A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Sorry needs more than words

Fr Kevin Bates sm

In early February this year, the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse published statistics of abuse by clergy and religious.This was, understandably, a real jolt for all of us who love our Church.

While not especially surprising to many, the figures released laid bare the causes of the profound suffering inflicted on innocent children over these past decades.

Francis Sullivan, Chair of the Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council, responded immediately with a heartfelt statement of contrition on behalf of the Church. For some, this was a comfort. For others, whose lives have been devastated by abuse, no words of sorrow will ever be sufficient, so profound is their suffering.

Appearing as ‘expert witnesses’ at the Commission were two priests, Dr David Ranson from the Broken Bay Diocese, and Marist Dr Michael Whelan from St Patrick’s, Church Hill.

Both men had written extensively, exploring the issues underlying sexual abuse in the Church, and were invited to speak at the Commission.

While the final Commission’s report will not and cannot avoid speaking of the horrific story of abuse in the Church, the Commissioners are seeking to understand the nature of the Church and the factors which enabled this culture of abuse to exist.

Both men expressed the conviction that far more than words of contrition and acts of compensation will be needed for the Church to begin to move on from here.

Father Whelan described an image of the Church that has been with us since the times of St Augustine and Constantine, when the Church shifted from being a small community of disciples to becoming the official religion of the ‘Holy Roman Empire.’

Mr Francis Sullivan

Dr David Ranson

Fr Michael Whelan sm

Given official status, the image of the Church itself as a kind of empire, shaped behaviours, attitudes and Church practices through many centuries.

Titles given to bishops and clergy in general, the practice of the liturgy where the priest was as removed as far as possible from the laity, compulsory celibacy for diocesan clergy, secrecy regarding the appointment of bishops and priests, all played their part in the creation of a Church that was a ‘perfect society’!

From behind these walls of privilege and a sort of unreachable, imagined holiness, the possibilities for abuse of all kinds, including the sexual abuse on which the Commission is focussed, became possible.

These walls surrounding the ‘Empire Church’ served to prevent any criticism, evaluation or even the smallest departure from the ‘correct’ positions and the ‘perfect’ performance of rituals.

Any substantial differences of opinion resulted in people being excommunicated, or choosing for themselves to leave the Church and begin their own operations. The Protestant Reformation is but one expression of this.

Father Whelan spoke of the need for this culture to be reformed in a radically substantial fashion. The empire Church needs to be dissolved, so we can become more truly the community of disciples. In this community, processes are transparent, people in leadership are accountable, and the Spirit’s gifts rather than structures of power can flourish.

One practical expression of this is the need for priests to have regular supervision. Another process needing reform is the way in which people are called to ministry, especially to the roles of bishops and parish priests.

In the empire Church, we trust only those who share our views, our status, or our theology. We are defensive to the point where the institution is more precious than the people.

In the Church of Disciples, we listen, respect and open ourselves up to constant conversion, as the Gospel requires us to do. Criticism, while never easy and sometimes very difficult to hear, is received in a reflective, respectful manner and we all grow as a result.

Secret processes, autocratic, bullying behaviours fade away and love takes the place of fear. Let us pray that the spirit of this ‘new Church’ may grow within and among us all.

Prayer for Healing for Victims of Abuse

Praise to you, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, source of all consolation and hope.

By your Son’s dying and rising He remains our light in every darkness, our strength in every weakness.

Be the refuge and guardian of all who suffer from abuse and violence.

Comfort them and send healing for their wounds of body, soul and spirit.

Rescue them from bitterness and shame and refresh them with your love.

Heal the brokenness in all victims of abuse and revive the spirits of all who lament this sin.

Help us to follow Jesus in drawing good from evil, life from death.

Make us one with you in your love for justice as we deepen our respect for the dignity of every human life.

Giver of peace, make us one in celebrating your praise, both now and forever.


Tagged as:

Comments are closed.