religious ministry, such as priests, were God’s representatives on earth. Some perpetrators used this status to facilitate child sexual abuse. When a religious child was sexually abused by such a person, the impacts were often profound. Some children felt that they had been abused by God or that God must have willed the abuse to happen.
The impacts of child sexual abuse extend beyond victims. Their parents, siblings, partners, carers and children can be significantly affected, as can other children and staff in institutions where abuse occurs. The impacts can be intergenerational and can affect entire communities.
We heard that some religious families were torn apart when children disclosed that they had been sexually abused by people in religious ministry, because parents were unable to believe that people in religious ministry could be capable of perpetrating such abuse. Some survivors told us that negative reactions from family members when they disclosed abuse led to alienation between them and their family members for years, in some cases a lifetime.
We also heard that some survivors were not believed, or were ostracised by their religious community, after disclosing experiences of child sexual abuse. Many survivors told us they had experienced suicidal thoughts or had attempted to end their life after being sexually abused in a religious institution as a child. Some survivors described ‘clusters’ of suicides in affected communities. In some cases we heard about children who took their own lives.
While many survivors told us they lost their religious faith as a result of being sexually abused, others told us their spirituality or religious faith helped them to cope.
Common institutional responses to child sexual abuse across religious institutions
Despite many differences between religious faiths,, there were remarkable similarities in the institutional responses to child sexual abuse across religious institutions. Common failures were very evident especially prior to the mid-1990s when many institutions started to more fully address these issues.
Our case studies demonstrated that it was a common practice of religious institutions to adopt ‘in-house’ responses when dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse. Sometimes there was no response at all. Often, alleged perpetrators were treated with considerable leniency. ‘In house’ responses ensured that allegations remained secret, and shielded religious institutions from public scrutiny or accountability.
Leaders of religious institutions often showed insufficient consideration for victims at the time they disclosed child sexual abuse. They frequently responded with disbelief or denial, or attempted to blame or discredit the victim. We also heard of instances where children who disclosed sexual abuse in religious institutions were punished or suffered further abuse. Leaders of religious institutions often minimised the sexual conduct that was reported to them and wrongly concluded that there was no criminality in the alleged actions. In other cases religious leaders knew that actions were or may have been criminal. However, leaders of religious institutions typically did not report allegations to police.
Leaders of religious institutions were often reluctant to remove alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse from positions in ministry or employment after suspicions of child sexual abuse were raised or allegations were received. In some cases perpetrators made admissions of behaviour amounting to child sexual abuse, yet religious leaders were still reluctant to take decisive action or report them to police.
Some leaders of religious institutions made serious errors of judgement in the face of compelling evidence of child sexual abuse, by giving alleged perpetrators a ‘second chance’ with continued or successive appointments.
This included moving alleged perpetrators to new positions in different locations where they were offered a ‘fresh start’, untarnished by their history of sexual offending or previous allegations.. The communities that perpetrators were moved into were in some cases not made aware of the risks these individuals posed.
Leaders of religious institutions also commonly allowed alleged perpetrators to continue in ministry or employment with little or no risk management or monitoring of their interactions with children.
Across religious institutions, the inadequacy of internal disciplinary systems and the limited use of disciplinary measures meant that some perpetrators of child sexual abuse were not disciplined at all; some were disciplined, but in a minimal way; and others were disciplined, but only many years after allegations were raised or they were convicted. This often meant that perpetrators who were in religious ministry retained their religious titles, and lay perpetrators remained attached to religious institutions in circumstances where it was plainly inappropriate for them to do so.
Instead of reporting allegations to police or engaging with formal disciplinary processes for the dismissal of perpetrators of child sexual abuse from religious ministry, people who responded to allegations of child sexual abuse in religious institutions sometimes encouraged perpetrators to retire or resign as a way of dealing with these matters ‘quietly’. This included, for example, allowing perpetrators to retire or resign on false grounds, such as for health reasons.
Common contributing factors across religious institutions
Multiple and often interacting factors have contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse in religious institutions and to inadequate institutional responses to such abuse. Our work suggests these include a combination of cultural, governance and theological factors.
In several of the religious institutions we examined, the central factor, underpinning and linked to all other factors, was the status of people in religious ministry. We repeatedly heard that the status of people in religious ministry, described in some contexts as ‘clericalism’, contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse in religious institutions, as well as to inadequate institutional responses.
The power and authority exercised by people in religious ministry gave them access to children and created opportunities for abuse. Children and adults within religious communities frequently saw people in religious ministry as figures who could not be challenged and, equally, as individuals in whom they could place their trust.
Within religious institutions there was often an inability to conceive that a person in religious ministry was capable of sexually abusing a child. This resulted in a failure by adults to listen to children who tried to disclose sexual abuse, a reluctance of religious leaders to take action when faced with allegations against people in religious ministry, and a willingness of religious leaders to accept denials from alleged perpetrators.
In some cases, it is clear that leaders of religious institutions knew that allegations of child sexual abuse involved actions that were or may have been criminal, or perpetrators made admissions. However, there was a tendency to view child sexual abuse as a forgivable sin or a moral failing rather than a crime.
Others inappropriately saw an allegation of child sexual abuse as an ‘aberration’ or a ‘one-off incident’ and not as part of a pattern of behaviour.
Consequently, rather than being treated as criminal offences, allegations and admissions of child sexual abuse were often approached through the lens of forgiveness and repentance. This is reflected in the forgiveness of perpetrators through the practice of religious confession, as well as encouraging victims to forgive those who abused them.
Many leaders of religious institutions demonstrated a preoccupation with protecting the institution’s ‘good name’ and reputation.
In some cases, the structure and governance of religious institutions may have inhibited effective institutional responses to child sexual abuse.
I acknowledge that particularly since the mid-1990s the Catholic Church has been active in seeking to respond to child sexual abuse within its institutions. This included redress arrangements, counselling and support services, appointment of safeguarding officers and changes to professional standards arrangements. The appointment of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council was a very significant initiative. Yet the history of the Church’s response over time has been found to be inadequate and deeply flawed especially in past times, lacking in justice and compassion in many instances.
Fifteen of our case studies examined responses to child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions, including schools, residential institutions, and places of worship and during religious activities.
As of May 2017, of the 4,029 survivors who told us during private sessions about child sexual abuse in religious institutions, 2,489 survivors (61.8 per cent) told us about abuse in Catholic institutions. The majority (73.9 per cent) were male and 25.9 per cent were female. A small number of survivors identified as gender-diverse or did not indicate their gender. The average age of victims at the time of first abuse was 10.4 years. Of the 1,489 survivors who told us about the age of the person who sexually abused them, 1,334 survivors (89.6 per cent) told us about abuse by an adult and 199 survivors (13.4 per cent) told us about abuse by a child. A small number of survivors told us about abuse by an adult and by a child. Of the 1,334 survivors who told us about sexual abuse by an adult, 96.2 per cent said they were abused by a male adult.
Of the 2,413 survivors who told us about the position held by a perpetrator, 74.7 per cent told us about perpetrators who were people in religious ministry and 27.6 per cent told us about perpetrators who were teachers. Some survivors told us about more than one perpetrator.
We also commissioned a survey to gather data from Catholic Church authorities in Australia regarding claims of child sexual abuse they received between 1 January 1980 and 31 December 2015. This data showed:
- 4,444 claimants alleged incidents of child sexual abuse in 4,756 reported claims
- 78 per cent of claimants were male and 22 per cent were female, and the average age of the claimant at the time of the first alleged incident of child sexual abuse was approximately 11.4 years
- 90 per cent of alleged perpetrators were male
- of all known alleged perpetrators:
37 per cent were non-ordained religious (32 per cent were religious brothers and 5 per cent were religious sisters);
30 per cent were priests;
29 per cent were lay people;
- 3,057 claims of child sexual abuse resulted in a payment being made following a claim for redress, with a total of $268.0 million paid (of which $250.7 million was paid in monetary compensation in relation to 2,845 claims, at an average of approximately $88,000 per claim).
We also sought information from 75 Catholic archdioceses/dioceses and religious institutes about the number of their members who ministered in Australia from 1 January 1950 to 31 December2010, and how long each of them ministered. We then calculated the proportion of members of these Catholic Church authorities who ministered in the period 1950 to 2010 who were alleged perpetrators, taking into account the duration of ministry (a weighted average methodology).
Of all Catholic priests included in the survey who ministered between 1950 and 2010, taking into account the duration of ministry, 7 per cent were alleged perpetrators.
The weighted proportion of alleged perpetrators in specific Catholic Church authorities with the highest rates, included: the St John of God Brothers; the Christian Brothers; the Benedictine Community of New Norcia; the Salesians of Don Bosco ; the Marist Brothers ; the De La Salle Brothers.
There were however great variations between dioceses and orders raising the question as to why. The differences indicate systemic issues played a part in creating in some institutions an environment in which abuse could take place and remain unreported.
Awareness of allegations of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church
Our inquiry revealed that sexual abuse has been a long standing issue for the Catholic Church going back to the first millennium. In Australia there a numerous examples of child sexual abuse matters being known of as early as the 1870s. We identified numerous more recent cases where senior officials of Catholic Church authorities knew about allegations of child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions but failed to take effective action.
It is also evident that other priests, religious and lay members of the Catholic community were aware either of specific complaints of child sexual abuse or of rumours or gossip about certain priests or religious. While the knowledge and understanding of child sexual abuse may have developed and deepened in the last two decades of the 20th century, it is clear that Catholic Church leaders were aware of the problem well before that time.
Institutional responses to child sexual abuse before the development of national procedures
We concluded that there were catastrophic failures of leadership of Catholic Church authorities over many decades, particularly before the 1990s.
Those failures led to the suffering of a great number of children, their families and wider communities. For many, the harm was irreparable. In numerous cases, that harm could have been avoided had Catholic Church authorities acted in the interests of children rather than in their own interests.
Few survivors of child sexual abuse that occurred before the 1990s described receiving any formal response from the relevant Catholic Church authority when they reported the abuse. Instead, they were often disbelieved, ignored or punished, and in some cases were further abused.
The responses of various Catholic Church authorities to complaints and concerns about their priests and religious were remarkably and disturbingly similar. It is apparent that the avoidance of public scandal, the maintenance of the reputation of the Catholic Church and loyalty to priests and religious largely determined the responses of Catholic Church authorities when allegations of child sexual abuse arose.
Complaints of child sexual abuse were not reported to police or other civil authorities, contributing to the Catholic Church being able to keep such matters ‘in-house’ and out of the public gaze. Had Catholic Church authorities reported all complaints to police, they could have prevented further sexual abuse of children.
In some cases, leaders of Catholic Church authorities were reluctant to remove alleged perpetrators from positions that involved contact with children. Some alleged perpetrators were allowed to remain in religious ministry in the same positions and locations for extended periods of time after allegations of child sexual abuse were raised; in some cases there were further allegations of the sexual abuse of children. If appropriate protective steps had been taken, subsequent abuse may have been avoided.
The removal of priests and religious from locations where allegations of child sexual abuse arose, and their subsequent transfer to new locations, was one of the most common responses adopted across Catholic Church authorities in Australia before the development of national procedures in the early 1990s. Some priests and religious brothers who were accused of child sexual abuse were moved on multiple occasions.
When the priest or religious left, sometimes hurriedly, untrue or misleading reasons were sometimes given for their departure. On occasions, the move was timed to avoid raising suspicion. In some cases, no warning, or no effective warning, was given to the new parish or school of the risk posed by the incoming priest or religious.
Until at least the early 1990s, alleged perpetrators often were sent away for a period of ‘treatment’ or ‘reflection’ before being transferred to a new appointment or being allowed to continue in an existing one. Some leaders of Catholic Church authorities believed that psychological or other forms of counselling could assist or ‘cure’ alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse.
Throughout this period, there was a system under canon law for disciplining priests and religious accused of child sexual abuse, under which the most severe penalty was dismissal from the priesthood or religious life and return to the lay state. However, the Catholic Church authorities we examined did not engage with these canonical processes for priests or religious accused of child sexual abuse in the decades before the development of national procedures in the early 1990s. Instead, bishops and religious superiors adopted a range of informal responses aimed at limiting the capacity of alleged perpetrators to engage in ministry or, at most, permanently removing alleged perpetrators from particular dioceses or religious congregations.
The clearest indication of the inappropriateness and ineffectiveness of institutional responses by Catholic Church authorities to alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse in this period is that often they did not prevent the further sexual abuse of children. Some perpetrators continued to offend even after there had been multiple responses following initial and successive allegations of child sexual abuse.
Development of national procedures
In the late 1980s, Catholic Church leaders began to discuss the issue of child sexual abuse more formally at the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC). In 1988 the ACBC established a dedicated committee to consider issues related to child sexual abuse, and the adoption of a series of national protocols from 1990 was an important step towards formulating a nationally consistent response. However, these protocols retained a focus on responding to the alleged perpetrators of sexual abuse rather than on the needs of victims, and their implementation by Catholic Church authorities was sporadic.
By the mid-1990s there had been a shift in understanding about the appropriateness of keeping alleged perpetrators in ministry where they would be in regular contact with children. At about the same time, members of the newly constituted Bishops’ Committee for Professional Standards recognised that a new protocol focusing on the needs of victims was required. The formulation and adoption of Towards Healing and the Melbourne Response in 1996 were considerable achievements in this regard.
Institutional responses to alleged perpetrators during and after the development of national procedures
From the mid-1990s, there were some improvements in the responses of Catholic Church authorities to allegations of child sexual abuse. Alleged perpetrators began to be placed on administrative leave while complaints were investigated, and steps were generally taken to remove perpetrators from ministry if complaints against them were substantiated. However, these processes were not always followed, and some measures masked the reasons for the action taken. Further, processes to dismiss priests and religious appear to have been rarely used during the 1990s and early 2000s.
While the early protocols contained some provisions relating to alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse, they did not comprehensively set out the obligations of bishops and religious superiors in responding to alleged perpetrators and convicted offenders. Furthermore, it appears that leaders of Catholic Church authorities were not always aware of or did not consistently follow these protocols.
The early protocols did not require leaders of Catholic Church authorities to report allegations to the police. Towards Healing did not mandate this until 2010. From the mid-1990s, leaders of Catholic Church authorities continued not to report alleged perpetrators to police, leaving this to victims and survivors. This had the effect of keeping many complaints from the public gaze and in some cases meant that children continued to be at risk.
The early protocols saw the introduction of the approach that alleged perpetrators should be required to take leave from active duties while allegations were investigated. However, Catholic Church leaders in some cases did not take this action and alleged perpetrators continued in the same positions for extended periods of time after allegations had been raised. In some cases, leaders of Catholic Church authorities took steps to remove perpetrators from religious ministry when complaints of child sexual abuse were substantiated or if they were convicted. In other cases action was taken due to a concern about the level of risk posed by an alleged perpetrator. In the case of priests, removal from ministry was generally achieved through the ‘withdrawal of faculties’.
Some bishops permitted priests to resign or retire following allegations of child sexual abuse, in circumstances where it was not made publicly known that allegations had been made against them. Other priests were bestowed with honorific titles, such as Pastor Emeritus, at the time of their resignation, despite being the subject of allegations or having made admissions of child sexual abuse.
The delayed or limited use of canon law processes to dismiss those found to have committed child sexual abuse meant that some perpetrators remained in the priesthood or in religious orders for many years after their guilt had been admitted or established. In addition, the Vatican was very slow to respond to petitions for dismissal from Catholic Church authorities in Australia, and it is clear that the Vatican’s approach to child sexual abuse by clergy was protective of the offender. One bishop told us that in a number of cases his requests to have offender priests dismissed from the clerical state were refused and he was instead directed to ensure that the priests live a life of prayer and penance.
Institutional responses to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse after the development of national procedures
In several case studies we considered the experiences of victims and survivors of child sexual abuse who engaged with Towards Healing and the Melbourne Response. For some, participating in these processes was a positive experience which contributed to their healing. However, others told us that their experiences were difficult, frightening or confusing, and led to further harm and re-traumatisation.
We recognised that many people who have engaged with the Towards Healing process since 1997 may have received greatly needed compassion and support and derived important benefits from their participation. However, some survivors have been disappointed by the process and critical of it. We heard from a number of survivors that the principles and procedures set out in Towards Healing were not followed by Catholic Church authorities.
Significantly, a number of survivors told us they perceived that the personnel they engaged with were insufficiently independent of the Catholic Church. Some told us they experienced a power imbalance between themselves and the Catholic Church representatives involved.
We heard from a number of survivors who pursued civil litigation that Catholic Church authorities took advantage of the legal defences available to them and conducted litigation in a manner that did not adequately take account of the pastoral and other needs of survivors of child sexual abuse. The role of legal advice given and accepted without regard to values and mission of the church was deeply concerning.
We also heard that in some cases, Catholic Church authorities avoided or resisted meeting with communities affected by child sexual abuse and failed or refused to provide pastoral support to communities who both needed and requested it. We heard of instances where Catholic Church authorities withheld information from affected communities, which meant that people were not alerted to possible cases of child sexual abuse or were left with unanswered questions.
Contributing factors in the Catholic Church
We considered a range of factors that may have contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions or affected institutional responses to such abuse.
Child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and religious may be explained by a combination of psycho-sexual and other related factors on the part of the individual perpetrator, and a range of institutional factors, including theological, governance and cultural factors. The same theological, governance and cultural factors that contributed to the occurrence of abuse also contributed to the inadequate responses of Catholic institutions to that abuse.
Individual pathology on its own is insufficient to explain child sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic clergy and religious. Rather, a heightened risk of child sexual abuse arises when specific factors in relation to an individual’s psycho-sexual immaturity or psycho-sexual dysfunction combine with a range of situational and institutional factors.
Compared with perpetrators of child sexual abuse in the wider community, research suggests that Catholic clergy perpetrators are an atypical group. They tend to begin offending later in life and to be better educated, less antisocial and more likely to have male than female victims.
Factors that may influence whether a priest or religious is susceptible to sexually abusing a child may include confusion about sexual identity, childish interests and behaviour, lack of peer relationships, and a history of having been sexually abused as a child. Further, some clergy and religious perpetrators appear to have been vulnerable to mental health issues, substance abuse and psycho-sexual immaturity. We heard that personality factors that may be associated with clergy and religious perpetrators include narcissism, dependency, cognitive rigidity and fear of intimacy.
Although most of the perpetrators of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church that we heard about were male adults, and most victims were boys or adolescents, it is a misconception that all perpetrators who sexually abuse children of the same gender as them are same sex attracted. Research suggests that child sexual abuse is not related to sexual orientation: perpetrators can be straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual. Research has indicated that men who identify as heterosexual are just as likely as men who identify as homosexual to perpetrate child sexual abuse. Vatican documents that link homosexuality to child sexual abuse are not in keeping with current psychological evidence or understanding about healthy human sexuality.
Clericalism is at the centre of a tightly interconnected cluster of contributing factors. Clericalism is the idealisation of the priesthood, and by extension, the idealisation of the Catholic Church.
Clericalism is linked to a sense of entitlement, superiority and exclusion, and abuse of power. Clericalism nurtured ideas that the Catholic Church was autonomous and self-sufficient, and promoted the idea that child sexual abuse by clergy and religious was a matter to be dealt with internally and in secret.
The theological notion that the priest undergoes an ‘ontological change’ at ordination, so that he is different to ordinary human beings and permanently a priest, is a dangerous component of the culture of clericalism. The notion that the priest is a sacred person contributed to exaggerated levels of unregulated power and trust which perpetrators of child sexual abuse were able to exploit.
Clericalism caused some bishops and religious superiors to identify with perpetrators of child sexual abuse rather than victims and their families, and in some cases led to denial that clergy and religious were capable of child sexual abuse. It was the culture of clericalism that led bishops and religious superiors to attempt to avoid public scandal to protect the reputation of the Catholic Church and the status of the priesthood.
We heard that the culture of clericalism continues in the Catholic Church and is on the rise in some seminaries in Australia and worldwide.
Organisational structure and governance
The governance of the Catholic Church is hierarchical. We heard that the decentralisation and autonomy of Catholic dioceses and religious institutes contributed to ineffective responses of Catholic Church authorities to child sexual abuse, as did the personalised nature of power in the Catholic Church and the limited accountability of bishops.
The powers of governance held by individual diocesan bishops and provincials are not subject to adequate checks and balances. There is no separation of powers, and the executive, legislative and judicial aspects of governance are combined in the person of the pope and in diocesan bishops.
Diocesan bishops have not been sufficiently accountable to any other body for decision-making in their handling of allegations of child sexual abuse or alleged perpetrators. There has been no requirement for their decisions to be made transparent or subject to due process. The tragic consequences of this lack of accountability have been seen in the failures of those in authority in the Catholic Church to respond adequately to allegations and occurrences of child sexual abuse.
The hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church created a culture of deferential obedience in which poor responses to child sexual abuse went unchallenged. Where senior clergy and religious with advisory roles to diocesan bishops or provincials of religious institutes were aware of allegations of child sexual abuse, often they did not challenge or attempt to remedy the inadequate responses of their bishop or provincial, or believed that they could not do so.
The exclusion of lay people and women from leadership positions in the Catholic Church may have contributed to inadequate responses to child sexual abuse. Despite considerable changes to the conduct of many of its human services and the adoption of sound governance arrangements, including through incorporation, there remains much confusion as to what constitutes good governance especially in the diocesan structures.
In accordance with contemporary standards of good governance, we encouraged the Catholic Church in Australia to explore and develop ways in which its structures and practices of governance may be made more accountable, more transparent, more meaningfully consultative and more participatory, including at the diocesan and parish level. We recommend that the ACBC conduct a national review of the governance and management structures of dioceses and parishes, including in relation to issues of transparency, accountability, consultation and participation of lay men and women.
We noted that diocesan bishops and provincials of religious institutes are increasingly making use of professional expertise in the management of their various institutions, including in the administration of their responses to child sexual abuse. We also accepted that the Catholic education and Catholic community services sectors have increasing lay involvement in their governance, operate professionally and are subject to significant government oversight.
In its responses to child sexual abuse, the leadership of the Catholic Church has failed the people of the Catholic Church in Australia (especially prior to 2000), in particular its children. The results of that failure have been catastrophic.
It appears that some candidates for leadership positions have been selected on the basis of their adherence to specific aspects of church doctrine and their commitment to the defence and promotion of the institutional Catholic Church, rather than on their capacity for leadership.
This meant that some bishops were ill equipped and unprepared for the challenges of dealing with child sexual abuse and responding to emerging claims. Catholic Church leaders in Australia have prioritised protecting the reputation of the church at the expense of the welfare of individuals when responding to child sexual abuse.
Meaningful and direct consultation with, and participation of, lay people in the appointment of bishops, as well as greater transparency in that process, would make bishops more accountable and responsive to the lay people of the Catholic Church, including in responding to child sexual abuse. We recommended that the ACBC request that the Holy See amend the appointment process for bishops.
We also recommended that each religious institution in Australia ensure that its religious leaders are provided with leadership training, both before and after their appointment, including in the promotion of child safety.
The disciplinary system imposed by canon law for dealing with clergy and religious who sexually abuse children contributed to the failure of the Catholic Church to provide an effective and timely response to alleged perpetrators and perpetrators. We heard that canon law as it applied to child sexual abuse was cumbersome, complex and confusing. We recommend that the ACBC request that the Holy See amend a number of provisions in canon law.
A number of the issues we identified have impeded the permanent removal from ministry of priests or religious against whom complaints of child sexual abuse have been substantiated, or the dismissal of priests or religious convicted of offences related to child sexual abuse. We recommended that if a complaint of child sexual abuse against a person in religious ministry is substantiated, the person be permanently removed from ministry. Canon law should be amended to this effect .We also recommended that canon law be amended to ensure that priests and religious who are convicted of a child sexual abuse-related offence in a civil court are dismissed from the priesthood and/or religious life.
While not a direct cause of child sexual abuse, we were satisfied that compulsory celibacy (for clergy) and vowed chastity (for members of religious institutes) have contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse, especially when combined with other risk factors. We acknowledged that only a minority of Catholic clergy and religious have sexually abused children.
However, based on research we concluded that there is an elevated risk of child sexual abuse where compulsorily celibate male clergy or religious have privileged access to children in certain types of Catholic institutions, including schools, residential institutions and parishes.
For many Catholic clergy and religious, celibacy is implicated in emotional isolation, loneliness, depression and mental illness. Compulsory celibacy may also have contributed to various forms of psycho-sexual dysfunction, including psycho-sexual immaturity, which pose an ongoing risk to the safety of children. For many clergy and religious, celibacy is an unattainable ideal that leads to clergy and religious living double lives, and contributes to a culture of secrecy and hypocrisy.
This culture appears to have contributed to some clergy and religious overlooking violations of celibacy and minimising child sexual abuse as forgivable moral lapses committed by colleagues who were struggling to live up to an ideal that for many proved impossible.
We recommended that the ACBC request that the Holy See consider introducing voluntary celibacy for diocesan clergy. We also recommend that Catholic religious institutes implement measures to address the risks of harm to children and the potential psychological and sexual dysfunction associated with celibacy.
Further, we recommended that, to promote healthy lives for those who choose to be celibate, Catholic Church authorities improve their processes of selection, screening and training of candidates for the clergy and religious life, and their processes of ongoing formation, support and supervision of clergy and religious.
Selection, screening and initial formation
It is apparent that initial formation practices were inadequate in the past, particularly before the 1970s, in relation to the screening of candidates for admission, preparing seminarians and novices to lead a celibate life, and preparing them for the realities of a life in religious or pastoral ministry. The initial training of priests and religious occurred in segregated, regimented, monastic and clericalist environments, and was based on obedience and conformity. These arrangements are likely to have been detrimental to psycho-sexual maturity, and to have produced clergy and religious who were cognitively rigid. This increased the risk of child sexual abuse.
Although from the 1970s there have been improvements in the selection, screening and formation of candidates for the priesthood and religious life, it appears that these have largely been implemented in an ad hoc and inconsistent manner. In particular, there is still a lack of consistency between seminaries and houses of religious formation in relation to the selection and screening of candidates.
We recommended that the Catholic Church adopt a national protocol for screening candidates and that bishops and religious superiors draw on wide-ranging professional advice in their decision-making in relation to the admission of individuals to ordination or the profession of vows.
We also recommended that guideline policy documents relating to the formation of clergy and religious be revised to explicitly address child sexual abuse and its prevention.
We also heard that certain models of formation may be instrumental in inculcating a culture of clericalism. We recommended that the ACBC and Catholic Religious Australia conduct a national review of current models of initial formation.
Oversight, support and ongoing training of people in ministry
It is apparent that Catholic clergy and religious have not received adequate training in relation to professional responsibility, the maintenance of healthy boundaries, and ministerial and professional ethics. It is clear that inadequate preparation for ministry, loneliness, social isolation, and personal distress related to the difficulties of celibacy, have contributed to the sexual abuse of children.
Processes for the management and oversight of clergy and religious in their working ministry have been poor. Bishops and religious superiors have limited capacity to personally oversee the activities of clergy or religious, and, especially within dioceses, ‘middle management’ structures have been inadequate. We heard that there has been a view, particularly on the part of some Catholic clergy, that following ordination they do not need ongoing training. We heard that the Catholic Church in Australia has developed a code of conduct for clergy and religious that includes standards in relation to professional development, professional supervision and appraisal. And we heard of the establishment of a new national professional standards body.
However, we also heard that most clergy do not fully comply with ongoing formation activities. Improved and updated policies and practices in relation to the oversight, support and ongoing training of all people in religious and pastoral ministry in the Catholic Church are essential to reducing the risk of child sexual abuse and ensuring better institutional responses to abuse.
We recommended the development and implementation of mandatory national standards to ensure that all people in religious or pastoral ministry in the Catholic Church in Australia undertake regular professional development, undertake professional/pastoral supervision and undergo regular performance appraisals.
We also heard that specialised programs for the screening, induction, and professional support and supervision of priests and religious recruited from overseas are inadequate. We recommended the creation of targeted programs for these purposes. I believe this is an urgent priority.
Sacrament of reconciliation (confession)
We were satisfied that the practice of the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) contributed to both the occurrence of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and to inadequate institutional responses to abuse. We heard in case studies and private sessions that disclosures of child sexual abuse by perpetrators or victims during confession were not reported to civil authorities or otherwise acted on. We heard that the sacrament is based in a theology of sin and forgiveness, and that some Catholic Church leaders have viewed child sexual abuse as a sin to be dealt with through private absolution and penance rather than as a crime to be reported to police. The sacrament of reconciliation enabled perpetrators to resolve their sense of guilt without fear of being reported. In some cases we heard that children experienced sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests in confessionals.
We recommended that any religious institution with a rite of religious confession implement a policy that confession for children be conducted in an open space and in a clear line of sight of another adult.
Whilst the Church has a profound commitment to maintaining the confessional seal in the Commission’s view we believe that the protection of children must be paramount. There is a clear conflict that confronts the Church that cannot be resolved by the mantra that the seal of confession is sacrosanct – end of discussion. The protection of children is an equally sacred obligation of the Church as demonstrated by Christ in the Gospels. Because of the high risk of recidivism, even by those who confess, we recommended that there should be no exemption to obligations to report under mandatory reporting laws or the proposed ‘failure to report’ offence in circumstances where knowledge or suspicions of child sexual abuse are formed on the basis of information received in or in connection with a religious confession.
During our public hearings on the Catholic Church, it emerged that Catholic leaders were unclear about whether information received from a child during the sacrament of reconciliation that they had been sexually abused would be covered by the seal of confession.
There are many contemporary risks within all institutions including the Catholic and other churches. Some are directly related to the vulnerabilities of the child or the particular institutional setting. For religious institutions I believe they fall into three main areas.
- Complacency by many or more troubling wilful ignorance by a few, especially in influential roles, could derail efforts to ‘put right that which was wrong’ and to make the necessary reforms to create truly healthy and safe religious institutions. Resistance to change is always a given but the interests of children and responding to the truth of what has been uncovered compels decisive action at all levels of religious institutions.
- Second, children within very traditional or devout communities or ethnically based communities which have not yet been open to a conversation about sex and abuse, and believe such matters should be dealt with, within the community , may well be at some risk. This is despite every such community being committed to the safety of their children. I note that some ethnic communities and churches are moving forward tentatively on what is a difficult journey and this is to be encouraged. Closed institutional settings do present higher risk environments for children especially where they lack the protective factors outlined in the Commission’s report.
- Third, with respect to religious personnel, contemporary risks include a failure to address the unhealthy use of ministerial status and power, including clericalism, the inadequate vetting, training and supervision of overseas personnel and a failure to improve governance, leadership and cultural issues.
Of course whilst child sexual abuse may have reduced in institutions, it does continue to occur and vigilance will always be necessary. All children are potentially at risk, some more than others.
What next for the Catholic Church in Australia?
My personal views and hopes are based on what I have heard. There is enormous pain in many parts of the Catholic Church. For clergy and religious the revelation that some of their colleagues abused children is almost overwhelming. For lay people the fact that trusted priests, religious and lay leaders, often friends and mentors, have offended against children has been devastating. For many parents the failure of their fellow parishioners to believe them and their children is deeply wounding.
The hurt of such betrayals runs deep. For many it is like a grieving process. The church they once knew and loved has been exposed as being deeply flawed. Leaders who they had every right to trust failed them as well as those abused. Some clergy and religious feel their vocation is less valued and the important works of the past and the great good that they did has been diminished. Many are unsure as to how to interact with children and feel constrained in carrying out their ministries.
For the laity the well-recognised failings of the church, raised internally by many, have been publicly exposed. Many may feel powerless in the face of a governance model that appears to alienate them or even guilty that they failed to challenge poor governance and practices earlier.
However, as with all grief, whilst the journey is painful great good can follow. The Church needs to enter into a period of healing. This process is one that must engage survivors, clergy, members of religious communities and all the people of God. It must however be founded on the truth revealed.
Too many have been harmed directly or as secondary victims. Too many have suffered as their beliefs in a just and loving church have been damaged. For leaders of religious communities this task of healing may start within but must move outwards, beyond your own organisations. For parishes they must be actively involved in an honest, open and robust conversation that ultimately seeks to heal and reform. A conversation that never ends.
Many in church are well on that journey. Some are yet to be convinced.
You have the capacity to reshape our institutions and the Church at large:
- To create institutions that are genuinely safe for children and which act in the best interests of children.
- To create institutions that are genuinely responsive to the voices of those that have come forward.
- To create a church whose governance and leadership is competent, engaged and open to learning and improvement.
- To create an ongoing conversation with the people of God and to invite them into the governance and leadership of the Church.
- To create a church more truthful, transparent and accountable to the faithful and the community at large.
- To create a church in which the community’s trust can be restored.
- To create a church authentically based on the Gospels and the revelations of Jesus Christ – one that seeks to heal not to hurt.
- To create a church that loves, that acts justly and that walks humbly in the presence of God and each other.
The Commission’s recommendations are many. Many are directed at institutions generally such as mandatory child safe standards, changes to criminal and civil laws and reportable conduct regimes. Many of these if adopted by government will compel compliance by institutions.
Some recommendations are directed at institutional types such as schools, out of home care, sport and recreation clubs etc.
Yet some are targeted at religious institutions generally and then some specifically to particular churches including the Catholic Church.
Some can be adopted immediately, others will take time. Yet, they do provide a blueprint for going forward. They need your deep consideration. They call for your courage and commitment. They will demand a steadfastness in their implementation. They will require resourcing, good processes and openness to the possibility of real reform.
I acknowledge that some in the church have worked tirelessly for victims and survivors. Others have worked to bring about much needed reforms. I acknowledge important initiatives by the Church including the formation of Catholic Professional Standards Limited, the appointment of an Implementation Advisory Group to advise the Bishops on their response and intensive work within many religious orders and ministries. I wish these initiatives success notwithstanding the ever present opposition by some – but those initiatives will only succeed if the body of the church, the people of God, is engaged in an open, ongoing dialogue and engaged in the necessary reforms that must follow. I hope that Plenary 2020 is a constructive part of that process.
Most importantly we need a Church that opens its heart to those already abused. Whether they ever seek to connect with our Church is not the issue. The question is whether we are open to that encounter.
Now is the time for healing for those within and outside Church. Yet this healing must be one based on an acknowledgement of what has happened and what has been revealed, acceptance of responsibility, redress for those wronged and a steadfast commitment to reform in order to create a healthy, safe and loving Church.
Robert Fitzgerald AM
Some questions to consider:
- Whose voice will we listen to and embrace?
- Do we accept the evidence or truth of what has been found and the need for reform?
- Do we better understand why we failed to be a church of love, justice and humility?
- How do we create an open, honest and sustained conversation at all levels of Church including parish and in all its ministries- a conversation that informs, engages, heals and reforms?
- How do we engage children in this conversation?
- Are our governance structures a hindrance or a help in creating a child safe institution? What needs to change to engage and empower the whole of the people of God in creating and maintaining a healthy and safe church?
- How do clergy and lay work together as one in creating such a culture leading to healthy and safe church?
- Does our Church culture and do our practices promote acting in the best interest of children and vulnerable people? How do we improve Church culture and practices to ensure we respond justly to those abused?
- What do we need to do to ensure our clergy, religious, staff and volunteers are properly selected, formed, trained, supervised and professionally developed?
- How do we guard against the rise of unhealthy clericalism?
- How can we influence the Church leadership in all areas of church life to embrace a new future based on honesty, transparency, accountability, responsiveness, compassion and humility?
- How do we create a culture in Church that seeks healing for those within and with those affected by the failures of Church?
Recommendations made by the Royal Commission to the Catholic Church:
The bishop of each Catholic Church diocese in Australia should ensure that parish priests are not the employers of principals and teachers in Catholic schools.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should conduct a national review of the governance and management structures of dioceses and parishes, including in relation to issues of transparency, accountability, consultation and the participation of lay men and women. This review should draw from the approaches to governance of Catholic health, community services and education agencies.
In the interests of child safety and improved institutional responses to child sexual abuse, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to:
a. publish criteria for the selection of bishops, including relating to the promotion of child safety
b. establish a transparent process for appointing bishops which includes the direct participation of lay people.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to amend the 1983 Code of Canon Law to create a new canon or series of canons specifically relating to child sexual abuse, as follows:
a. All delicts relating to child sexual abuse should be articulated as canonical crimes against the child, not as moral failings or as breaches of the ‘special obligation’ of clerics and religious to observe celibacy.
b. All delicts relating to child sexual abuse should apply to any person holding a ‘dignity, office or responsibility in the Church’ regardless of whether they are ordained or not ordained.
c. In relation to the acquisition, possession, or distribution of pornographic images, the delict (currently contained in Article 6 §2 1° of the revised 2010 norms attached to the motu proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela) should be amended to refer to minors under the age of 18, not minors under the age of 14.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to amend canon law so that the pontifical secret does not apply to any aspect of allegations or canonical disciplinary processes relating to child sexual abuse.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to amend canon law to ensure that the ‘pastoral approach’ is not an essential precondition to the commencement of canonical action relating to child sexual abuse.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to amend canon law to remove the time limit (prescription) for commencement of canonical actions relating to child sexual abuse. This amendment should apply retrospectively.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to amend the ‘imputability’ test in canon law so that a diagnosis of paedophilia is not relevant to the prosecution of or penalty for a canonical offence relating to child sexual abuse.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to amend canon law to give effect to Recommendations 16.55 and 16.56.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia, in consultation with the Holy See, should consider establishing an Australian tribunal for trying canonical disciplinary cases against clergy, whose decisions could be appealed to the Apostolic Signatura in the usual way.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to introduce measures to ensure that Vatican Congregations and canonical appeal courts always publish decisions in disciplinary matters relating to child sexual abuse, and provide written reasons for their decisions. Publication should occur in a timely manner. In some cases it may be appropriate to suppress information that might lead to the identification of a victim.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to amend canon law to remove the requirement to destroy documents relating to canonical criminal cases in matters of morals, where the accused cleric has died or ten years have elapsed from the condemnatory sentence. In order to allow for delayed disclosure of abuse by victims and to take account of the limitation periods for civil actions for child sexual abuse, the minimum requirement for retention of records in the secret archives should be at least 45 years.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to consider introducing voluntary celibacy for diocesan clergy.
All Catholic religious institutes in Australia, in consultation with their international leadership and the Holy See as required, should implement measures to address the risks of harm to children and the potential psychological and sexual dysfunction associated with a celibate rule of religious life. This should include consideration of whether and how existing models of religious life could be modified to facilitate alternative forms of association, shorter terms of celibate commitment, and/or voluntary celibacy (where that is consistent with the form of association that has been chosen).
In order to promote healthy lives for those who choose to be celibate, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and all Catholic religious institutes in Australia should further develop, regularly evaluate and continually improve, their processes for selecting, screening and training of candidates for the clergy and religious life, and their processes of ongoing formation, support and supervision of clergy and religious.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia should establish a national protocol for screening candidates before and during seminary or religious formation, as well as before ordination or the profession of religious vows.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia should establish a mechanism to ensure that diocesan bishops and religious superiors draw upon broad-ranging professional advice in their decision-making, including from staff from seminaries or houses of formation, psychologists, senior clergy and religious, and lay people, in relation to the admission of individuals to:
a. seminaries and houses of religious formation
b. ordination and/or profession of vows.
In relation to guideline documents for the formation of priests and religious:
a. The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should review and revise the Ratio nationalis institutionis sacerdotalis: Programme for priestly formation (current version December 2015), and all other guideline documents relating to the formation of priests, permanent deacons, and those in pastoral ministry, to explicitly address the issue of child sexual abuse by clergy and best practice in relation to its prevention.
b. All Catholic religious institutes in Australia should review and revise their particular norms and guideline documents relating to the formation of priests, religious brothers, and religious sisters, to explicitly address the issue of child sexual abuse and best practice in relation to its prevention.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia should conduct a national review of current models of initial formation to ensure that they promote pastoral effectiveness, (including in relation to child safety and pastoral responses to victims and survivors) and protect against the development of clericalist attitudes.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia should develop and each diocese and religious institute should implement mandatory national standards to ensure that all people in religious or pastoral ministry (bishops, provincials, clergy, religious, and lay personnel):
a. undertake mandatory, regular professional development, compulsory components being professional responsibility and boundaries, ethics in ministry, and child safety
b. undertake mandatory professional/pastoral supervision
c. undergo regular performance appraisals.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should consult with the Holy See, and make public any advice received, in order to clarify whether:
a. information received from a child during the sacrament of reconciliation that they have been sexually abused is covered by the seal of confession
b. if a person confesses during the sacrament of reconciliation to perpetrating child sexual abuse, absolution can and should be withheld until they report themselves to civil authorities.
Recommendations of the Royal Commission to all religious institutions in Australia:
All institutions that provide activities or services of any kind, under the auspices of a particular religious denomination or faith, through which adults have contact with children, should implement the 10 Child Safe Standards identified by the Royal Commission.
Religious organisations should adopt the Royal Commission’s 10 Child Safe Standards as nationally mandated standards for each of their affiliated institutions.
Religious organisations should drive a consistent approach to the implementation of the Royal Commission’s 10 Child Safe Standards in each of their affiliated institutions.
Religious organisations should work closely with relevant state and territory oversight bodies to support the implementation of and compliance with the Royal Commission’s 10 Child Safe Standards in each of their affiliated institutions.
Religious institutions in highly regulated sectors, such as schools and out-of-home care service providers, should report their compliance with the Royal Commission’s 10 Child Safe Standards, as monitored by the relevant sector regulator, to the religious organisation to which they are affiliated.
Consistent with Child Safe Standard 1, each religious institution in Australia should ensure that its religious leaders are provided with leadership training both pre- and post-appointment, including in relation to the promotion of child safety.
Consistent with Child Safe Standard 1, leaders of religious institutions should ensure that there are mechanisms through which they receive advice from individuals with relevant professional expertise on all matters relating to child sexual abuse and child safety. This should include in relation to prevention, policies and procedures and complaint handling. These mechanisms should facilitate advice from people with a variety of professional backgrounds and include lay men and women.
Consistent with Child Safe Standard 1, each religious institution should ensure that religious leaders are accountable to an appropriate authority or body, such as a board of management or council, for the decisions they make with respect to child safety.
Consistent with Child Safe Standard 1, each religious institution should have a policy relating to the management of actual or perceived conflicts of interest that may arise in relation to allegations of child sexual abuse. The policy should cover all individuals who have a role in responding to complaints of child sexual abuse.
Consistent with Child Safe Standard 2, wherever a religious institution has children in its care, those children should be provided with age-appropriate prevention education that aims to increase their knowledge of child sexual abuse and build practical skills to assist in strengthening self-protective skills and strategies. Prevention education in religious institutions should specifically address the power and status of people in religious ministry and educate children that no one has a right to invade their privacy and make them feel unsafe.
Consistent with Child Safe Standard 3, each religious institution should make provision for family and community involvement by publishing all policies relevant to child safety on its website, providing opportunities for comment on its approach to child safety, and seeking periodic feedback about the effectiveness of its approach to child safety.
Consistent with Child Safe Standard 5, each religious institution should require that candidates for religious ministry undergo external psychological testing, including psycho-sexual assessment, for the purposes of determining their suitability to be a person in religious ministry and to undertake work involving children.
Each religious institution should ensure that candidates for religious ministry undertake minimum training on child safety and related matters, including training that:
a. equips candidates with an understanding of the Royal Commission’s 10 Child Safe Standards
b. educates candidates on:
i. professional responsibility and boundaries, ethics in ministry and child safety
ii. policies regarding appropriate responses to allegations or complaints of child
sexual abuse, and how to implement these policies
iii. how to work with children, including childhood development
iv. identifying and understanding the nature, indicators and impacts of child
Consistent with Child Safe Standard 5, each religious institution should ensure that all people in religious or pastoral ministry, including religious leaders, are subject to effective management and oversight and undertake annual performance appraisals.
Consistent with Child Safe Standard 5, each religious institution should ensure that all people in religious or pastoral ministry, including religious leaders, have professional supervision with a trained professional or pastoral supervisor who has a degree of independence from the institution within which the person is in ministry.
Religious institutions which receive people from overseas to work in religious or pastoral ministry, or otherwise within their institution, should have targeted programs for the screening, initial training and professional supervision and development of those people. These programs should include material covering professional responsibility and boundaries, ethics in ministry and child safety.
Consistent with Child Safe Standard 7, each religious institution should require that all people in religious or pastoral ministry, including religious leaders, undertake regular training on the institution’s child safe policies and procedures. They should also be provided with opportunities for external training on best practice approaches to child safety.
Religious institutions which have a rite of religious confession for children should implement a policy that requires the rite only be conducted in an open space within the clear line of sight of another adult. The policy should specify that, if another adult is not available, the rite of religious confession for the child should not be performed.
Codes of conduct in religious institutions should explicitly and equally apply to people in religious ministry and to lay people.
Consistent with Child Safe Standard 7, each religious institution should require all people in religious ministry, leaders, members of boards, councils and other governing bodies, employees ,relevant contractors and volunteers to undergo initial and periodic training on its code of conduct. This training should include:
a. what kinds of allegations or complaints relating to child sexual abuse should be reported and to whom
b. identifying inappropriate behaviour which may be a precursor to abuse, including grooming
c. recognising physical and behavioural indicators of child sexual abuse
d that all complaints relating to child sexual abuse must be taken seriously, regardless of the perceived severity of the behaviour.
All religious institutions’ complaint handling policies should require that, upon receiving a complaint of child sexual abuse, an initial risk assessment is conducted to identify and minimise any risks to children.
All religious institutions’ complaint handling policies should require that, if a complaint of child sexual abuse against a person in religious ministry is plausible, and there is a risk that person may come into contact with children in the course of their ministry, the person be stood down from ministry while the complaint is investigated.
The standard of proof that a religious institution should apply when deciding whether a complaint of child sexual abuse has been substantiated is the balance of probabilities, having regard to the principles in Briginshaw v Briginshaw.
Religious institutions should apply the same standards for investigating complaints of child sexual abuse whether or not the subject of the complaint is a person in religious ministry.
Any person in religious ministry who is the subject of a complaint of child sexual abuse which is substantiated on the balance of probabilities, having regard to the principles in Briginshaw v Briginshaw, or who is convicted of an offence relating to child sexual abuse, should be permanently removed from ministry. Religious institutions should also take all necessary steps to effectively prohibit the person from in any way holding himself or herself out as being a person with religious authority.
Any person in religious ministry who is convicted of an offence relating to child sexual abuse should:
a. in the case of Catholic priests and religious, be dismissed from the priesthood and/or dispensed from his or her vows as a religious
b. in the case of Anglican clergy, be deposed from holy orders
c. in the case of Uniting Church ministers, have his or her recognition as a minister withdrawn
d. in the case of an ordained person in any other religious denomination that has a concept of ordination, holy orders and/or vows, be dismissed, deposed or otherwise effectively have their religious status removed.
Where a religious institution becomes aware that any person attending any of its religious services or activities is the subject of a substantiated complaint of child sexual abuse, or has been convicted of an offence relating to child sexual abuse, the religious institution should:
a. assess the level of risk posed to children by that perpetrator’s ongoing involvement in the religious community
b. take appropriate steps to manage that risk.
Each religious organisation should consider establishing a national register which records limited but sufficient information to assist affiliated institutions identify and respond to any risks to children that may be posed by people in religious or pastoral ministry.
Where to from here?
Francis Sullivan is the Chief Executive Officer of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council which was established to coordinate the Catholic Church’s response to the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse with a commitment to justice and compassion for survivors. On Friday 10 March 2017 Francis gave a speech to a Catalyst Dinner at Villa Maria Parish Hall at Hunter’s Hill in Sydney. The speech is reproduced below, with permission.
It was only last month that we were confronted with the devastating statistics of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.
I don’t think anyone was prepared for the extent of the abuse and the appalling rate across male religious orders and within the priesthood.
Frankly, even though there had already been 15 case studies conducted by the Royal Commission into various instances of abuse in either religious orders or dioceses, the release of the allegations data really put a stake through the heart of our Church.
And that is the point.
The fact that a Church actually has to acknowledge that abuse occurred within its ranks and that it exercised a systemic cover up – even to the point of never releasing its own data voluntarily to the community – speaks volumes for the way it has lost touch with its very purpose, its very heart.
When I started this role I had no real sense of the scope and extent of child abuse within the Church.
I thought that maybe the Church had up to 100 paedophiles in its history.
So far, our records indicate that more than 1,200 priests and brothers have had an allegation of abuse made against them.
To put this in context, in the USA, around 5 percent of diocesan priests were the subject of allegations. In Australia that figure is around 8 percent.
In some of the male religious orders the percentages were gob-smacking.
In the St John of God brothers, well over a third of the order in early times had abuse allegations made against them.
Twenty two per cent of Christian Brothers had allegations made against them and the Marists were not far behind.
These figures speak of a moral disease that profoundly infects not only the communities of religious orders and dioceses, but the wider Catholic community.
It is a disease that is ingrained, almost cemented, within the culture of the Church.
This fact has not been lost on the Royal Commission.
In its final hearing into the Church the Commission spent three intense weeks examining some of the cultural issues that have contributed to the abuse scandal.
At one point the five senior archbishops sat together in the witness box, attempting to explain the way in which clericalism, celibacy, power, institutional might and other issues played a part in the entire scandalous affair.
My sense is that they toiled in vain.
There is now a deep malaise compounded by a simmering anger within the community about the Church and child sexual abuse.
The unprecedented level of inquiry brought on by the Royal Commission has laid bare a history that the Church authorities have purposefully sought to keep from public witness for decades.
The posturing and spin of years past has been seen for what is was – an avoidance of the truth and a failed attempt to divert the public from the scale of the abuse and the depths to which Church officials had sunk as they tried to keep it hidden.
Moreover it was also a deliberate effort to keep senior Church figures who were implicated in the mismanagement or worse of this scandal out of the public gaze.
And what is most confounding is that none of this was constructed out of any agreed plan on the part of the Church leadership as a whole.
There was no secret meeting of leaders in which the strategy of concealment and cover-up was formulated.
The way in which leaders responded to abuse allegations, to move priests, to ignore evidence, to dismiss claims, was consistent.
It was as if it had been built into their DNA.
In most western countries the leaders of Catholic Church authorities have acted in the same way. Almost as if there was a roadmap to follow.
Yet there has been no roadmap, rather an institutional culture hell-bent on self-protection and self-preservation.
Ironically at the very same time that the Australian Church is being rotisseried by the Royal Commission we have the phenomenon of Pope Francis.
Like a godsend Francis appeared on the scene in 2013 – just before our first case study.
So, as the Royal Commission began to unwind the Church edifice on this scandal, the Holy Father likewise began to dismantle the institutional cultural bulwark that has strangled the life out of the modern Church.
And as with any reform process there have been bumps along the road.
In today’s media there are many reports from senior US cardinals extolling the efforts and outcomes of the Pope in changing the culture of the Church.
The cardinals from Washington, Chicago and Boston to a man speak of the Pope’s shrewdness in placing a new vision and attitude for the Church at the forefront of reforms.
They very clearly say that Pope Francis is reigniting the spirit, intent and teachings of the Second Vatican Council.
The Church is no more in restoration mode, but now is to be unashamedly engaged in the modern world.
There are many quotes I could point to, to back this up. Here is but one from Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl:
This is a very different culture than even 25 years ago…we know now we have to move from what was a much more comfortable maintenance posture into a much more challenging, Gospel-driven, evangelizing discipleship, to use Francis’ words.
However, as I said, there have been bumps along the way and the child sexual abuse scandal must surely be one of the biggest flaws.
It was recently reported that the Pope is starting to go light on some priests who have been found to have abused children.
Nicole Winfield, a highly regarded religious reporter for The Associated Press, recently wrote about the case of the notorious Italian abuser Fr. Mauro Inzoli. She wrote:
The Inzoli case is one of several in which Francis overruled the advice of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and reduced a sentence that called for the priest to be defrocked. Instead, the priests were sentenced to penalties including a lifetime of penance and prayer and removal from public ministry.
You have to seriously wonder whether this isn’t the Pope backsliding on what has been a strong and determined crack down on offending priests and the circumstances that allow abuse to take place.
The second very concerning development in Rome over the past couple of weeks has been the resignation of the last remaining, publicly identified, abuse survivor from the Pope’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Marie Collins.
As most of you know the Commission was set up by Pope Francis to advise him on how best to deal with the many issues associated with child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
In an interview with the Jesuit outlet, America, she denounces “the resistance” and “lack of cooperation” with the commission by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and “some” Vatican officials.
She also denounces the “clericalism” she has found in some parts of the Roman Curia, and the “reluctance” of the CDF to implement the Commission’s recommendations – even after Pope Francis had approved them.
Ultimately she reflected on whether the resistance to the commission is in fact resistance to the Pope himself.
Together these two developments paint a picture of the Vatican establishment, its bureaucrats and courtiers, doing all they can to either undermine the Pope or driving an agenda that is about maintaining the status quo and protecting the institution. Business as usual.
What can we draw from these two very disturbing developments?
For my mind the clearest message is this. If people of good will, the good priests, the willing religious, the enlightened leaders, but more importantly people like you – the engaged and informed Catholics – don’t continue to push for change then, as sure as night follows day, the reactionaries will overcome and nothing will change.
If we do not continue to push – and push hard – the impetus for change will fade, inertia will set in, reformists will be shunned, and the victims of what has been the greatest betrayal in the Catholic Church in Australia will remain mired in hopelessness, despair and anger.
This is a very dangerous time for the Catholic Church in Australia.
If the Church in Australia doesn’t see continuous, concerted change from our leaders driven and backed by an active and demanding Catholic Community, then our Church as a religion will become a marginalized rump, stripped of credibility and relevance, left to preach to an ever ageing congregation with eyes on an ever dimming here after.
The Royal Commission’s final hearing into the Catholic Church finished two weeks ago today.
The three-week case study heard evidence from theologians, academics, religious leaders, bishops, archbishops, priests, lawyers, canon lawyers, psychologists, management consultants, Catholic education, welfare service providers, professional standards executives, international church representatives and others.
They spoke about how and why the abuse occurred for so long, what’s working and what isn’t and how the church needs to change.
Evidence ranged across issues such as:
- canon law and its interaction with civil law and the secrecy provisions within it;
- clericalism and the abuse of power;
- celibacy and what part it might have had in the extent of abuse in the Church;
- the confessional;
- psycho-sexual development, or lack of it, for priests and seminarians;
- formation and training of seminarians;professional training and basic administrative failings of bishops;
- the Vatican and its failure to come to terms with and acknowledge its failures in dealing with abuse;
- Church history and significant milestones including the Second Vatican Council and what has or hasn’t been implemented; and
- lay leadership, including the need for women in decision-making positions.
More than anything else the Commission returned to the Church’s culture, and the need for change.
This was a theme that was endorsed by all senior leaders who gave evidence.
The commissioners are now using the testimony and evidence from this last and many other hearings to understand:
- why clergy abuse occurred on such a massive scale within the church;
- why the response to complaints was so flawed; and
- what has been done internally to address the cultural, structural, and governance factors that contributed.
Here’s the rub.
For the 250 or so people sitting here tonight listening to me speak, none of what I’ve just said is new.
None of what I’ve said comes as a surprise.
It doesn’t come as a surprise to you that within our Church there are major problems and at the heart of them is a culture which must change.
And for me, key to this are two questions:
- what is it about us as a people that we were so permissive and docile that we didn’t demand more transparency, accountability and integrity from our administrator?; and
- why have we been prepared as a Catholic community to not address issues as matters of urgency and profound importance, preferring instead for the most part to sit on our hands and grumble from outside the boundary line?
This passivity in the Catholic community, in large part, comes from the en-cultured way in which even highly intelligent people acquiesce to authority figures in the Church.
It becomes what I like to describe as the ‘altar boy’ syndrome.
In truth it is adults not acting with responsibility, not taking part with a mature yet demanding sense of agency within the Church.
When this doesn’t happen, as was certainly the case up till more recent times, we are left with blind loyalty instead of mature conversation.
We are left with blinkered defensiveness and knee-jerk reactions rather than open-mindedness, willingness and engagement.
This all leads to a heavy sense of inertia where energies turn in on themselves, people become demoralized, and ultimately are defeated by the system – or they simply leave.
So there are a number of ways we can go from here. Build a church on those who remain, the regular participants; or we can have the courage to go out to those who have left, understand their disillusionment and make the changes that are so dangerously needed.
On many occasions I’m asked who should be responsible for the abuse that took place in our Church.
One view is that the current leadership should take the fall and resign, en masse, given they now represent organisational and leadership failures that have brought the Church in Australia to its lowest ebb.
Others say the magnitude of the abuse within the Catholic Church disqualifies it from receiving any public benefits – taxation relief and an automatic voice in national debates that determine public policy – not just on the moral and philosophical direction of our country, but also on so much of the nation’s health, education and welfare agendas.
While both of these considerations are extreme they are not surprising.
As I’ve said before, within the Church there is a heavy underlying malaise, and externally there is a profound degree of mistrust and scepticism.
What will it take for this to change?
For what it’s worth I’d like to suggest just a few things.
One: any church leader who has ever pronounced apologies or actions or sentiments or commitments to putting victims and survivors first must be held to account by the Catholic community, because my observation is that the Royal Commission has viewed many of these statements with scepticism.
Two: we need a stringent policy of putting the right people, with the right skills, in the right places all the time.
In other words we cannot afford the blunders of incompetent administration, advisors and minders and we certainly can’t afford the fumbled attempts to use spin and PR to protect and cotton wool church leaders from facing the consequences of their actions, or in many cases, inactions.
Three: diocesan and church organisations need to open the doors and the windows to genuine participation of the Catholic community in how their money is spent, and in the proper planning to make the church relevant in the daily lives of the people in our community.
Four: church leaders should publicly commit to employment ratios for women in senior positions and encourage diversity in their workplaces.
Five: Church leaders must demonstrate a move away from a church of privilege, of comfortable lifestyles far removed from many of the faithful.
As the Pope says we need to become a:
Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.
Six: Church leaders should publicly commit now to a public consultation and deliberative process on all issues within the Catholic community that are the source of respectful dissent and even disengagement.
I’m sure many of you have you own ideas that could be added to this list.
And while the leadership of our church and the changes that need to take place must be prominent in all our hearts and minds there are also other considerations.
Most of us in one way or another are all seeking a pathway to meaning.
We are all seeking a sense of being on a genuine spiritual path and I worry that we will become so caught up in seeking structural changes, almost for change in itself, we will lose or shift attention from the deeper more profound journey.
What has shocked and confronted me the most about this sex abuse scandal is that it took place in a church.
The very fact that the church was on trial, rips at the heart of what the church is meant to be.
And that speaks to me of a profound loss of direction, integrity, purpose and meaning at the heart of the church.
A spiritual wasteland.
It is my sense that so many Catholics share that shock.
People say the Church now needs to get its house back in order but I say we have to re-build the house.
Let’s not put the same foundations in place that delivered us this scandalous history – this profound moral and criminal upheaval.
Why was it that moral leadership failed so consistently, so pervasively?
Where was the wisdom and counsel we have been lead to believe comes from those on the spiritual journey?
We must address this spiritual bankruptcy as much as anything else.
Over the past four years I have spoken to many different groups and organisations about the abuse crisis and the future of the church in Australia.
Their overarching concern points towards the willingness, or otherwise, of the church leadership to instigate change.
The questions asked are always very similar.
Will senior church leaders have the courage to foster a discussion about human sexuality in all its different guises?
Will there be a genuine attempt to reform power and decision making processes?
Will there be serious and sustained innovation in ministry shared by women and married lay folk?
Will the church redirect resources to educate adults as well as children in how to live a contemporary Christian life?
Will our church become a movement for justice rather than a pillar of the establishment?
What tangible signs will be offered that demonstrate our church is a place for all regardless of gender, sexual orientation, past histories or family circumstances?
Will our leaders, both overtly and otherwise, reflect the communities they serve rather than expect the deference that divides?
Again, I’m sure you have many questions that could be added to this list.
But at the very least, answers to some of these questions could be the KPIs of a church that is changing.
Sadly, too often, they are millstones for one that won’t.
As I said in the Truth Justice and Healing Council’s statement to the Royal Commission at the start of this last hearing it is vital that the culture of the Church that enabled the abuse of privilege and power which led to the crimes and cover-up be confronted head on, not only by those in positions of authority but also by the Catholic Community as a whole.
Changes must be made, and if they are not made willingly they will most certainly be forced upon us.
While words are important, the measure of commitment can only ever be gauged by actions.
To the abuse survivors who are here tonight and to the many thousands spread out across our communities I say the wrongs of the past must be repaired, survivors must be shown the compassion and justice they have been calling for, and change must be embedded in the culture of the Church.
10 March 2017
Nine helpful attitudes
Seven practical steps
Eleven things to avoid
Some guidelines for good conversation
Prepared by Catalyst for Renewal
A. NINE HELPFUL ATTITUDES
1. I want to be changed through this encounter: It is no accident that “conversation” and “conversion” share the same roots … there can be no conversation without the openness to conversion … if I genuinely seek good conversation, I must also seek conversion in and through that encounter … this above all else will distinguish conversation from mere talk, debate or argument, any of which may, paradoxically become conversation for me if I do in fact seek conversion in that encounter.
2. I want to appreciate the other person: I am more likely to hear the other if I genuinely seek to appreciate him/her … I am less likely to be overtaken by prejudices and personal biases if my orientation is deliberately appreciative … … I want the best for the other person …. This may require me to deliberately call on the Lord and pray for that other person, especially if my feelings are negative towards him/her … this implies self-transcendence, a moving beyond selfishness and self-absorption.
3. I want to understand the other person: I listen for what the person is actually saying and bracket my personal thoughts, conclusions on the matter, my prejudices, what I may have heard beforehand or been led to expect … I endeavour to discover common ground … I look beyond personal traits and reputations.
4. I want to contribute something positive: Even if it is just my being there, my intention can be positive and creative … sometimes silent, positive presence contributes much more than words can convey … I desire my words and all my contributions to promote what is good and true … I listen carefully to the flow of conversation and do my pest to participate constructively, bearing in mind that the best conversations have a life of their own.
5. I want to see truth and goodness triumph over ideology, especially my own: Good conversations submit to the topic or question …. they have a graced quality if we are attentive and faithful to the moment … we experience them as taking us where we have never been before … they are always an experience of what is true and good.
6. I want to be a gracious participator: Life is more about participation than conquest, more about facilitation than mastery … the mature person is characterized by a certain grace and freedom … it is as important to ask, “What does life want of me?” as it is to ask, “What do I want of life?”
7. I want to be thoroughly honest with myself: There is not a lot of point in living a lie, no matter how respected and “successful” … the deepest honesty is to become who I am, and this is a life’s work … so I will actively and constantly pursue this inner journey towards truth … this is the stuff of spirituality and brings us face to face with the Living God.
8. I want to know the power of the silence in my own soul: Good words come from silence and lead back to silence … the person who knows the silence within can bring grace and freedom to the conversation … the words that carry silence, heal and enliven.
9. I appreciate that life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to solved: There are many problems to solve in life but life itself and the big issues of life have no solution … The most important things in life emerge slowly … we must learn to wait, and yield.
B. SEVEN PRACTICAL STEPS
1. Learn to listen with the ears of the heart (St Benedict): Be consciously present … be attentive to the moment … listen with every part of your being … learn to ask open questions … an open question is asked with the head and answered with the stomach, ask the question than go inside and wait, let the response come … “what?” questions tend to be more fruitful than “why?” questions … the most practical and fundamental open question you can ask in any situation is “What’s happening here?”
2. Listen carefully to what is happening in you: Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings … listen within … unresolved conflicts and unacknowledged agendas can adversely affect a conversation … inner listening is particularly helpful when you catch yourself being strongly moved, either positively or negatively … open questions might include: “What am I feeling at the moment?” “What are my dominant thoughts?” “What is happening here?” “What is the bigger picture?” “What else is relevant?” “What am I missing?” “Am I reminded of anything?”
3. Listen carefully to the other person as well as what the other person is saying: Take the other person seriously … pay attention … do your best to appreciate his/her point of view … look straight at him/her without judgment … ask open questions like: “What might be happening for this person at the moment?” “Is anything in this situation difficult for the other person?” “What is the main point he/she is endeavouring to make?” “Where are our points of agreement?”
4. Speak respectfully and courteously: Be gentle and clear when disagreement must be voiced … look the other in the eye … sometimes questions can be less aggressive and less threatening than statements when expressing an alternative point of view … keep the tone and manner of speaking moderate … if you cannot be respectful and courteous it might be better to withdraw.
5. Be humble: No one knows everything … everybody makes mistakes … speak in a way that allows you and others room to move … humble people do not take themselves or their point of view too seriously … humility has a sense of humour.
6. Be alert to expressions of pain: Do not be put off by aggressive or strident talk or behaviour as this almost certainly is a symptom of great pain … do your best to hear that person’s pain and show them that you care …. this may be the most difficult situation to handle in a public conversation … it may require a communal response.
7. Know when and how to terminate a conversation: Every conversation has its beginning, its end and its pace … we must be alert to that and submit … this includes graciously but definitely terminating a conversation that is not going to get off the ground or is getting out of control … even good conversations must be terminated at a certain point ….. leave the way open for further conversation later.
C. ELEVEN THINGS TO AVOID
1. Flamboyant metaphors
2. Point scoring
3. Talking too much
5. Personal attacks
6. Finding identity in being “the victim”
8. Sweeping generalizations
CONVERSATION: A REFLECTION IN AID OF UNDERSTANDING THE GIFT – Michael Whelan SM
It is quite remarkable the way the word “conversation” has become so much in vogue over the past ten years or so. Thus the BBC invites us into a “global conversation” and the Sydney Morning Herald urges us to “join the conversation.” Much use, however, generally precedes much abuse. C S Lewis wrote somewhere that nothing will rob a word of its power as quickly as popularity.
The word “dialogue” is often used where we could also use the word “conversation.”
I will endeavour to outline here some ideas that might help us each to develop a useful way of approaching the challenge of conversation.
1. Conversation as an act of love
First and foremost it helps immensely if we think of conversation as an act of love. Conversation is a matter of people meeting people in the most constructive way possible. They do it because they care. People and relationships are the focus, not ideologies or arguments or winning or losing.
Paulo Freire writes:
Dialogue cannot exist, however, in the absence of a profound love for the world and for people. The naming of the world, which is an act of creation and re-creation, is not possible if it is not infused with love. Love is at the same time the foundation of dialogue and dialogue itself” (See Pedagogy of the Oppressed, The Seabury Press, 1968, 77-81.)
Pope Paul VI writes:
“The dialogue of salvation (colloquium salutis) began with charity, with the divine goodness: ‘God so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son;’ (John 3:16) nothing but fervent and unselfish love should motivate our dialogue.” (Paul VI, Ecclesiam Suam (1964) 73)
Pastoral Instruction on the Means of Social Communication, requested by the Second Vatican Council and Approved by Pope Paul VI in May 1971 notes:
“Communication is more than the expression of ideas and the indication of emotion. At its most profound level it is the giving of self in love.” (Communio et Progressio (1971) 11)
2. Conversation as encounter
We can think of conversation as encounter. Encounter includes the ideas of both “with” (“en” or “in”) and “against” (“counter”). In fact, in the deepest of relationships – the relationship of marital love – we see this tension at work. The more two people love each other the more they become both interdependent with each other – we might say they become one as a result of their love – and they become independent of each other – we might say they become two as result of the love. Conversation as encounter is a potential of human nature waiting to be activated. It lies at the heart of the process of human maturation. In other words, we cannot become human without it. Thus Pope John Paul II was able to write:
“The capacity for ‘dialogue’ is rooted in the nature of the person and human dignity. …. the human person is in fact ‘the only creature on earth which God willed for itself’; thus we cannot ‘fully find ourselves except through a sincere gift of ourselves’ (cf Gaudium et Spes 24). Dialogue is an indispensable step along the path toward human self-realization, the self-realization both of each individual and of every human community. Although the concept of “dialogue” might appear to give priority to the cognitive dimension (dia-logos), all dialogue implies a global, existential dimension. It involves the human subject in his or her entirety; dialogue between communities involves in a particular way the subjectivity of each. This truth about dialogue, so profoundly expressed by Pope Paul VI in his Encyclical Ecclesiam Suam (1964), was also taken up by the Council in its teaching and ecumenical activity. Dialogue is not simply an exchange of ideas. In some way it is always an “exchange of gifts” (cf Lumen Gentium, 13).” (Pope John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint (1995) 28)
The Dalai Lama emphasizes the obvious practical corollary of this when he writes:
“In human societies there will always be differences of views and interests. But the reality today is that we are all interdependent and have to coexist on this small planet. Therefore, the only sensible and intelligent way of resolving differences and clashes of interests, whether between individuals or nations, is through dialogue. The promotion of a culture of dialogue and nonviolence for the future of mankind is thus an important task of the international community.” (Dalai Lama, Speech to the “Forum 2000” Conference, Prague, 4 September 4 1997)
The contemporary commentator, Aldo Carotenuto, writes:
“Jean-Jacques Rousseau observed that man is born free but everywhere he is in chains. He was referring to social chains but the same is true when it comes to ties of a psychological kind. One psychological chain that binds us is the belief, albeit usually unconscious, that we can only exist by manipulating others. There is no possibility of dialogue in such a situation, and it is only through dialogue that truth can emerge. Without dialogue, one identifies with an ideal; one feels one has the right and the duty to shape the other.” (Aldo Carotenuto, Eros and Pathos: Shades of Love and Suffering, Inner City Books, 1989, 111-12.)
The Australian journalist, Tony Stephens, is insightful when he writes:
“(Tim Costello) used (‘the politics of grace’) to describe the relationship with his brother, whereby the two men disagree on many issues but maintain a dialogue. He used it to describe his conversion to the merits of at least some aspects of a goods and services tax. Costello asks: ‘Can the politics of tribe yield to the politics of grace – politics in which people are free to speak their convictions, and at times to be strongly disagreed with, but without fear of intimidation. Tribal politics demand that you are either for us or against us. If you’re not one of us then we’ll cut you off. It’s epitomised in the way Hansonism demarks the white tribe off from Aborigines, newly-arrived immigrants and single mothers. The politics of grace includes the belief that we can be a diverse but inclusive family, that while we may often disagree, we will always keep the conversation going’. (Tony Stephens, “Reconciliation Revisited”, Sydney Morning Herald, January 16, 1999, 34)
3. Conversation as event
We can think of conversation as event. Our English word “event” comes from the two Latin words, e meaning “out” and venire meaning “to come.” An event is therefore an experience in which truth comes forth, reality breaks into our lives in some new and revealing way. This “coming forth” and “breaking in” is hardly ever spectacular. Typically it will in fact be subtle. We may not even notice it until we reflect on the event at a later moment.
To engage in a conversation requires a certain submission. It is not a matter of mastery in the end but grace, not conquest but gift. In a good conversation the “in-between” is all important. That is unoccupied territory. Nobody owns the “in-between.” This calls for great respect and a willingness to listen at depth. St Benedict puts it well in the early words of the Prologue to his Rule: “Listen with the ear of the heart.” It is as if there is an individual conductor here.
The contemporary philosopher, Hans Georg Gadamer writes:
“We say that we ‘conduct’ a conversation, but the more genuine a conversation is, the less its conduct lies within the will of either partner. Thus a genuine conversation is never the one that we wanted to conduct. Rather, it is generally more correct to say that we fall into conversation, or even that we become involved in it. The way one word follows another, with the conversation taking its own twists and reaching its own conclusion, may well be conducted in some way, but the partners conversing are far less the leaders of it than the led. No one knows in advance what will ‘come out’ of a conversation. Understanding or its failure is like an event that happens to us. Thus we can say that something was a good conversation or that it was ill-fated. All this shows that a conversation has a spirit of its own, and that the language in which it is conducted bears its own truth within it – ie that it allows something to ‘emerge’ which henceforth exists.” (Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (Second Revised Edition), trans revised by Joel Weisheimer and Donald G Marshall, Crossroad, 1989, 383.)
A contemporary Catholic theologian writes:
“What is authentic conversation as distinct from idle chatter, mere debate, gossip or non-negotiable confrontation? As the classical model for conversation in the Western tradition, the Platonic dialogue, makes clear, real conversation occurs only when the individual conversation partners move past self-consciousness and self-aggrandizement into joint reflection upon the subject matter of the conversation. The back-and-forth movement of all genuine conversation (an ability to listen, to reflect, to correct, to speak to the point – the ability, in sum, to allow the question to take over) is an experience which all reflective persons have felt. Authentic conversation is a relatively rare experience, even for Socrates! Yet, when conversation actually occurs – in a chance meeting, a discussion with friends and colleagues, a particular seminar session – it is unmistakable.” (David Tracy, The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism, Crossroad, 1981, 100-101)
4. Conversation that is not conversation
The sociologist, Charles Derber, in his book The Pursuit of Attention: Power and Ego in Everyday Life (Oxford University Press, 2000), writes about the “conversational narcissist.” He is referring to the person who, in different ways, some more blatant than others, uses the context of a conversation to keep drawing attention to himself or herself.
Derber reminds us that there is nothing simple or straightforward about conversation. All types can – and generally do – turn up for a public conversation. There are some people who seem incapable of engaging in conversation as we have described it above. Whether it is because of ideological reasons or immaturity or a personality disorder, or some other cause, it must be acknowledged. Sometimes, therefore, an attempted conversation must be abandoned or not even attempted.
Apart from the “look at me” attitude, we might suggest some other obstacles to conversation as we are proposing it here.
• There are people for whom the underlying agenda may be summarized as “This is a necessary game” – their primary concern is to fulfil some social function or duty; these people go through the motions and may do it very well; closer reflection reveals that a social fiction is being played out and there is no real conversation taking place – that is, there is no substance in the words, they are withholding themselves; public figures may feel themselves forced into this process frequently; we might all find ourselves submitting to this sort of “conversation” (ie “small talk”) at the occasional party or social event; at its best this sort of “conversation” is a basic necessity to social interaction, at its worst it is a manifestation of what T S Eliot calls “the hollow men;” 2
• There are people for whom the underlying agenda may be summarized as “The answer is” – their primary concern is to make sure the content is right and true, and probably suggest – more or less implicitly or explicitly – that they actually know the truth or know where it can be found or, at the very least, know that you do not know the truth and they are keen for you to know that; for these people the ideas and principles and facts are the end, not the actual conversation; they tend to reduce the conversation to debate or argumentation; these people may be genuinely knowledgeable but are more or less dysfunctionally pedantic; they may also be just (anxious?) know-alls, more in need of the sense of control that comes from having “the answer” than the sense of life that comes from connecting with another human being in a process of engagement and honest joint search; these people tend to be detached from, even unaware of, the human dimension and they can kill a genuine conversation almost as effectively as the “Look at me” types;
• There are people for whom the underlying agenda may be summarized as “The solution is” – their primary concern is to reduce everything to a “problem” for which a solution can be found; they generally believe they have the solution or at least know how to reach the solution; these people may be very good at getting things done and solving actual problems – the “can do person” – but they are very obstructive when there is no problem as such, where the process of connecting and conjointly searching is the important thing; they are typically not good listeners, therefore unlikely to be able to wait upon the moment, letting things emerge; life in the end is not a problem, it has no solution, it is a mystery to be lived; conversation is not about problem solving so much as it is about growing into the mystery with others;
• There are people for whom the underlying agenda may be summarized as “This is an ideological struggle” – their primary concern is to win; they tend to reduce the conversation to a competition or fight of some kind, out of which will emerge a winner and a loser and they are determined not to be the loser; it is hard to know with these people whether the content (ie the ideology) or the process (ie the fight) is the important thing; they share much in common with “The answer is” people but are generally more aggressive and confrontational and often enough immovably stubborn, one might even say “pig-headed;”
• There are people for whom the underlying agenda may be summarized as “This is in-house maintenance talk” – their primary concern is to maintain an ideology or current way of thinking and doing things; the exchanges are meant to confirm the status quo; there is no serious attempt to submit to one of the primary purposes of words, and that is revelation – such submission would imply change and thus threaten the status quo; clichés and in-jokes are common to this kind of talk and clearly recognizable (and simplistic) definitions of “good” and “bad” are accepted; different and challenging points of view are seldom engaged honestly or seriously.
We could probably enumerate a number of other more or less typical scenarios for what passes for conversation on a daily basis. You may depend we would also find that there was one disabling factor which kept recurring: The unwillingness or inability of one or more of the participants to be self-transcending. In one form or other – self-absorption, self-centredness, egocentricity, arrogance, selfishness, narcissism etc (ie the very antithesis of self-transcendence) – would typically lie at the heart of most failures to engage in genuine conversation.
Significantly enough it is also clearly a major obstacle to the realization of our best possibilities as beings who are constituted by and through relationships.
In the end, conversation is a mystery. It is part and parcel of God’s conversation – the colloquium salutis – with the human family and with each of us individually.
Much of what I have presented above needs to be unpacked, as the saying goes. You must do that – on your own and with others.
Each of us will find our way into that mystery by experiencing it with others similarly intent on discovery. That requires commitment and a high degree of magnanimity.
The epigraph to this reflection suggests the disposition that might best provide the basis for good conversation we envisage it in Catalyst for Renewal. As Mary, the Mother of Jesus, entered ever more deeply into the colloquium salutis she declared: “You see before you the Lord’s servant, let it happen to me as you have said” (Luke 1:39).
1 Luke 1:38.
2 See T S Eliot’s poem, “The Hollow Men”. The first stanza – echoing Celia’s mocking comments to Edward in Act I, Scene 2, of “The Cocktail Party” – is as follows: “We are the hollow men/We are the stuffed men/Leaning together/Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!/Our dried voices, when/We whisper together/Are quiet and meaningless/As wind in dry grass/Or rats’ feet over broken glass/In our dry cellar.”
Bringing the modern world into contact with the vivifying and perennial energies of the gospel (John XXIII’s half century challenge) – Fr Frank Brennan SJ – 23 March 2012
In 1962, I moved from the Brigidine Convent at Indooroopilly in Brisbane to St Joseph’s College, Nudgee Junior, under the care of the Christian Brothers. I was an impressionable eight-year-old and was in grade 3. I well recall one of the brothers taking the class up to the top floor of the school. We gathered outside the chapel in front of the large portrait of our Lady of Perpetual Succour. Brother told us that there were very significant events occurring in Rome. Pope John had convened a Vatican Council. We were instructed to pray for all the bishops because this council would affect the future of the church. I have no real recollection of the prayers we offered, and thus am not in a position to say whether or not they were answered. But like you, I know that things have changed very significantly in the Church and in the world since that group of eight-year-old boys offered prayer and supplication.
50 years on, we gather to celebrate as Catholics, confident that the gifts of the Spirit will assist us in proclaiming the Good News to each other, to our fellow believers, and to our fellow citizens no matter what their religious beliefs or none. Let’s recall that it was the week of Christian Unity in 1959 when John XXIII gathered with a small selection of his cardinals in the Benedictine chapterhouse beside the Basilica of Saint Paul-Outside-the-Walls when he said, “I am prompted to open my mind and heart to you, because of this feast of the Conversion of St Paul. I want to tell you frankly about several points of planned pastoral activity which have emerged in my thoughts because of my brief three months here within these church circles in Rome. In doing so, I am thinking of the care of the souls of the faithful in these modern times.” The pastor and historian who now described himself as “the shepherd of the Church” no doubt looked back to the reforming practices of Charles Borromeo who came as Bishop to Bergamo in the aftermath of the Council of Trent and of Msgr Giacomo Maria Radini Tadeschi who was Bishop of Bergamo at the turn of the century and to whom Roncalli had given years of dedicated service as his secretary. In his biography of Tadeschi, Roncalli wrote: “Having a high regard for his clergy and people, he did not concentrate so much on carrying out reforms as on maintaining the glorious traditions of his diocese, and interpreting them in harmony with the new conditions and needs of the time, the ever greater spiritual advantage and glory of the Church of Bergamo.”1
The great historian of Vatican II from the “Bologna School”, Giuseppe Alberigo, recalls that Roncalli upon election as Pope and on choosing the name John emphasised his commitment to being a good pastor consistent with Jesus’ discourse in John 10 on the Good Shepherd. Roncalli said, “The other human qualities – knowledge, shrewdness, diplomatic tact, organisational abilities – can help the Pope to carry out his office, but they can in no way substitute for his task as a pastor”.2
There at St Pauls Outside the Walls, the new Pope said:
I am saddened when people forget the place of God in their lives and pursue earthly goods, as though they were an end in themselves. I think, in fact, that this blind pursuit of the things of this world emerges from the power of darkness, not from the light of the Gospels, and it is enabled by modern technology. All of this weakens the energy of the spirit and generally leads to divisions, spiritual decline, and moral failure. As a priest, and now as the shepherd of the Church, I am troubled and aroused by this tendency in modern life and this makes me determined to recall certain ancient practices of the church in order to stem the tide of this decline. Throughout the history of the Church, such renewal has always yielded wonderful results. It produces greater clarity of thought, solidarity of religious unity, and abundant spiritual riches in people’s lives.
Then “trembling with a bit of emotion”, he announced his intention to hold a diocesan Synod for Rome, and an ecumenical Council of the universal Church, as well as an aggiornamento (bringing up to date) of the code of Canon Law. He thought such initiatives would not only produce “great enlightenment for all Christian people” but also “a renewed invitation to our separated sisters and brothers so that all may follow us in their search for unity and grace.”
It took almost 3 years before he then convoked the council with his apostolic Constitution Humanae Salutis in which he said, “Today the church is witnessing a crisis underway within society. While humanity is on the edge of a new era, tasks of immense gravity and amplitude await the Church, as in the most tragic periods of its history. It is a question in fact of bringing the modern world into contact with the vivifying and perennial energies of the Gospel, a world which exults itself with its conquests in the technical and scientific fields, but which brings also the consequences of a temporal order which some have wished to reorganise excluding God.” And thus the title for my remarks this evening: John’s half century challenge of “bringing the modern world into contact with the vivifying and perennial energies of the Gospel”.
We gather as people of faith. We gather as the people of God, true to the church and engaged with the world. Coming from the Ignatian tradition, I have long thought that the greatest challenge to us as people of faith is to tap the interior freedom to which we are called, freed from all the disordered affections, so that we might be better able to serve humanity and the whole of creation, being bridge builders to the frontiers, being at home at the crossroads between church and world, being the credible mind of the Church, the soiled hands of the contemporary Jesus, and the heart of Christ large enough to hold, love and nurture with dignity and respect all our fellow human beings.
The challenges are enormous, but invigorating. John O’Malley SJ, the finest contemporary historian of Vatican II writing in the English language has provided us with “a simple litany” of the changes in church style indicated by the council’s vocabulary: “from commands to invitations, from laws to ideals, from threats to persuasion, from coercion to conscience, from monologue to conversation, from ruling to serving, from withdrawn to integrated, from vertical and top-down to horizontal, from exclusion to inclusion, from hostility to friendship, from static to changing, from passive acceptance to active engagement, from prescriptive to principled, from defiant to open-ended, from behaviour modification to conversion of heart, from the dictates of law to the dictates of conscience, from external conformity to the joyful pursuit of holiness.”3
I am one who welcomes these changes. I am not one of those Catholics so wedded to the continuity of the tradition as to think that nothing happened at Vatican II, and that we should be back to business as usual as we were when those eight year old boys gathered with the Christian Brother around the portrait of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. As you know, I am quite unapologetic in according primacy to the formed and informed conscience of the individual. Any Catholic taking their faith and church membership seriously will be very attentive to the teaching office of the hierarchy, especially the Pope. But at the end of the day, all of us, whether Pope or not, are obliged to form and inform our conscience and to that conscience be true. In the US we are seeing a strong pushback by the Catholic Bishops against the Obama administration’s new health regime on the basis of freedom of conscience. We cannot espouse freedom of conscience against the State and deny it within our own Church.
Tonight I want to indicate six ways in which we the educated and grounded People of God might respond more passionately to the challenges of the Age. Most of you who are parents or grandparents wonder how any practice of the Faith is to be handed on credibly to your children and grandchildren. You know that the younger generations are more impressed by actions than by words, and that talk of justice rings hollow with them unless there are structures in place to ensure justice is done, and that talk of God’s love rings false unless it is lived through deeds and witnessed by a real sense of transcendence and respect for every person’s human dignity elevating the believer above the materialism and power of the world. If our faith is to be handed on to the coming generations, we need to be sure that we the Church are not an obstacle but rather a bridge for bringing the modern world into contact with the vivifying and perennial energies of the gospel. I suggest that there are six matters requiring our attention:
1. Transcendence and Openness
We need to foster our contemporary sense of the transcendent and openness to the other, the world and culture which are not all bad. We need to be attentive to the arts and culture, open to ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and mutual learning. I was surprised at how uplifting I found Geoffrey Blainey’s A Short History of Christianity. As a Catholic, I took delight in the variety of expressions of Christian faith, and admitted to myself as if for the first time that I would be a little wary of praying that all Christians come under Rome, given some of the very fallible human procedures and intrigues that go on in the Vatican. I have been tantalised by Charles Taylor’s recent essay A Catholic Modernity? In which he suggests:
In modern, secularist culture there are mingled together both the authentic developments of the Gospel, of an incarnational mode of life, and also a closing off to God that negates the Gospel. The notion is that modern culture, in breaking with the structures and beliefs of Christendom, also carried certain facets of Christian life further than they were ever taken or could have been taken within Christendom. In relation to the earlier forms of Christian culture, we have to face the humbling realisation that the breakout was a necessary condition of the development.
One might think only of the contemporary international concern with human rights and the suspicion of many Catholic bishops about the invocation of human rights discourse.
2. Primacy of Conscience
We need to be true to conscience and to the tradition, respecting the dignity of all persons who are called to act according to their formed and informed consciences, and respecting them enough to challenge them in the light of the tradition when we think their consciences might be insufficiently formed and informed, conceding that there might be room for improvement in our own conscience formation and learning which might be infected by too much group-think and subservience to authority which is exercised with insufficient transparency and openness.
3. Justice and Dignity for All
We need to be credible in agitating for justice and dignity for all, espousing not just equality and non-discrimination, but also the common good and the public interest, with a particular eye to the voiceless and those whose claims on us do not enjoy fad status. The same sex marriage debate comes to mind. I have been greatly assisted by the line of Archbishop Vincent Nichols, elected President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales by unanimous acclamation in 2009, who has said, “We were very nuanced. We did not oppose gay civil partnerships. We recognised that in English law there might be a case for those.” Archbishop Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, when speaking about civil unions and same sex marriage has said: “Clearly, respect must be shown to those who in the situation in England use a civil partnership to bring stability to a relationship. Equality is very important and there should be no unjust discrimination. (However) commitment plus equality do not equal marriage.”
I concede that some Catholic commentators might argue for limits on non-discrimination and compassion on the basis that the very recognition of a same sex relationship is contrary to the natural law. For example, the Catechism states: “The natural law, the Creator’s very good work, provides the solid foundation on which man can build the structure of moral rules to guide his choices. It also provides the indispensable moral foundation for building the human community. Finally, it provides the necessary basis for the civil law with which it is connected, whether by a reflection that draws conclusions from its principles, or by additions of a positive and juridical nature.” But these commentators would then need to establish that the extension of non-discrimination and compassion to same sex couples would undermine the indispensable moral foundation for building the human community.
It would be a pity if those of us trying to contribute the strength of the Catholic tradition to the debate were simply characterised as homophobic naysayers. And it would be helpful if some of the nuances of the experienced UK bishops could get some airplay here from our own bishops who also wrestle with the pastoral and moral dimensions of this question.
I don’t think the public debate in Australia will be much assisted by agitating the present canonical view of the Catholic Church that “a valid marriage contract cannot exist between baptised persons without its being by that very fact a sacrament”4. We all know many baptized persons who profess no religious faith at all. It stretches our understanding of a sacrament to propose that two adult persons without religious faith could be administering a sacrament to each other; and it offends our sense of natural justice to say that such a couple are incapable of entering into a marriage contract in good faith. If we Catholics are told not to accept the reality of non-sacramental marriage for those who happen to be baptised, we should not expect our official Church teaching on marriage to assist much with setting the contours on civil marriage. The distinguished canon lawyer Ladilas Orsy has said:5
There are concrete cases when the wise advice to a couple, baptized and unbelieving as they are, is to tell them to contract a nonsacramental marriage. This is no more than to respect the state of their mind and heart, to honour their honesty. We have no right to refuse to recognize the genuine human value of their commitment. If one day they are given the fullness of faith, become believers, and ask for the sacrament, it should be given to them in joyful celebration.
I will continue to advocate against same sex marriage, while being in favour of civil unions. Discussion about the sacramentality of marriage in the Catholic Church is unlikely to provide any clear answer or direction to those seeking a just law for all couples, including same sex couples.
Most young people who marry nowadays have already been cohabiting. They usually marry because they think it is time to start a family. The State’s interest in marriage as an institution has arisen because the State has been concerned with the procreation and nurture of children of the union. We are just around the corner from scientists being able to produce a child from the genetic material of two ova or two sperm. I think the State still has an interest in preferencing a social institution which maximises the possibility of children being nurtured by their known biological mother and their known biological father. Call me old fashioned if you will. But I think the State should proceed slowly in this field. We should have learnt some lessons from the Stolen Generations and those who were adopted out contrary to their parents’ wishes. I would support the recognition of civil unions now, but I would want to reserve consideration of same sex marriage until the majority of those who are married (and not just the young) favour it, and until we have dealt with the complex issues of parenting children produced from the genetic material of two men only or two women only.
4. Liturgy for Life
We need to celebrate liturgy which animates us for life and mission – being faithful to the routine of life including weekly Eucharist and daily prayer, being sufficiently educated in our faith and familiar with liturgy to celebrate the big events and sacramental moments of life, attentive to our local cultural reality and part of a universal Church which both incorporates and transcends all cultures. The clunky new translation provides us all with a real challenge, particularly when celebrating marriages and funerals when very few in the congregation know the responses.
5. Institutional Support for a Resourced Laity who are the majority of Christ’s Faithful
Given the shortage of priests and religious in the contemporary Australian church as compared with the situation 50 years ago, we need to provide more resources and opportunities to the laity wanting to perform the mission in Christ’s name – lay organisations, public juridic persons, volunteering, better structured opportunities for part time commitment to the apostolate, and provision by religious orders for young people wanting to make a commitment for a few years before marriage and life and work in civic service. The greatest challenge is providing a place in the Church for young women wanting to contribute to the mission. When I stood at that portrait of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour 50 years ago, there were almost 15,000 women religious in the Australian Church. Today there are less than 6,000 and their median age is 74. Only 6% of them are under 50. When I joined the Jesuits in 1975, almost half the women religious were aged under 50.
I caused alarm with some of my fellow Jesuits last year when I gave an interview to The Good Weekend saying: “I wouldn’t be a priest if I was 21 today. I am one of the last generations of Irish Catholics whose families made it professionally and were comfortable with the church. I love being a Jesuit but I can’t honestly say I would join now. My religious faith has remained rock solid, but there are times when I feel really cheesed off with the institutional church, which sometimes treats its lay members and non-members in a too-patronising fashion.”
When I joined the Jesuits, approximately 25 per cent of clerical religious were 60 or over, with very few aged 75 or over. More than one-third (36.6%) were under the age of 40, with 9.8 per cent under 25 years. By 2009, only 10 per cent of clerical religious were under 40, with just 0.7 per cent aged under 25. That’s an enormous challenge for a 21 year old.
As I have said to my superiors, we need to see how a young man might discern that action of the Spirit in calling him to a group which is aged and diminished, though armed with a fine founding charism and recent documents which make for splendid reading in terms of mission and life. For example, if I were contemplating priesthood or religious life aged 21 today and was attracted to the Australian Jesuits, I would need to consider some additional factors which were not relevant in 1975: I will be responsible in fraternal charity for a disproportionate number of my brothers who are retired and moving towards death; I will not be accompanied by a significant number of like-minded contemporaries; I will be expected to oversee corporate enterprises boasting the Ignatian charism with a reduced expectation that I will have a long working life largely dedicated just to learning, teaching or direct pastoral involvement; and I will be part of an apostolic group dedicated to the universal mission of the Church but with few inspiring demands or expressions of trust from the local hierarchy. The Spirit may still be calling me but not in the same exciting and challenging way that the Spirit would have been calling the same young man had he turned 21 in 1975 rather than 2012.
6. Due Process in the Church
We need to reform our church structures to be more aligned with contemporary notions of justice and due process. Tonight I would like to take further my reflections on the Morris affair, acknowledging that some Catholics think it is just a storm in a teacup about a recalcitrant country bishop and that it is time we all moved on. I think such an approach is a serious misreading of the signs of the times. The Toowoomba diocese has been without a resident bishop now for almost eleven months since Pope Benedict removed Bishop William Morris, who refused to submit his resignation when requested by three curial cardinals who formed an adverse view of him.
Morris had offered to retire by August last year provided only that the sexual abuse cases in the diocese had been resolved. This timetable was judged inappropriate by the Vatican cardinals who conducted an ongoing inquiry into Morris’ fitness for office. They wanted him out, immediately.
Morris was denied natural justice. No one, including the Australian bishops, quite knows why he was sacked — or at least they cannot tell us; the charges and the evidence remain a moving target, a mystery. Clearly Morris has not been judged a heretic or schismatic. He has maintained his standing as a bishop, being asked to assist with Episcopal tasks in his home diocese of Brisbane.
There have been some suggestions of defective pastoral leadership by Morris — an assessment not shared by most of his fellow Australian bishops, who expressed their appreciation “that Bishop Morris’s human qualities were never in question; nor is there any doubt about the contribution he has made to the life of the Church in Toowoomba and beyond. The Pope’s decision was not a denial of the personal and pastoral gifts that Bishop Morris has brought to the episcopal ministry.”
In 2004, Bishop Morris had his first meeting with Cardinal Arinze, the Cardinal Prefect for Divine Worship, to discuss the use of the third rite of reconciliation in the far flung diocese of Toowoomba. On 21 December 2006, Cardinal Arinze requested Morris to come to Rome to discuss the matter with three curial cardinals in February 2007. By that time, Morris had discontinued the third rite. Morris saw no need for a special trip to Rome. He advised that he would be in Rome for a regular meeting in May 2007. Meanwhile Morris had published his 2006 Advent letter. Arinze wrote again in January 2007 asking Morris to present himself in Rome in February. Morris once again declined. On 16 March 2007, Morris was then informed that the Pope had appointed Archbishop Chaput from the United States to make an Apostolic Visitation of the Toowoomba Diocese. Though there was no mention of the third rite of reconciliation which had first brought Morris into dialogue with the curial officials, Cardinal Re, Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, disclosed to Morris the reason for the Apostolic Visitation: “That the doctrinal and disciplinary line you are following seems not in accordance with the Magisterium of the Church”, observing that “an expression of this is also found in some phrases of your Advent pastoral letter 2006”. Chaput made his visit to the diocese from 24-28 April 2007. Morris went to Rome in May 2007 but none of the three Cardinals wanted to meet with him. Summoned to Canberra by the Nuncio in September 2007, Morris was handed an unsigned document with the heading “Congregatio pro Episcopis”, dated 28 June 2007. Morris made repeated requests for a copy of Chaput’s report. The requests were denied. The Curia sent letters on 3 October 2007 and 30 November 2007 requesting that Morris resign. Morris declined and on 19 January 2008 he attended a meeting with Cardinals Re, Levada and Arinze in company with Archbishop Philip Wilson, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. On 2 May 2011, Pope Benedict “relieved Bishop William Martin Morris of his office as Bishop of Toowoomba, Australia”.6
The key resident church leaders of Toowoomba then commissioned retired Supreme Court judge and esteemed Catholic layman, William Carter QC to review the Vatican’s curial process demanding resignation and culminating in papal dismissal. They also sought a canonical reflection on Carter’s report from the respected canon lawyer Fr Ian Waters who stated, “I presume I have been invited because I am not a Queenslander. I have never met Mr Carter, although I know he is an eminent and highly respected jurist.” Waters concluded:
In accordance with Canon 19, the Holy See, departing from the earlier precedents for the removal of Australian bishops, could have designed a process similar to the process for removal of a parish priest, thereby according procedural fairness and natural justice consistent with the Code of Canon Law. This was not done. I respectfully concur with Mr Carter’s conclusion that “Bishop Morris was denied procedural fairness and natural justice.”
In his report of last October, Mr Carter, having access to all Morris’s files and having heard directly from Morris, scrutinised the Vatican processes including the Apostolic Visitation to the Toowoomba Diocese by Archbishop Chaput. He wrote: “Not only was Bishop Morris, at all material times, totally ignorant of the material in Chaput’s possession when he arrived in Toowoomba, nor was he told anything to identify his accusers of the real reason for the visit, nor was he given a copy of the Visitor’s report or any information concerning its contents. As of now he still has never seen it.”
In his “Statement of Position” to the three Cardinals gathered in Rome in January 2008, Morris said, “At the end of the Apostolic Visitation, when Archbishop Chaput was being driven back to Brisbane, he remarked to Fr Brian Sparksman, our diocesan Chancellor, that he would be astounded if our diocese were to lose its bishop. He also asked John Bathersby (Archbishop of Brisbane) why he thought he was asked to investigate me because as far as he could see from the material provided to him things that I had reportedly said and done were happening in other places as well.” Fr Sparksman told me last week: “I cannot say with certainty that Chaput used the word ‘astounded’ but it was a word like that. I definitely took heart and was relieved by what he said because as you can imagine it was a tense time for us all and that was a difficult drive to Brisbane. I was very anxious at first but then very relieved by what Archbishop Chaput had to say.”
Archbishop Denis Hart wrote to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on 4 February 2012 telling us that Archbishop Chaput “said he discussed the contents of his report with Bishop Morris in Toowoomba”. Archbishop Hart’s claim contradicted the statement made by Bishop Morris in his letter to the Holy Father dated 24 December 2008 in which he said: “I have not seen the report prepared by the Apostolic Visitor; the Apostolic Visitor did not discuss his findings with me; I have not been shown any of the ‘evidence’ that was gathered or even the list of the ‘accusers’.” Archbishop Hart’s claim was strenuously denied by Bishop Morris when he then wrote to the same newspapers in response to Archbishop Hart on 8 February 2012 stating: “I categorically deny that Archbishop Chaput ever discussed with me what he was going to put in the report.”
At World Youth Day in Madrid last year, Archbishop Chaput realising that Gerard Holohan, Bishop of Bunbury, was from Australia, drew him aside in the cathedral before mass “to indicate vigorously that he had indeed discussed the contents of his report with Bishop Morris – except for the names of who he met – at the end of his Apostolic visit to Toowoomba.”7 If the processes were working correctly, there would have been no need for an Apostolic Visitor to draw aside a bishop he had never met to assure him of due process in relation to another bishop when the stranger bishop had not even made an inquiry. When Archbishop Hart first published his report about Archbishop Chaput’s claim that he had followed due process, I wrote to Archbishop Chaput seeking clarification. He replied promptly though briefly within a day, “I have no comments for you, Father Brennan. God bless you.”8 On 12 March, Bishop Morris wrote seeking clarification of Chaput’s repeated claim to Australian bishops that he had shared the contents of his report. We await developments.
Members of Christ’s Faithful who have access only to the public documentation are left confused. Seeking clarification for the good of the Church, I have written to the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishops Chaput and Hart and Bishop Holohan and discussed the matter with Bishop Morris and Fr Sparksman. Neither the Nuncio nor the Archbishops want to engage in any public dialogue. That of course is their prerogative which I respect. If indeed Archbishop Chaput did discuss the content of his report with Bishop Morris, it would be helpful for Christ’s Faithful to know that. If he did not, it would be helpful if the Australian bishops could be duly informed so that they do not mis-state the situation. Rather than having Vatican cardinals present an accused with an anonymous list of complaints submitted untested, it would be preferable that the Visitor present the accused with a list of concerns held in good faith by the Visitor after due inquiry. Archbishop Chaput’s answer to Bishop Morris’s query may provide an opportunity to clarify the public record.
We are left confused as to whether Morris was sacked chiefly for what he wrote in his 2006 Advent letter, for what was reported by Chaput, or for what was reported to Rome by those sometimes described as “the temple police”. The offending section of his pastoral letter was:
Given our deeply held belief in the primacy of Eucharist for the identity, continuity and life of each parish community, we may well need to be much more open towards other options of ensuring that Eucharist may be celebrated. Several responses have been discussed internationally, nationally and locally
• ordaining married, single or widowed men who are chosen and endorsed by their local parish community
• welcoming former priests, married or single back to active ministry
• ordaining women, married or single
• recognising Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church Orders
While we continue to reflect carefully on these options we remain committed to actively promoting vocations to the current celibate male priesthood and open to inviting priests from overseas.
If he was sacked for what he wrote in his Advent letter about the possible ordination of women, married priests, and recognition of other orders “Rome willing”, there would have been no need for Archbishop Chaput to make his visit and his report. And let’s remember that Morris had published a clarification of his pastoral letter on his website saying:
In my Advent Pastoral Letter of 2006 I outlined some of the challenges facing the diocese into the future. In that letter I made reference to various options about ordination that were and are being talked about in various places, as part of an exercise in the further investigation of truth in these matters. Unfortunately some people seem to have interpreted that reference as suggesting that I was personally initiating options that are contrary to the doctrine and discipline of the Church. As a bishop I cannot and would not do that and I indicated this in the local media at the time.
But then again if he was sacked for matters detailed in Chaput’s report, we are left wondering why Chaput being apprised of the Advent letter and having completed his visit would have told the Diocesan Chancellor how extraordinarily surprising it would be if Morris were to be sacked. The matter is a complete mess reflecting very poorly on a Church which prides itself on a Code of Canon law which provides for the protection of the rights of all Christ’s faithful, including priests and bishops.
When Morris met with the curial cardinals in January 2008, they spoke specifically to only six of the issues listed in the unsigned, unsourced and inaccurate memorandum which had been presented to Morris by the nuncio in September 2007. The first issue listed was the vague assertion that “Toowoomba is moving in a different direction than that of the Catholic Church”. The second issue was the Advent pastoral letter. The third issue listed was the false statement: “At least in the past eight years there have been no priestly ordinations in Toowoomba” and that priests in good health were retiring early and being replaced “by deacons or laity”. There had been four priests ordained in the last eight years, and Toowoomba had no deacons. The fourth issue was the third rite of reconciliation. The Cardinals said, “With regard to ‘general absolution’, we are glad to hear of Bishop Morris’s statement that ‘general absolution is no longer common’.” Morris was able to assure them that he had given permission for general absolution only twice in the last three years, and for the most appropriate canonical reasons. The fifth issue was his general failure to correct liturgical abuses. Morris assured them: “Reports of aberrations have been addressed immediately, when referred to me.” The sixth issue was “the general theological climate of the diocese, and especially of its priests, need(ing) to move towards a more authentic Catholic identity, as found in the Catechism”. Morris rightly told them:
I am unable to respond fully to issues raised against me because I have not been provided with a copy of the material carried by the Apostolic Visitor when he came to our diocese in April of this year nor have I seen the final Report. Canon 220 guarantees my right to a good name and Canon 221 a right to defence. I am exercising my right to defence as far as possible by responding to matters raised in the unsigned memorandum.
Canon 221 provides: “The Christian faithful can legitimately vindicate and defend the rights which they possess in the Church in the competent ecclesiastical forum according to the norm of law. If they are summoned to a trial by a competent authority, the Christian faithful also have the right to be judged according to the prescripts of the law applied with equity.”
If Archbishop Chaput relying on evidence from his Visitation, rather than the Roman Cardinals acting on untested allegations from the temple police, had formed the view that Toowoomba was “moving in a different direction than that of the Catholic Church” and that the priests of the diocese needed “to move towards a more authentic Catholic identity”, you would have thought he would have told Bishop Morris at the end of his visit and that the Diocesan Chancellor would have had no grounds for feeling relieved as they drove towards Brisbane.
Anyone questioning the process or decision in relation to Bishop Morris is placed in the invidious position of being seen as one insufficiently trustful of the papacy. One can be a great defender and advocate for the papacy and still be a strong advocate for due process especially when administrative or judicial type functions by curial officials may result in a pastor being relieved his office without satisfactory explanation to him or his flock.
Vatican II’s dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, describes the Church as the people of God. Many of the people of God anxious to respect the human dignity of all and to ensure that the Church be as perfect a human institution as possible now think that natural justice and due process should be followed within the Church, while always maintaining the hierarchical nature of the Church and the papal primacy. Of course, there are some who question the papal primacy or the need for an ordained hierarchy, but that is definitely not my position and they are not my concern here. The question for the contemporary Catholic is: can I assent to the teaching of Lumen Gentium without having a commitment to due process, natural justice and transparency in Church processes and structures thereby maximizing the prospect that the exercise of hierarchical power and papal primacy will be for the good of the people of God, rather than a corrosive influence on the faith and trust of the people of God?
Lumen Gentium provides a constellation of biblical images for the Church. It is “a sheepfold whose one and indispensable door is Christ. It is a flock of which God Himself foretold He would be the shepherd, and whose sheep, although ruled by human shepherds, are nevertheless continuously led and nourished by Christ Himself, the Good Shepherd and the Prince of the shepherds, who gave His life for the sheep.”9 The Good Shepherd is not arbitrary or capricious with his sheep. Those commissioned to act for the Shepherd would want to go to great lengths to ensure that the Shepherd is provided with all necessary information and appropriate processes to console the sheep that the best interests of all have been maintained with due regard for each person’s dignity and just entitlements.
The Church is also described as “a piece of land to be cultivated, the tillage of God. On that land the ancient olive tree grows whose holy roots were the Prophets and in which the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles has been brought about and will be brought about. That land, like a choice vineyard, has been planted by the heavenly Husbandman. The true vine is Christ who gives life and the power to bear abundant fruit to the branches, that is, to us, who through the Church remain in Christ without whom we can do nothing.”10 The branches of the vine will of course be well cultivated if all necessary nutrients are provided within the life of the Church including natural justice, due process and transparency.
The Church is also described as “the building of God. The Lord Himself compared Himself to the stone which the builders rejected, but which was made into the cornerstone.”11 The modern foundations of any contemporary building like this include just structures which ensure the recognition of everyone’s dignity, due process and natural justice.
None of these images is undermined or threatened by church structures and church personnel committed to due process and natural justice being accorded all persons before the Holy Father exercises his ultimate jurisdiction and authority. Nor is it undermined by church personnel being in a position to inform the faithful about the transparency and justice of the processes adopted by curial officials preparing briefs for action by the Holy Father.
It is no longer appropriate for Church hierarchs to claim that notions of transparency, due process and natural justice are antithetical to the hierarchical nature of the Church or to the primacy of the papacy. The primacy is not to be exercised arbitrarily or capriciously; and defenders of the Church will want to go to great lengths to ensure that the papal office is not perceived to be exercised without sufficient regard to the circumstances and evidence of a case. For the Pope to be totally free in the appointment, transfer and removal of bishops, he and his flock have to be assured that his curial officials exercise their power to recommend appointment, transfer or removal in a just and transparent manner.
The laity, the religious, the presbyterate and the bishops in some nations are sure to have a heightened 21st century notion of justice, transparency, and due process. This heightened notion is a gift for the contemporary Church. It is one of the works of the Spirit. It is not antithetical to the nature of the Church. Lumen Gentium puts it well:13
Since the kingdom of Christ is not of this world the Church or people of God in establishing that kingdom takes nothing away from the temporal welfare of any people. On the contrary it fosters and takes to itself, insofar as they are good, the ability, riches and customs in which the genius of each people expresses itself. Taking them to itself it purifies, strengthens, elevates and ennobles them.
The Church of the 21st century should be the exemplar of due process, natural justice and transparency – purifying, strengthening, elevating and ennobling these riches and customs of contemporary Western societies which are the homes and social constructs for many of the faithful, including those most directly impacted by the decision to force the dismissal of Bishop Morris.
While there can be little useful reflection and critique of the final decision of Pope Benedict to force the early retirement of Bishop Morris, there is plenty of scope to review the processes and the evidence leading to the submission of the brief for dismissal provided by curial officials to the Holy Father. Those officials acted primarily on written complaints by a small minority of the faithful and of only a few priests the diocese, the report of the Visitor Archbishop Chaput, and the responses provided by Bishop Morris who was unable to cite the complaints or the report. Even though the Pope can exercise all power (legislative, executive and judicial), that is no reason for postulating that persons below him in the hierarchy can act as if they too could exercise all power without limitations and without review.
If a case had been fairly made out against Morris, there may well have been a grave reason for him to offer his resignation.14 But we just do not know the grounds on which he has been singled out for forced retirement. For example, it’s not as if he is the only bishop in the world to have spoken about women’s ordination. And unlike some of them, he has not espoused it; he has just said he would do what Rome authorised in the future. He has never gone anywhere near the approach taken by the Swiss Bishop Markus Büchel who has called for women’s ordination saying, “We must search for steps that lead there. I could imagine that women’s diaconate could be such a step.” Büchel thinks “we can’t afford” not to talk about women’s ordination any longer.
The majority of the faithful are left in the dark, many of them hurt and confused. The papal overriding of the usual canonical provisions for the election of an Administrator has caused offence to the diocesan consultors and rendered the task of Bishop Finnigan, the nominated Administrator, more difficult. Due to a lack of due process, natural justice and transparency, the papacy has been harmed, the standing of the Vatican curia has been harmed, the public standing of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference further undermined, and the confidence of the Australian Church in the public square compromised. The Church cannot credibly proclaim a message of social justice in a pluralist democracy when its own processes fall so demonstrably short of ordinary community standards of justice.
When it comes to Christian charity and solidarity, the recent cases of bishops Heather, Heaps, Robinson and now Morris leave many Australian Catholics with the perception that our bishops are caught between a rock and a hard place – the rock of Vatican secrecy and the hard place of solidarity with a brother in need. For example, consider Cardinal Pell’s observations about Morris to the US Catholic News Agency on 28 May 2011. He acknowledged Morris’s undoubted pastoral gifts: “He’s a very good man. He had a lot of pastoral strengths. He’s got a lot of good points. He’s done of lot of good work. He’s got quite a strong following in the diocese.” But then he went on to say: “But the diocese was divided quite badly and the bishop hasn’t demonstrated that he’s a team player.” There are divisions in every diocese. It may just be that the few “temple police” in Toowoomba have been more shrill and more organised than elsewhere. But that does not make it a quite badly divided diocese. Not all of you as members of the Archdiocese of Sydney would agree with everything that Cardinal Pell says or does. That doesn’t mean he should be sacked. After Chaput’s visit, the majority of the clergy and Pastoral Leaders of the Toowoomba Diocese gathered to discuss what had happened. All except three priests signed a letter of support for Bishop Morris. Letters of support were also sent by the pastoral leaders and the Diocesan Pastoral Council to the Congregation for Bishops. Some other Australian bishops would be hard pressed to command such unsolicited broad support from all key groups in their diocese. If Morris was not a team player, whose team are we talking about, and what are the rules the team plays by?
One of the more questionable assertions relating to this case has been that there is no formal Vatican process for determining a grave reason for the forced retirement of a bishop when there has been no penal offence committed, especially when it is common ground that the bishop in question is “a very good man” with “a lot of pastoral strengths”, “a lot of good points”, having “done of lot of good work” with “quite a strong following in the diocese”, and when the Vatican accusers themselves say the bishop “should be given another assignment (as a bishop) with special duties” so that he can “continue to effectively serve the Church elsewhere in Australia”. Charity and truth within the people of God are not dependent only on positive law enacted in the Code of Canon Law. Where the Code is silent, due process, natural justice and transparency are to be expected unless there is some countervailing interest of the common good to be served by secrecy and the avoidance of due process and natural justice.
If we as the People of God rejoicing in the name “Catholic” are to bring the modern world into contact with the vivifying and perennial energies of the gospel, we need to ensure that our Church is an exemplar of the noblest values espoused by people of all faiths and none. We need to recommit ourselves to charity, justice and truth both within our own structures when dealing with each other, and in all our dealings with those outside the membership of our Church, especially those who differ with us conscientiously about the moral challenges of the Age. We need to examine afresh our belief in “a love or compassion which is unconditional – that is, not based on what you the recipient have made of yourself – or as one based on what you are most profoundly, a being in the image of God”. Charles Taylor sums up the challenge as “a difficult discernment, trying to see what in modern culture reflects its furthering of the Gospel, and what (in modern culture reflects) its refusal of the transcendent”15. Thus exercised, we might bring even the young into engagement “with the vivifying and perennial energies of the gospel”.
The Inaugural Rosemary Goldie Lecture
Presented by Clifford Longley. Wednesday 9th May 2012.
This lecture follows story of the of the People of God, the laity’s status and involvement in and with the Church over the years prior to the Second Vatican Council to the present.
Clifford Longley is a story teller, using material from diaries, his sharp observation and experience to show us some of the contentious issues of the times. His main point is the growth of lay activity, education and sense of ownership of their role in the Church and indeed society.
Longley’s message is a plea to return to the ethic of virtue, seemingly weakened in the Middle Ages and Enlightenment. The Church turned to issues of right and wrong, good and bad, sinfulness and reliance on a clergy to forgive sin, so sinners could go to heaven. This made for a dependent, guilt ridden and anguished people.
The virtue ethics moves the lens from rule constrictions (and its trappings of titles, dress etc.) to personal responsibility, goodness for its own sake, respect for others’ life experience. It leads to equality of relationships, and attention to Catholic lay women. These are some of the signs of a maturing laity.
This talk is a very fitting tribute to Rosemary Goldie, whose courage, faith and prudence spoke of and for the recognition of all, male and female, in the Church of God’s people.
This inaugural Lecture, which it is my entirely undeserved honour to be called upon to give, bears the name of one of Australia’s most distinguished Catholic figures. Rosemary Goldie had a central role, as participant and spectator, in some of the most important events in recent Catholic history, not least the Second Vatican Council itself. If a giant in intellect and influence, however, she certainly was not so in physical stature. Pope John XXIII called her affectionately “la piccinina”, which means something like “the little bit of a thing”. A Vatican journalist labelled her “la bambina Vaticana”, and The Tablet described her as “tiny, wise, spirited – and elfin”.
She was first and foremost an apostle of the lay apostolate – by which I means she was a tireless advocate of the importance of the Catholic Church taking the laity seriously, and developing a proper understanding in the Church of the laity’s appropriate role.
It is right, as this lecture is also one of a series to mark the 50th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council, to remind ourselves of what the Council achieved in this area, an achievement to which she immensely contributed. Now it just so happened that about 15 years ago I embarked on my own exploration and research into this exact field, in order to prepare a biography of the late Archbishop Derek Worlock of Liverpool. I had access to virtually all his papers, including the detailed secret diary he kept as a close observer and participant in the Second Vatican Council himself. He was, as it happened, also an expert on the laity. In that capacity he had been appointed a periti, that is to say an expert theological adviser to the commission which was working on the drafting of the Council’s own document on the laity. He must have worked alongside Rosemary many times.
This extract from his diary, written in 1962, gives is a revealing and somewhat disconcerting picture of the state of the argument at the time. Catholic laity who had not been properly trained as lay apostles could easily become a “menace”, Derek Worlock remarked. They needed training in the sacramental, doctrinal, social and professional spheres.
“It is a mistaken belief,” he goes on, “to encourage priests to become experts in secular affairs in order to be able to guide the laity. It is the layman who must become an expert in union matters and other industrial subjects which are of such a great concern to the laymen today. The layman should then bring those problems to a priest for advice and guidance from the social principles which have been laid down by the Church. Whilst a priest must know about the conditions in which his people are living and working… it is better for him to steer clear of them but remain at hand to advise the layman in their treatment of the problem…”
We cannot get a fair measure of the achievement of people like Rosemary Goldie and Derek Worlock unless we know what was the status of the laity, as seen by the Church, before the Council started.
In many Catholic countries the predominant model for lay Catholic involvement in what would be termed “social action” – a broad Catholic euphemism for politics – was through a structure known as Catholic Action. The principle behind Catholic Action was that lay activity in the name of the Church had in some sense to be directed by the Church – which meant it had to be under the control of the local hierarchy. Loose control in some cases, fairly tight control in others. It was this link to the official Church that enabled lay Catholic initiatives of this kind to be reg
arded as an “apostolate” – missionary work as an extension of the Church’s apostolic vocation.
As we have seen, Worlock’s model for the lay apostolate drew a clear distinction between what was appropriate for the laity and what was the proper function of the clergy. All the campaigning and organising of political or trade union life was within the competence of lay people, but outside the competence of priests and bishops. Their job in the first place was to teach lay people the general principles of Catholic Social Teaching, generally as laid down in the Social Encyclicals Rerum Novarum of Leo XIII, published in 1891, and Quadragesimo Anno of Pius XI, published in 1931.
In the second place it was to supervise the spiritual formation of lay Catholics involved in this work. They had to be “good Catholics”. In practical terms that meant seeing that they attended to Bible study, frequented the Sacraments (especially Sunday Mass and Confession), studied church teaching, and developed their prayer life (saying the Rosary regularly, for instance, or occasionally going on retreats.)
Much of the debate at the Vatican II commission on the laity arose from the fact that the particular experience of delegates related closely to the situations in their own country. Only slowly did they grasp the point that a general document should not generalise from the particular.
Their pre-war history still had a major influence on how they saw the world. In all those countries they had been actively opposed by anti-clerical movements of the left and actively courted by authoritarian movements such as Mussolini’s Fascists or Franco’s Falangists, from the far right. But Catholicism was not comfortable in such company, probably because the principles of the 1891 and 1931 Social Encyclicals were egalitarian rather than oligarchic. Fascists tended to glorify violence: Catholic social theory tended towards pacifism. Indeed while Catholic political sentiment gravitated towards the right in much of Europe and Latin America, the opposite was the case in countries like Australia, Great Britain and the United States, where it lent on the whole to the left.
What tended to weaken Catholic lay action was the overarching influence of the Church hierarchy, which wished to have a veto over leadership and policy and to overrule the membership in the name of some greater good that was more visible to bishops than to anyone else.
In at least two cases, Italy and Germany, this desire to control Catholic political movements led the church authorities to undermine those they could not control. Pius XI disapproved in principle of Catholic parties that were independent of the Church, and in Italy actively encouraged Catholics to join Mussolini’s Fascists as being more amenable and respectful to the Church than the Catholic Popular Party had been. With regard to Germany, Pius XI, advised by Cardinal Pacelli (later Pius XII), had actively collaborated with Hitler in undermining and eventually dissolving the Centre Party, which was in effect the Catholic party, again because the Church could not control it. Arguably – for instance as in John Cornwell’s book Hitler’s Pope – this removal of the Centre Party from the stage was one of the principle reasons why German political life was so quickly and completely dominated by the Nazis after they came to power in 1933. We should not however infer from this that Catholicism found Nazism congenial. If you look at a map of votes cast for National Socialism, region by region, you will notice an inverse relationship between support for the Nazis and the proportion of Catholics in the population. The more Catholic a region was, the less Nazi.
These Catholic parties, from the church’s point of view, were difficult to deal with as they set up in each society an alternative pole of Catholic leadership to the bishops. No matter with how much pro-Church goodwill they may have started with, sooner or later headstrong prelates and headstrong politicians would disagree about something – and eventually, human nature being what it was, about almost everything. So the existence of Catholic parties tended to divide the Church and weaken the authority of the bishops. They were not regarded as a suitable instrument for translating Catholic social theory into action, therefore. Any other body which was to meet this criterion, on the other hand, had to have formal links to the Hierarchy: to be, so to speak, its agent in the world of politics. Hence the concept of the Lay Apostolate.
Incidentally, even in countries where Catholic opinion lent to the left, it was not unusual for senior prelates to have behind-the-scenes influence on the way politics was shaped. To give one example – before the war in the city of Liverpool, England’s most Catholic city, the presence of a Protestant Party naturally brought forth an equal and opposite Catholic party. The archbishop was approached on behalf of the Labour Party in the city to see whether he was prepared to merge the Catholic party with Labour, which would henceforth be committed to protecting Catholic interests. The archbishop agreed to do so, but only on condition that he had a right of veto in the selection of candidates, in both local and national elections. He had to make sure that whoever was chosen was not a Bad Catholic. And so it happened. The Labour party would quietly submit a list of names to Archbishop’s House, and Archbishop Downey would delete the ones he did not like. I don’t doubt that Catholic folklore in Australia has similar tales to tell.
In the ecclesiology prevailing prior to 1962, power and authority in the Church was envisaged as trickling down from the top. The divine “entry point”, so to speak, was at the peak of the pyramid. The closer one’s position was to that, the holier it was. The laity were the bottom layer, not very holy at all. They were neither ordained nor consecrated to higher office; they had not been called. They were assumed to be generally ignorant of the twin Catholic sciences of theology and canon law. They were deemed much more liable, left to their own devices, to get things wrong rather than right. As their status in the church placed them at a lower level than priests, it was through their priests that they were connected to the total life of the church. And of course, the laity had sex; some of them were even women.
The bishops, of course who didn’t and weren’t, were successors to the apostles. It was they, above all, who had an “apostolate”, a mission to spread the Word of God throughout the world. Whether this commission came directly from God, or was transmitted, so to speak, through the office of the Pope, was a moot point which the Second Vatican Council eventually tried to resolve in favour of the former position against the Ultramontanists who favoured the latter, but without a definitive solution. This would soon have interesting consequences.
The priests were sharers in the work of the bishop, under his leadership. They had a share in his apostolate, therefore. What of the laity? They too could share in this apostolate, by loyally assisting the priests and bishops. It was not only a matter of financial support. The lay person was “out there” in a way priests and bishops were not. The lay person was sometimes the best person, therefore, to fulfil the Church’s mission in a particular situation. If he was a good lay person, he would be a humble one, and if a humble one, he would be prepared to take instruction from his Church on what the methods and goals of his lay activity should be.
After the council Worlock himself became a bishop – in Portsmouth which is where I first got to know him as a young reporter on the local newspaper. The newly formed Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales set itself up, after the council ended, with a series of expert committees or commissions who were to advise the bishops on various matters – an ecumenical commission, for instance, a social welfare commission, a commission for the what was coyly called “world of work”, and so on.
Because of his role in Vatican II and his continuing interest in the issue, Worlock was made president of the Laity Commission for England and Wales, which he promptly packed with his own hand-picked lay nominees. They represented to him the epitome of the idea of the Vatican II lay person. It was through himself, of course, that this cream of the Catholic laity, carefully selected members of the Laity Commission, were to receive guidance on all matters spiritual or moral. So this was the immediate post-Vatican II model.
And three years after the end of the Council, it crashed. The publication of the encyclical Humanae Vitae in the summer of 1968 saw an immediate and strong reaction, as laity and priests up and down England and Wales went public to declare their opposition to what the encyclical had to say about birth control. Numerous priests were instantly suspended by their bishops for disloyalty to the magisterium. The papers were full of it.
The Laity Commission was hastily assembled to discuss the crisis, and it was plain that Bishop Worlock had lost control. They demanded the end to further priestly suspensions and the immediate reinstatement of those already suspended. They wished to make known their total opposition to the encyclical. The best that Worlock was able to do was to persuade them to address their objections in the form of questions rather than declarations, and send them to the Bishops’ Conference in private. The questions they asked were never answered, incidentally. They were reluctantly persuaded not to go public with their views.
This was quickly overtaken when the document was leaked – to me, in fact, as I had by then gone to work at The Times in London. Not by Worlock, I hasten to add. A parallel body to the Laity Commission in the structures of the Bishops Conference, the Social Welfare Commission, which was not so exposed to Worlock’s feline subtleties, simply declared that the encyclical was wrong, and dissolved itself.
But the significance of this for our subject tonight is that it represented, in England at least and for Worlock at least, the sudden and catastrophic end of the lay apostolate model he had so painstakingly helped to construct. His hand-picked lay Catholic leaders, his shining examples of the lay apostolate theory in action, hadn’t asked him for guidance on sexual ethics in the wake of the encyclical, which is how the model was supposed to work. They simply told him the Pope was wrong, the infallible Pope had in their eyes been proved fallible. They knew more about sex and marriage than he did; and they were not about to be budged.
This was what happened in just one country, and I think it helps to look at a particular example. But similar events occurred elsewhere. The results, eventually, were much the same.
Can I just now shift the focus, because it seems to me to be very relevant to a crisis which is still unresolved in the Catholic Church – about the role of the laity and its relationship to the hierarchy.
In his recent visit to Mexico, Pope Benedict XVI made an extraordinary remark. “It is not right that laity should feel treated as if they hardly count in the Church,” he said. “It is particularly important for pastors to ensure that a spirit of communion reigns among priests, religious and the lay faithful, and that sterile divisions, criticism and unhealthy mistrust are avoided.” Well amen to that. Note that the Pope made two points – one, that the laity were indeed now being treated as if they did not count; and two, that they should not be so treated. “It is not right.”
That requires a much more equal relationship. If the clergy and hierarchy continue to insist on the dichotomy I have just described – “they as the teachers and leaders; we as the taught and the lead” – that relationship of inequality will inevitably lead to the “sterile divisions, criticism and unhealthy mistrust” that the Pope deplored. In my experience many priests have already grasped that truth. They have rejected the infantilisation of the laity that came from the old priest-people relationship based on a downwards gradient of power and significance. They want to be equal; indeed they want to serve rather than be served. The buzz words now are partnership and collaboration.
It will only be after the recasting of these relationships that the Church will be ready to tackle the crisis represented by the widespread dissent among lay Catholics from traditional church teaching on sex and gender. It will mean for example paying serious attention to what lay Catholic women have to say about their experience – their relationships, their status, even their sexuality.
I have long had the impression that the two fundamental flaws in Catholic sexual morality, for instance, were, first, that it was based on a very male idea of what sex was about, and second, that it ignored what we now believe to be the way sexual and reproductive behaviour has evolved in our species and the species that came before us.
What if human sexuality has evolved primarily not as a reproductive device, more or less completed once it results in pregnancy, but instead as a “binding” mechanism, so that the growing human infant has the benefit of the nurture and protection of one parent of either sex – bonded together by a life of sexual intimacy – throughout its extended childhood: a far longer childhood than any other mammal, and closely connected with the gradual development of the human brain from infancy to maturity? What if, indeed.
To put it crudely, putting all the emphasis on the importance of the genital act itself is rather a male thing to do – would you agree? – and putting more of the emphasis in the total long term relationship would strike me as a more female perspective. But a male clergy is not going to find it easy to understand the female voice, and it would be all the more difficult if the female voice is speaking out of the experience of her side of a long term sexual relationship and the raising of children.
But I have to say I do not think the church has yet reached the point where it would allow Darwin’s Origin of Species to sit in judgement over Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae. The time will surely have to come eventually.
Meanwhile, we are stuck where we are. The story of the relationship between hierarchy and laity moves to 2009, and the place – the United States of America. In accordance with its long-established tradition the University of Notre Dame in United States proposed to award the incoming President Barack Obama an honorary degree, just as it had done with previous incoming presidents. The United States Bishops conference, however, strongly objected to the conferring of any such honour on President Obama on the grounds that he had promoted as public policy an approach on certain issues, such as abortion, which was contrary to Catholic teaching.
There was a furious row, as you can imagine. The authorities in the University stood their ground and went ahead with the award; bishops boycotted the event, even told Notre Dame it was scarcely entitled to call itself Catholic any more. But both the academic and student body stood united behind the decision. In the event, at the ceremony when the award was made President Obama received a standing ovation. Clearly there was a wide split between lay opinion, as represented by the academic community both staff and students, and the bishops.
This was a sign of things to come. As the Obama healthcare reforms made their cumbersome way through Congress, the United States Bishops’ Conference lobbied hard against them and let forth a stream of criticisms, on the grounds that the reforms could or might in some circumstances involve taxpayers’ money – including therefore Catholic taxpayers’ money – being used to finance abortions. They were not satisfied with assurances to the contrary, but proceeded to put pressure on Catholic members of the House of Congress and the Senate to defeat the health reform bill. Indeed, they presented it as an order, a binding instruction.
However the organisation representing Catholic health-care workers, and the organisation representing the very substantial Catholic healthcare industry which controls literally hundreds of Catholic hospitals throughout the country, did not share the Bishop’s objections. They gave the healthcare reforms their welcome and support.
What made the controversy all the more perplexing to me, familiar as I am with the situation in the United Kingdom, is that the bishops of England Wales and Scotland have never to my knowledge objected to British taxpayer’s money, Catholic or not, being used to finance the British National Health Service, even though the NHS does perform abortions. Under the British system doctors and nurses are allowed to register a conscientious objection to abortion and are not required to participate in them, but there is no such opt-out for taxpayers. The political involvement of the Catholic Church regarding abortion has been directed at revision of the abortion law, not at withholding State funding for it. I would very much like to learn what the situation is here. More like the UK than the US, perhaps?
These are the sort of tensions and this is the sort of confusion which continues to exist on the interface between politics and religion. A friend of mine, a distinguished professor of Christian ethics within a Catholic University, found himself not long afterwards sitting next to Cardinal Francis George of Chicago at dinner. He asked the cardinal, who had been prominent in criticising the Obama healthcare reforms, whether it was permissible to regard the question of the wisdom of the reform is a matter calling for prudential judgement. He knew, and the cardinal knew, that if it was a matter of prudent judgement, that would imply that the politicians were free to decide for themselves, after weighing all the factors, which course of action best upheld the common good. No, said the cardinal. It wasn’t about prudence. It was about obedience.
This anecdote brought to a head my feeling that the Catholic Church has yet to come to a full understanding of the principles of democracy. That should not surprise us too much. I recently came across the startling statistic that at the outbreak of World War II the number of true democracies in the world was precisely eleven, no more. Few of them were Catholic countries. If we look at the career of Pope John Paul II, who was anxious to tell us what were the duties of a Catholic legislator in such a system, we find that he lived almost his entire life in non-democratic societies and had virtually no contact with or experience of any democratic system.
Officially, when it comes to legislation involving moral questions, the Church still seems to regard the Catholic politician as simply an agent of the local bishops without any discretion. Yet the case for exercising a prudential judgement is overwhelming.
Standard Church teaching on the issue, as set forth by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, still leaves no room for such judgement but insists Catholic politicians must adhere to an absolute position. “In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it or to ‘take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it’,” he wrote.
I myself find this theory puzzling, as it seems to suggest that Catholic politicians must share in the blame, on the principle of cooperation or consent, for every immoral act that they have not actually voted to outlaw by legislation. If they are responsible for the guilt of abortion, by not having voted to make all abortion a criminal offence, then are they not equally guilty, for instance, of every act of adultery, not having voted to make all adultery a criminal offence? Having voted for instance to decriminalise suicide, are they then not morally responsible for the death of every person who kills himself? Nobody seems to think so. Abortion seems to be an anomaly.
It is not without interest by the way that the stand-off between President Obama and the Catholic bishops of America does not seem to have stood in the way of good relations between President Obama’s administration and the Vatican. In their absolutist judgement of the duties of Catholic politicians, the American bishops seem somewhat isolated. But they can claim they are applying the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. That suggests to me that the teaching of the Second Vatican Council does not go far enough in its treatment of democracy.
It is not without significance that most if not all of the fault lines in the church concern issues of sex and gender. And the standard pattern repeated again and again shows a conservative hierarchy trying to manage a difficult relationship with a laity which, by and large, does not share the hierarchy’s basic assumptions. Not always and everywhere, of course, but more often than not.
The same is perhaps true of Australia, but you will know more about that than me. It is extremely difficult for the Church’s leadership to know how to react to this situation without making it worse. Fulminating against it only get you so far. Merely replacing retiring bishops with more conservative ones is manifestly not the easy to win hearts and minds. What appears to have has happened as an indirect consequence is the decline of any sense of the laity being subordinate to the hierarchy. All those notions of lay apostolate had become obsolete.
It may seem a curious thing to say, but one reason is the success of Catholic education. Church schools do not operate in a vacuum, but reflect to some extent the educational values of the surrounding society. Thus in Church schools as in others, emphasis is put on teaching children to think for themselves, and how to be critical in their judgements. RE is no different from any other subject in that respect, though Catholic RE starts from the assumption that the Catholic faith, reasonably presented, will attract assent – what one might term critical assent. If the ethos of the school is Catholic, that assent will be culturally supported. But it has nothing whatever to do with turning out Catholic children who are, where their faith is concerned, mindless zombies. On the contrary. A Catholic who is a citizen of the state as well as a citizen of the Church will apply a similar mental attitude in each case. They will automatically ask themselves – does this politician, or this priest, know what he is talking about? Does the kind of person he is, and the things he says, convey sincere conviction and honest commitment?
So in the years since Vatican II have developed new and more mature ways of being the Catholic Church’s faithful laity. But here we need a word of warning. To define the laity as simply those outside the Church’s control, or as those in opposition to the way the Church is currently governed, or those who are against certain aspects of church teaching on sex and gender, is a very inadequate expression of what it means to be a Christian, and a very anaemic fulfilment of the commandment to love one’s neighbour as oneself. Nor does it do justice to the ringing declaration at the start of the Vatican Council final document, Gaudium et Spes, known as The Church in the Modern World:
“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. “
So where do we turn? I think a clue comes later in this document, where it states that “individual men and their associations cultivate in themselves the moral and social virtues, and promote them in society”, and it elsewhere calls the Catholic Church “an unspent fountain of those virtues which the modern world needs the most.” But it does not say much about what they are. The only one given a name, it perhaps will not surprise you to hear, is the virtue of conjugal chastity.
This insistence on the importance of virtue while failing to be more specific is not confined to this one document from 50 years ago. The papal encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI published in 2009, Caritas in Veritate, asserts that “Technologically advanced societies must… rediscover within themselves the oft-forgotten virtues which made it possible for them to flourish throughout their history.”
It is right that we should acknowledge three major areas where the Second Vatican Council set in train developments which were overwhelmingly positive, which in my view outweigh all the negatives things it is possible to say about the present state of the Catholic Church – many and serious though they are.
First, one which wasn’t so successful – collegiality. The bishops attending it generated an extraordinary dynamic during the council. They wanted this to continue afterwards, so that the Church would henceforth be governed and be seen to be governed by collaborative decision-making between the Bishop of Rome and all the other bishops of the world. The theory was that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was no confined to curial departments in the Vatican – indeed if it was there at all – but was spread throughout the church.
Let us look at one example where the breath of the Holy Spirit seemed to blow in through the windows opened by Pope John XXIII with the force of a gale. This is an extract from the secret diary of Derek Worlock that I referred to earlier. The subject matter is religious freedom, probably the area where the results of Vatican II most closely confirm a hermeneutic of rupture rather than of continuity. But while religious liberty was affirmed, collegiality, sadly, never found the institutional expression that fathers of the council had plainly hoped for.
Thursday 19th November will rank as one of the historic dates in the history of the Council both for good and for evil. The morning’s debate was divided into two parts, first of all on Christian Education and secondly on the Sacrament of Matrimony… But the whole debate was completely overshadowed by the rumpus on the question of the document on Religious Liberty. I had spent the early part of the morning at my desk at the College and didn’t arrive at St Peter’s until just on eleven o’clock. By then things were really boiling. It seems that before the debate started Cardinal Tisserant, acting in the name of the Commission of Presidents, announced that the Council would not after all proceed to a vote on Religious Liberty. The previous day he had said that a preliminary vote would be taken to see whether or not the Fathers wanted to deal with this matter during the Third Session. But today he announced that a sufficient number of persons had asked for more time to consider this new Declaration that the President decided to postpone further discussion on the matter until the next Session.
One recognises of course that the new Declaration did contain a certain amount of new matter but the manner in which this things was handled was certainly sufficient to set off the furore which followed. It seems that as soon as Cardinal Tisserant had made the announcement, Cardinal Meyer got up from the table and went to Cardinal Tisserant to dissociate himself from this announcement made on behalf of the Presidents. His objections were obvious and clearly and quickly spread into the Aula itself. Nearly all the American bishops trooped out of the benches and moved into the side aisles and they were followed by a large number of others who were gravely disturbed at what was reckoned to be a calculated attempt by possibly the Curia and some of the right-wing conservatives – the Spaniards were named, though they subsequently denied that they were responsible – to block this contentious matter once again. When I arrived it was in time to find the American periti setting up shop in the side aisles where they had large sheets of papers and bishops were queuing up, one behind the other, to sign a petition to the Holy Father to beg that a vote be taken on this Declaration this Session. It was an incredible sight.
The story went round that in order to prepare the petition, one of the periti had slipped into the office and pinched Felici’s typewriter.
Be that as it may, the organisation of this protest petition was remarkably efficient, even though one could regret the vehemence with which the whole matter was being tackled. It soon became clear that the majority of the bishops present were prepared to sign this petition ,but could anything be done about it? Meantime Bishop de Smedt had been called to the microphone in order to read the Relatio for the Declaration, even though it was not to be voted upon. This of course was just the opportunity that was needed for high drama. Bishop de Smedt started off by saying that it was with feeling that he introduced the Declaration – and here he changed his text from “which is now to be voted upon” to “which is now not to be voted upon”. As he began his impassioned plea for a matter which is thought generally to be closest to his heart, his full flights of oratory soared around the ceiling of St Peter’s. He sobbed, his voice broke, and he delivered the most impassioned appeal that I have ever heard, even from a Continental. As he was drawing towards his end, those bishops who had been out in the side aisles all packed in round the President’s table and the Confession of St Peter’s and looked down the Aula to where this lone figure was standing in a state of high emotional tension.
To an Englishman it was all rather embarrassing but there is no doubt that the cause was served by this Continental oratory on this occasion. Archbishop Heenan told me afterwards that he squirmed as he listened to his friend but I do not think that it was a put up performance: he really felt as he sounded. Finally he regained control of his voice as he reached the end of his text. In a complete monotone, which was the more effective in that it followed after the high oratory of the earlier parts of the Relatio, he quietly said that the Secretariat for Christian Unity had finished with this document and passed it to the Co-ordinating Commission some three or four weeks ago: I forget the exact date which he mentioned. It seemed that nothing had happened about it until a short time before and then it had been suggested that the Vatican Press, which has to do all the printing of the official documentation for the Council, had become absolutely jammed up with the various documents which had to be given to the Fathers. He left it quite open as to whether one accepted this story or not and he merely gave the date on which the document had reached the Fathers, earlier in the week. Then with great deliberation he said: “Let us pray at this moment for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in an issue which is of supreme importance to the Church”.
There was thunderous applause, quite the loudest I have ever heard in St Peter’s and after a while one realised that it was going to take a long time before it died down. When eventually it showed some sign of flagging, it rose once more from the far end of the Aula and it became evident that what had started as applause for a feat of oratory had now turned into a positive attempt to pass the document by acclamation. Cardinal Meyer was standing in the side aisle with some of the other American Bishops and the atmosphere was quite electric. On several occasions the Moderators tried to break in over their microphones but the applause did not cease. In fact it continued for about four and a half minutes, so far as I could time it, but when at last it did die down Cardinal Döpfner, the Moderator, called the first speaker for the debate on the remaining document of the Sacrament of Matrimony.
Once it was realised that the Presidents had carried the day, the atmosphere changed from one of exhilaration to one of acute bitterness and disappointment. Cardinal Meyer went back to the Presidents’ table, clearly in two minds as to what he should do. He was beckoned once more to the side and I saw Father Molinari, an Italian Jesuit and a very good man, advising him quite straightly that he should take the petition directly to the Holy Father. Word evidently reached Cardinal Ritter and Cardinal Léger, both of whom left their places in the Aula and came down to join Cardinal Meyer. The petitions were brought in by the periti from the various parts of St Peter’s and Cardinal Meyer rolled them up and put them under his arm. It was reckoned that there were over 800 signatures already and later that day we were told that the number had risen to over 1,000. It was a straight request for a vote of some kind on the Declaration before the Session stopped.
As poor Cardinal Gilroy laboured away, almost without anyone seeming to listen, on the subject of Matrimony, the three cardinals with some other bishop whom I could not recognise in attendance walked slowly across behind the Confessional and away up the stairs towards the Holy Father’s apartments. I could not help wondering what would have happened had the cardinals walked the whole length of St Peter’s before making their way out to the doors to go to the Pope. I fancy that half the bishops would have stood up and gone with them. Perhaps it was as well that they didn’t but even so it was a moment of great tension and drams: something which one is unlikely to see again…
Rome buzzed all that day with the excitement of the morning and not without reason. Some of the periti, notably Monsignor Osterreicher, could be seen after the morning Congregation giving a full account to the press and inevitably the thing was blown to fantastic heights in the press reports which followed the next day. (When I got back to London I found this incident described widely as a “punch-up” which it certainly was not.) But there is no doubt that it was all very regrettable and, though one must question the policy of Cardinal Tisserant and the General Secretariat in the decision which they made, there was little evidence of approval of the bitter vehemence of the American bishops. They seem to think that they have a corner in this question of Religious Liberty but I suppose that they were so disappointed in their failure to take the document home at the end of the Second Session that this third delay was just the last straw.
This electrifying account tells us a great deal about episcopal collegiality – even episcopal democracy – and how it works. You could almost feel the wind of the Holy Spirit blowing through the corridors of power. It isn’t a tidy process, and it often works against the tide of official thinking. With the end of the Vatican II, all scope for its expression as a means by which dissent against official policy and teaching takes over and becomes official policy and teaching, as on this occasion, seemed to disappear. In no way is this collegiality adequately expressed through bodies like the International Synod of Bishops or by including international Catholic church leaders among those who are consulted by the main Roman dicasteries. Indeed, both structures seem implicitly designed to make sure that nothing like the spontaneous rebellion of Thursday November 9th 1964 could ever happen again.
Nor for the successes, which were of course amazing. First – human rights, and we should include religious liberty in that package. In his encyclical Pacem in Terris, Pope John XXIII gave the Catholic Church its own charter of human rights which is still to this day one of the most comprehensive and best argued explanations and defences of the concept of human rights. It was a long time coming, of course, and it took all the terrible mayhem of the Second World War to make it necessary. But the Catholic Church is now recognised as one of the leading players in the human rights field in the whole world.
The second is ecumenical. One of the great initial hopes when the Council started, inspired chiefly by Hans Küng’s best-selling book The Council and Reunion, was that the Catholic Church would so change as a result of the Council that many of the churches which dated themselves from the Reformation in 16th century Europe would realise that the reform that Luther and Calvin had called for had at last happened, and separation was no longer necessary or justified.
That optimistic view always was naive, not least because it failed to notice that those Reformation church traditions had acquired a history and identity – and indeed a sense of a tribal “us and them” – which erected strong social and emotional barriers against the sort of structural unity that was envisaged. They will take generations to overcome, and they would take a good deal more movement on the Catholic side than actually seems possible, given the constraints.
I have one positive suggestion. In the encyclical Ut Unum Sint, Pope John Paul II confessed to the fact that the papacy as at present structured was a stumbling block. He asked the Catholic Church’s ecumenical partners to declare what they would require to be done to remove that stumbling block. In the case of Anglicanism, and the Church of England in particular, a tremendous opportunity for progress towards church unity was missed by failing to make a formal response to that invitation, and to follow it up with proper negotiations. Can you image how valuable it would be for the Catholic Church to be asked to state what its bottom line was with regard to papal authority, the irreducible minimum below which it could not go? Would any of the Vatican dicasteries, congregations, institutes, commissions and councils survive such a cull?
An opportunity missed, but maybe it will come back some day. But what is still extraordinary is the transformation of the climate of ecumenical relations, the friendly feelings, the mutual respect, the cooperation and collaboration, the sharing of each other’s treasures and traditions. Catholics have taken to Methodist hymns with enthusiasm, and Methodists have taken to Catholic Social Teaching with delight.
And Catholic Social Teaching itself is a major success story for the Church, with much of that success owed to Pope John Paul II. His major social encyclicals – Laborem Exercens, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis and Centesimus Annus – were not only ground breaking but said things the world badly needed to hear for its own good. Pope Benedict’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate was widely acclaimed. For instance one prominent British economist, Lord Brian Griffiths of Goldman Sachs who was formerly head of the Downing Street policy unit under Margaret Thatcher, described it as “without doubt the most articulate, comprehensive and thoughtful response to the financial crisis that has yet appeared.” It is the basis of a project sponsored by the Archbishop of Westminster, in which I am involved, to hold a profound discussion with business leaders and financiers in the City of London about the morality of what they do. The key word here is “virtue.”
It was as a result of reflections on this that when the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales issued their own document on Catholic Social Teaching in the course of 2010, they recognised that the issue of virtue needed more attention.
“Everyone involved in politics and public life must accept the personal character and a moral standards are as relevant to public life as they are to private life, “ it declares.
“The restoration of trusted institutions, whether in politics or in business, places a particular responsibility on those in leadership roles. They help shape the culture of the institutions they lead. Over time, leaders wield immense influence, and carry a heavy responsibility, especially now, to help bring about a real transformation by their vision and example. As Pope Benedict XVI has said: “development is impossible without upright men and women, without financiers and politicians whose consciences are finely attuned to the requirements of the common good”.
To act in this way requires more than not breaking rules. It demands the cultivation of moral character, the development of habits of behaviour that reflect respect for others and a desire to do good. It requires, in fact, the practice of virtue.
And here I think we are getting somewhere at last. “Virtue helps to shape our lives as people,” it goes on. “By the pursuit of virtue we act well not because of external constraints but because it has become natural; thus do the virtues form us as moral agents, so that we do what is right and honourable for no other reason than it is right and honourable, irrespective of reward or punishment and regardless of what we are legally obliged to do. Virtuous action springs from a sense of one’s own dignity and that of others, and from self-respect as a citizen. It is doing good when no one is looking.”
The classical virtues form us as people who are prudent, just, temperate, and courageous. Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity root our human growth in the gifts of God and form us for our ultimate happiness: friendship with God. And what is the role of the Church in all this? Well, surely, to be a school of virtue, especially by teaching by example. Virtue can be learnt; virtue improves with practice.
The virtue of prudence or right reason is the opposite of rashness and carelessness. The virtue of courage ensures firmness and the readiness to stand by what we believe in times of difficulty. Justice is the virtue by which we strive to give what is due to others by respecting their rights and fulfilling our duties towards them. The virtue of temperance bids as to moderate our appetites in the use of the world’s created goods.
These virtues and the exploration of them belong to all humanity. They’re held in trust for all not least in the Christian traditions of thought and moral teaching. I should add, perhaps, that the recovery of trust through a revival of virtue needs to happen in the Church too. The hierarchy have to learn to trust the laity, in whom the spirit also dwells. The laity have to learn to trust the hierarchy, anointed stewards and guardians of the deposit of faith. This is not the time to rehearse in detail those things that have undermined that trust in recent years; just to note that they exist.
Now why is it so unusual if the find a treatment of the classical virtues in a Catholic document of this kind? What has happened to this ancient tradition that was so alive in the Middle Ages but which modernity has managed to forget? It seems the Catholic Church has been suffering from the same amnesia is the secular world. It is surely time for that situation to be reversed. My contention is that it is necessary to recognise that the emergence of a mature laity means not a revival of obsolete models of the lay apostolate, but above all the rediscovery of virtue as central to the Christian life.
We owe the beginning of the revival of interest in virtue ethics to the English philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, who was a disciple and literary executor of the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. I should add by the way that she did believe certain actions to be intrinsically and absolutely wrong. But even more important to the recovery of the memory of virtue ethics was the later work of the Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, who published about 30 years ago a groundbreaking work, called After Virtue. Incidentally both Elizabeth Anscombe and Alasdair MacIntyre converted to Catholicism in the course of their philosophical work.
Alistair MacIntyre started something of a revolution in moral philosophy, with journals, seminars and even a learned society, the International Society for MacIntyrean Enquiry, devoted to promoting and developing his work on the ethics of virtue. And yes, it has a website and a journal. MacIntyre’s basic insight was as follows: if we look around the modern world we quickly notice fragments, shreds and traces of an older moral universe, but one which has lost its coherence and has become disconnected from its philosophical foundations. We do not even know what it was called. But we continue to make use of it, if we can. Its origins lie in the work of the ancient Greek philosophers, Aristotle above all, who asked the basic question: what are the qualities required of a good citizen to make Athenian democracy flourish? It is an excellent question, easily transferred to the present day. What are the qualities of character needed to make a good citizen of Church and Society in the year 2012 AD? And the answers turn out to be not very different the answers Aristotle arrived at in 300 and something BC.
To him we owe the four categories of civic virtue which I mentioned earlier. The route by which these ideas about virtue entered Catholic moral theology was largely through the role of St Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. The virtues had sometimes been thought of as essentially pagan, and were viewed with some suspicion for that reason. At the risk of oversimplifying a very long story, Aquinas Christianised them by adding to the four civil or cardinal virtues the three supernatural or theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.
So what happened to the virtue tradition? It was severely criticised during the Reformation, for instance on the grounds that it promoted the notion that individuals could earn their place in heaven by their good works. This attack, initially from Luther and Calvin, was responded to by the Catholic Church itself by renewed emphasis on salvation by faith and grace in its own doctrine. And in line with Reformation thought, emphasis was placed on the Ten Commandments.
Thus did Catholic morality, like Protestant morality, become more interested in the avoidance of sin and observance of rules than in virtue, and indeed in the Catholic case in the gradations of sin in the working out of the appropriate penance. The concept did not altogether die, and indeed was kept alive most of all within the order to which Thomas Aquinas has himself belonged, the Dominicans. But the tradition was in decline.
An even greater assault on Aristotelian virtue ethics occurred in the Enlightenment, because its radical rejection of metaphysics left no room for Aristotle’s philosophical idea of moral character because it depended on the idea of telos, the end towards which our lives are directed.
Virtue ethics places the emphasis on what kind of person you are rather than on your actions or even your intentions. That raises the teleological question, asking “What kind of person ought you to be?” It presupposes that we are constructed according to a pattern not of our own design. This becomes highly complex when we live in the age of the self-made man. For Catholics there is an easy answer – easy to give, hard to practice. The kind of person we ought to be is, essentially, Christlike.
But MacIntyre is right that virtue ethics has left a loud – if rather incoherent – echo in our culture. We still refer to moral character, for instance, as when we say a person has a good character or a bad one. Virtues are essentially moral habits, and our virtuous acts flow from the sort of person we are. We can learn how to be prudent or just, and we can get better at it. Indeed this is how wisdom is acquired.
So here at last are some answers to the question of how we ought to behave, and what is the route to a truly mature Christian laity? Think what a transformation there would be if examinations of conscience in ordinary Catholicism concentrated on our virtues rather than a vices. We would no longer be so interested in what homosexuals did with each other sexually; instead we would ask in what way does their relationship serve the common good, and is their relationship governed by virtue?
Think what a difference this would make to the impasse over contraception in the Catholic Church… Or the remarriage of divorcees. Certainly marriage should be a school of virtue, not only for the adult partners but above all also for their children. This is surely a much richer concept of conjugality and fidelity. Education has to be seen not as the teaching of knowledge and skills, but as the formation of the whole person, the intellect and memory but above all of the character.
As I read those who remember her, the one thing everybody who knew her seemed instinctively to recognise about Rosemary Goldie was her virtue – not just her humility, but her prudence, courage, justice and temperance. And of course her faith, hope and charity. Indeed it may be no exaggeration to say that it was this which empowered her, gave her strength; and won her friends and influence. And that is why we honour her today.
It would be presuming too much for me to requisition her to my cause by saying that in her whole life she was an apostle of virtue; but the proposition is surely not absurd. Why did people trust her? Because they saw the moral character that shone through her.
I’ve nearly finished, but I’ve saved the best ‘til last… I spoke earlier about the concept of the lay apostolate as it was understood 50 years ago, at the time of the Vatican Council. The lay person was regarded as someone who needed instruction from the clergy concerning Christian doctrine, before going out to do apostolic work in the community – what is still known, in the UK at least, as “social action”.
So let me tell you the current state of play in my country. We have an impressive network of Catholic agencies dealing with various aspects of welfare and community activity, ranging from working with young people and immigrants, legal and otherwise, to care of the elderly, vulnerable children, the mentally infirm, etc. They are almost exclusively lay. We are currently trying to organise this network on a national basis, as it had become too disjointed and uncoordinated. I am a member of the steering committee trying to bring this about. (It has been described as trying to herd cats.) Caritas Social Action Network, as it is called, intends to promote the ideas of Catholic Social Teaching through this network. It also intends to engaged in advocacy, that is saying addressing governments and the media on behalf of those people with whom we are working, and thus able to be the voice of the voiceless.
The bishops are on board of course but the initiative is in the hands of lay people. Policy making is not reserved to the bishops, though they have a valuable role – which they are willing to play – in amplifying the message. But nowadays you see very few dog collars at the lively and entertaining meetings called by Caritas Social Action Network. I would almost go so far as to say, if you meet a priest at such gatherings he is pretending to be a layman.
More to the point, it is intended to appoint “theologians in residence” to various parts of the network, because there is a perceived need for expert input to the work, based on Catholic Social Teaching – perceived not by bishops trying to keep the laity in line, but by the laity themselves. Those theologians in residence are likely to be lay, and to have learnt their theology in lay academic institutions – and I have to tell you, they are very likely to be female. Women are drawn to this work, and are very good at it.
I have a feeling that the right metaphor here is about the damming of a river. The Church’s rejection of the possibility of ordaining women to the priesthood could be likened to a giant dam thrown across a wide river from bank to bank, holding back the flow of water. As a result the land below the dam becomes dry and barren. But then what happens? As the water builds up behind the dam, it starts to find other ways to go forwards, it forms little trickles and streams which go round the dam, gradually expanding to bigger streams and even rivers, until eventually the original flow is restored and the land becomes irrigated and fertile again. The dam is still there, but it has been rendered ineffective.
We have some first rate young women theologians coming forward. Does it matter that they are not priests? Not at all. It is an advantage. They are not part of any clerical power structure. Indeed, they share the lived experience of those they are working with. That is what gives them authority. And they are the channel through which the social teachings of the Church are conveyed to the active laity.
Now isn’t that interesting? Isn’t this everything Rosemary Goldie could have wished for, worked for, devoted her life to? I wish she were here, for me to tell her about it. So I am very happy to dedicate this lecture to her memory, and very privileged to be able to do so.
Thank you for inviting me, and for giving me so much of your attention. I hope I have been provocative enough to being you to your feet with questions, which I shall be happy to answer to the best of my ability.
Conscience – Doing the right thing and taking responsibility for it.
In the opinion of many scholars, the most radical changes introduced by the Second Vatican Council concerned religious liberty. For some 1500 years the Catholic Church had held that truth alone had rights, while error had no rights, that the Catholic Church alone contained the complete truth, so it alone had rights that other groups did not have.
The Council marked a radical departure from these teachings, for it said that it is people who have rights, not truth or error, and that people retain their rights even when they are in error. On this basis it defended the right of all people to religious liberty.
The Council tried to say that these statements were merely a development of past ideas, but it is impossible to accept this notion. A French bishop, Marcel Lefebvre, left the Catholic Church after the Council and took a significant number of people with him. The teaching on religious liberty was one of his major reasons for leaving, for in one moment the Council reversed some fifteen hundred years of history.
Despite this radical change, to a moral theologian the Second Vatican Council can be a disappointment, for it contains many ambiguities and even contradictions on the subject of conscience. At times it appears to say that people should follow their consciences, at other times it appears to say that conscience must always follow the teaching authority of the church.
Compare two quotations from the same document, Gaudium et Spes. The first speaks of the nature of conscience.
“Deep within their conscience men and women discover a law which they have not laid upon themselves, but which they must obey. Its voice, ever calling them to love, and to do what is right and avoid what is wrong, tells them inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that. For people have within their hearts a law inscribed by God. Their dignity lies in observing this law, and by it they will be judged. The conscience is the individual’s most secret core and sanctuary. There each person is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his or her depths.”
The second quotation applies conscience to the question of birth control.
“In the end, it is the married couple themselves who make this judgement before God. In their way of acting, however, Christian couples should be aware that they cannot proceed solely according to their own ideas, but must always be ruled by a conscience that seeks to follow the divine law, and they must be docile to the teaching authority of the Church, which authentically interprets the divine law in the light of the Gospel.”
It is important to realise that this ambiguity on the subject of conscience exists within the Council itself. It would be wrong to quote either side as being the authentic and consistent teaching of the Council. It must be admitted that the Council was reflecting a very long history of division on this point and that it was unable to resolve the tension.
Since the Council this ambivalence continues to exist and has, indeed, been sharpened. On the one hand, the encyclical Veritatis Splendor says,
“The Church puts herself always and only at the service of conscience”.
On the other hand, there has been a constant insistence that people must conform their thinking to the teaching of the church. The two critical issues have been contraception and the ordination of women. Separately or together they have frequently been the litmus test of orthodoxy and loyalty.
Is there a way forward? In answering this question, it is important to understand that there was much development of ideas over the four years of the Council and one must trace this development in order to understand where the Council was heading. Often we cannot draw certain conclusions as to what it would have said if it had had more time, but we can see directions. There is one trend in particular that I believe is of the greatest importance to the issue of conscience.
Doing Right Things and Taking Responsibility
It concerns the statement that doing right things and taking responsibility for our actions are both essential to morality.
“Human dignity therefore requires us to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in ourselves or by mere external constraint. We gain such dignity when … we press forward towards our goal by freely choosing what is good….”
“By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness.”
“The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person.”
Performing right actions and avoiding wrong ones is an essential part of moral growth.
In the midst of a powerful history of communal or tribal hatreds, a certain person makes a genuine conscience decision before God alone that he should take part in the massacre of his perceived enemies and does so. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, I would be compelled to say that his very dignity lies in following his conscience, even when he is wrong. Despite this, I would have to add that his decision has hurt him. He has become a murderer, and for the rest of his life, whenever he looks in a mirror, that it what he will see. To make serious progress as a human being, he would need to recognise that his decision in conscience was wrong, and he would need to do all he could to repair the damage he had caused.
For growth as moral persons, however, more is required than simply performing right actions. It is also required that we take personal responsibility for our choice of actions.
As children grow, it is important that they learn right habits, but it is also important that they gradually learn to take responsibility for their own actions. If they learn wrong habits from their parents, or if they rebel against their parents and adopt wrong habits themselves, they will encounter problems. But if they do not learn to take responsibility for their own actions, obedience to parents will gradually become an obstacle rather than a help to their true growth as persons. If this is true in all aspects of their life, it is true also of their moral life.
There are persons who, because of fear or laziness, do not want to take personal responsibility for moral choices. They want either the Bible or church authority or a charismatic leader or popular opinion or a peer group to take the responsibility for them, so that all that will be left to them is to follow this authority. This cannot be called “the very dignity” of these persons, for they have not taken personal responsibility for their decisions and will not grow as they should. Mere obedience, to either religious authority or popular opinion, is not “the very dignity” of a person.
Thus it is important that we take personal responsibility for our decisions and it is also important that we get them right. We will not grow unless we take personal responsibility for our actions. But, even if we do take personal responsibility, we will still not grow if our decisions are wrong ones, that is, if they harm other people or our own true good. For growth both of these elements are essential.
If we apply this idea, it must follow that the task of church authority in the moral field is that of assisting consciences.
There is a twin danger in this idea. For individual persons the danger is that of speaking of conscience when they have not done the work necessary to justify the use of this word, when they do no more than go along with the crowd or decide what they would like to do and call that “conscience”. This is a constant danger for every single person and much that is called “conscience” does not deserve that name.
The danger for church authority, on the other hand, is to think, “We have a responsibility and an authority to teach in the name of Jesus Christ. Therefore, if people had formed their consciences correctly, they would agree with us. If they don’t agree with us, they can’t have formed their consciences properly and must be in bad faith.”
There is a constant tug-of-war between these two forces. The solution is surely to be found in a constant dialogue between two parties who both want the best possible outcome for the individual. Let us look at some of the elements of this dialogue.
Individual and Community
As need arises, I am in dialogue with a mechanic concerning my car, a doctor concerning my health, an insurance company concerning my insurance needs, and so on. It does not make sense to call myself a member of a church community and not be in dialogue with that community on moral matters. Within this community conscience can never be an autonomous moral sense.
It is not possible for individuals to form their consciences on all matters entirely on their own. People can form their consciences only by humbly joining with many others in the search for truth. One of the very first requirements of a true conscience is humility.
The Force of Arguments
In fact and in practice, the effectiveness of any document setting out moral teaching will always depend first and foremost on the power of the arguments contained in the document. The authority of the writer will never be able to make up for a lack of power in the arguments. A document containing powerful and persuasive arguments written by a person with little authority will always be more convincing than a document lacking persuasive arguments written by a person with great authority. If the arguments in a document fail to convince even people of good will, no amount of authority will make up for this.
Furthermore, if people are convinced by the arguments put forward, they will make a decision based on personal conviction and will be ready to take responsibility for the decision. If they are quite unconvinced by the arguments presented and do something only because of the authority of the person who wrote the document, they will not take the same degree of responsibility for the decision and will not grow in the same way.
The Importance of Authority
Despite what has just been said, authority does matter. If I am sick, I want the opinion of a qualified doctor rather than the opinion of someone ignorant of medicine. Sometimes I might want a second medical opinion or a referral to a specialist, but it is undeniable that in most matters authority does count.
I must, of course, decide whether I will accept the word of the doctor. There will be many factors involved in this decision, and one of them will usually be whether the doctor takes the time to explain to me exactly what is wrong and what needs to be done. In other words, I will have most faith in those authorities who do not rely on authority alone, but who attempt to lead me as far as possible along the road of making my own informed decision.
The Power of Collective Wisdom
In assessing a moral authority, one of the criteria will usually be whether the opinion expressed represents the collective wisdom of the whole community or only the private wisdom of an individual or group, no matter who that individual or group may be. As a matter of fact rather than theory, the documents of the Second Vatican Council carry a greater weight with Catholic people than documents written by a pope alone.
It is a contradiction in terms to speak of infallible advice to conscience. If a statement is presented as infallibly true, it is no longer advice.
Over the centuries popes have sometimes made infallible statements on dogmatic matters, that is, on what people should or should not believe, but no pope of the past ever attempted to make an infallible statement on a moral matter, that is, on what people should or should not do.
The reason that concerns us here is that an infallible moral statement would subvert the role of conscience. Moral statements can be more or less certain and they can be made with more or less authority. But if they are to respect the essential role of conscience in moral growth, they must stop short of infallibility.
A Positive Role for Church Authority
The world of today often seems to present to people, on the one hand, a dogmatic and authoritarian church and, on the other hand, the total freedom of the individual, and then ask: Which of these two do you prefer? To this I must reply: Why should we choose either of these extremes? Can not a greater truth be found in the middle? I see four roles for the church.
Educating to the Use of Conscience
The first is to assist people to educate themselves in the fields of conscience and moral principles.
In relation to conscience, the church should help people to understand what is and what is not conscience, how it works, how one forms a conscience properly, and the dangers to be aware of in the difficult and subtle world of moral decision making.
In relation to moral principles, the church must not present a long series of statements beginning with “Thou shalt not…” for a negative morality cannot be an adequate basis for a person’s life. It must be a positive morality, consisting of positive principles, eg. “How can I best witness to truth and justice in this situation?” “How can I best help to bring peace and understanding between these persons in conflict?” “What can I do in this situation that will best help both others and myself to grow towards perfect love?”
Since such principles require a profound sense of realism and honesty, the church should then seek to give to people the best spiritual-moral insights it can from the Scriptures, the great saints and the whole Christian tradition. The better people are educated in the field of moral principles, the better they will be able to make moral decisions and the more they will grow.
Guidance in Moral Matters
The second role I see for the Christian church is to present its position on many issues that commonly arise in the lives of people. In doing so, the church must not rely simply on the moral authority of its leaders. Rather, it should always present the arguments in favour of its position as fully and as fairly as it can, that is, it should rely above all on the force of its arguments.
Indeed, I believe that in all such statements the church should first present as fully and as fairly as it can the case against its own position. If it does this, it will truly be assisting people to make mature decisions in conscience before God alone. There is one obvious condition.
“Your exposition of your opponent’s beliefs should be so accurate, so true to his beliefs, that he will gladly sign his name at the bottom of your exposition as a witness to its accuracy.”
If the Christian church acquired a reputation for putting the arguments against its own views as powerfully, clearly and honestly as they can be put, its credibility would soar dramatically. If people were able to say, “You will never see the arguments in favour of this action put more clearly than they are in the document of the Christian church”, they might really start listening to the moral arguments the church gives against that action.
Protecting the Community
The third role is a more negative one, but necessary. A community must protect its members against the decisions of individuals that harm other people, even when they are made in conscience. Just as the state will imprison a person who commits murder, so a church community must dismiss from a teaching post a person who displays racial hatred to some students. Because harm is being caused to people, neither the state nor the church will accept conscience as a defence. There are serious difficulties and dangers in this field, but it cannot be ignored.
The fourth role I see for the church is the important one of giving constant encouragement to people to believe in God’s love and God’s assistance, to have the courage to face the challenges that confront them, and to make all the conscience decisions they need to make. The church should encourage people not to seek an easy way out, but to grow through challenges towards all they are capable of being. It can encourage them to have faith that they can grow to heights they have not dreamed of.
As children grow up, their parents must finally stand back and allow them to make their own mistakes and learn from these mistakes. If the children abuse their freedom, the parents can only hope that the day will come when they see that their actions are not contributing to their growth, health or happiness, and will want to change. It is important that, through all of this process, however long it takes, the parents keep their relationship with their children, so that the children will know they are there and will turn to them when they feel the need. A church should act in the same way.
(Bishop Geoffrey Robinson is auxiliary bishop of Sydney.