Pope Benedict Drives the Point Home

A week or so ago, reporting on the interview that the Holy Father gave en route to Portugal, John L. Allen Jr. wrote:

In as clear an example of a pope changing the Vatican’s public tone as one is ever likely to see, Benedict pointedly insisted that the real “persecution” facing him personally, and Catholicism generally, comes not from external attacks but from the reality of sin within the church.

What Papa Benny said was this:

In terms of what we today can discover in this message, attacks against the pope or the church don’t come just from outside the church. The suffering of the church also comes from within the church, because sin exists in the church. This too has always been known, but today we see it in a really terrifying way. The greatest persecution of the church doesn’t come from enemies on the outside, but is born in sin within the church. The church thus has a deep need to re-learn penance, to accept purification, to learn on one hand forgiveness but also the necessity of justice. Forgiveness does not exclude justice. We have to re-learn the essentials: conversion, prayer, penance, and the theological virtues.

Then just yesterday, addressing a crowd of 150,000 who had gathered at the encouragement of the Italian Bishops Conference for a public show of support for the Holy Father on his return to the Vatican from Portugal, Papa BXVI drove the point home with a hammer (source: Cathnews):

“Today you show the great affection and profound closeness of the Church and the Italian people to the pope and your priests… because, in the commitment to spiritual and moral renewal, we can always do better,” Benedict said, addressing the crowd from the balcony of his Vatican apartment.

“The real enemy to fear and to fight is sin, spiritual evil, which at times, unfortunately, also infects members of the Church,” he said.

Here on Sentire Cum Ecclesia, we have sought to show our support for the Holy Father in the virtual reality of the blogworld in the same way in which that crowd of 150,000 has shown it in Rome. Yet at the same time we have highlighted from the first that what Pope Benedict has been calling for (and explicitly called for in the Irish Letter): a renewed spirit of penitence through fasting, prayer, works of mercy, the reading of scripture and regular recourse to the Sacrament of Penance, and at the same time an increase in Eucharistic Adoration in the presence of the Lord as reparation for sins committed within the Church and by her members. I said at the time that the letter was released that Benedict saw the real problem to be a spiritual one which could only – in the final analysis – be combated with a spiritual revolution.

At the time, I remember Pastor Mark asking for a greater explanation of what reparation meant – a important task to which I will devote myself at some time in the future. But it is even more clear now that the Holy Father sees himself and the Church, far from being “under seige” from forces outside the Church, is under attack from human sin and pride within the Church.

There is an old saying, often quoted by those who work for social justice: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” We might well say that what Pope Benedict is saying to every member of the Church is: “Let there be holiness in the Church, and let it begin with me.” That is a point which I need to have driven home to me every day in my own life, and which my stubborn heart still in so many ways refuses to hear, but I thank God for the pastoral leadership of the Holy Father, and pray that I may hear this message first of all in my own heart and that it may make a change in the way I live my life – for the sake of the Church.

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61 responses to “Pope Benedict Drives the Point Home

  1. Louise

    Except that I did not sexually abuse children and did not cover up the sexual abuse by others. I have no wuthority whatsoever to change anything in the official dealings of the Church regarding this matter.

    Certainly, all the members of the Church can help this situation by becoming more focussed on the Lord’s will etc and offering up our prayers, particularly for the survivors of these hideous crimes. But as far as these crimes go, they were perpetrated by a portion of the clergy onto a portion of the laity, so we have to be careful what we are talking about here.

  2. Peregrinus

    “Except that I did not sexually abuse children and did not cover up the sexual abuse by others.”

    Nor did I, Louise. But we’re both part of the Body of Christ in which these things were done. And if communion means anything, it means at least this; “It wasn’t me!” is not an adequate response. It may not have been me, but it was us.

    “I didn’t abuse” and “I didn’t cover up” are not a sufficient examiantion of conscience. What was my part in the development and maintenance of the culture of clericalism in which this abuse and cover-up was hosted? How can the clergy be accustomed to deference, unless people like me have systematically deferred to them? How can the clergy come to think of themselves as the most important people in the church unless the rest of us reinforce that believe in thousands of big and small ways?

    How can cover up work, if people want the truth? For instance, was I – am I still – one of those who is tempted to see this problem as a problem of homosexuality? Or as a problem of a hostile media? Or as a problem of anti-Catholicism? This are fig-leaves that we used to maintaining our comforting denial of the truth. Some are still using them. They aren’t sexually abusing children, and they are not covering up, but they’re part of the problem just the same.

    David and the Pope are right to point out the need for repentance. And true repentance, as we know, changes people. It will change us. It will change the church. And I don’t mean just “change” in the sense of adoptiong properly-thought-out and professionally-applied child protection guidelines.

    • Louise

      “It wasn’t me!” is not an adequate response. It may not have been me, but it was us.

      It is not my overriding response to the crisis, I merely note that I do not believe in corporate guilt and I will not accept any blame for this crisis whatsoever. It has hurt me personally and shamed me and it certainly was not my fault. Having said that, I hope you will allow that I pointed out that our communion means that we can and ought to pray. And we ought to become more holy – or strive for it at least.

      • Doing penance as individuals for the crimes of others comes under the topic of “reparation” and partakes of the doctrine of the communion of saints, as you know, Louise. One who is not guilty of the crime can thus still do acts of penance in reparation for it. I will write more on this in the future.

    • Louise

      What was my part in the development and maintenance of the culture of clericalism in which this abuse and cover-up was hosted? How can the clergy be accustomed to deference, unless people like me have systematically deferred to them? How can the clergy come to think of themselves as the most important people in the church unless the rest of us reinforce that believe in thousands of big and small ways?

      Spare me! Apart from anything else, I grew up in the 70’s so your accusation there doesn’t hold at all.

      It was not “us” at all. Respect for the priesthood is hardly morally equivalent to raping little children.

      For instance, For instance, was I – am I still – one of those who is tempted to see this problem as a problem of homosexuality? Or as a problem of a hostile media? Or as a problem of anti-Catholicism?

      You mean, I suppose, “For instance, were you (Louise) – are you still – one of those who is tempted to see this problem as a problem of homosexuality? Or as a problem of a hostile media? Or as a problem of anti-Catholicism?”

      I don’t know how many times I have to point out that there are two quite separate problems here:

      1. Sin in the Church, specifically child sexual abuse by clergy.

      2. Venomous attacks against the Church, which defy all rationality, and include often enough lately direct lies.

      That’s two separate problems and I have no problem whatever with identifying them as such. As for the first – I have no authority as a laywoman to correct the situation. I have none. I denounce and continue to denounce the men who did these heinous things (or covered them up) in the strongest possible language and there is nothing more I can do.

      • Louise

        And if homosexuality *were* a part of the problem, it ought to be mentioned as part of the whole revealing of the truth.

      • Peregrinus

        In what I write above “I” doesn’t refer to Louise. It refers to Peregrinus and/or to the hypothetical Christian.

        I say this not just to maintain my relationship with you, Louise, or to avoid unintended hurt to your feelings, although both of these things are important. But what’s more important is that looking for someone else to blame is pretty much the opposite of repentance. I repent by turning my heart and mind towards God, not by pointing at other people and saying that they need to turn their hearts and minds to God. So I am absolutely not pointing any fingers at you.

        And nor, ultimately, am I pointing fingers at abusing priests and covering-up bishops – or, at least, while action of that kind is essential, I cannot stop with that action and pretend that it is enough. We as a church are called to repent; I don’t think we do that by finding individuals among our number who we can (wholly justifiably) blame for their personal acts and distancing ourselves from them. That’s not repentance.

        “I merely note that I do not believe in corporate guilt”.

        And yet the bible is full of accounts of how the God’s people betray their covenant with him, how God forgives his people, and how they betray him again, and it is full of prophets warning how betrayal of the Covenant affects the whole people and their relationship with God. We have a communal as well as an individual relationship with God; Catholicism’s main difference from Protestantism, to my mind, is the emphasis that it puts on this.

        Pope Benedict calls us to repentance; what do you think we are repenting for? Or do you, in fact, reject his call?

        • Louise

          Thankyou, Pere.

          But what’s more important is that looking for someone else to blame is pretty much the opposite of repentance.

          Certain sure. But I only need to repent of my own sins. How can I repent of sins I have not committed?

          Bear in mind, too, that when most of these crimes were committed, I was just a child myself. Many others, indeed, were committed before I was even in existence.

          Now, when the LORD calls His People to repentance, He is calling them to repent of the sins they have committed. If this is what the Pope is calling me to do, then this will I do gladly. I will also, in addition, by way of a corporate response to the crisis, attend various vigils and other acts of corporate prayer in addition to Mass itself, which aim to pray for the survivors of abuse and for the purification of the Church. This is b/c I love God, His Church and the people who have suffered from sexual abuse.

          I also started up a group on FB which promotes the saying of a daily prayer for all survivors of sexual abuse, especially those who were harmed by Catholic priests.

          This is how I perceive my role in helping the Church to be purified. I do always and willingly repent of my own sins (which are legion) and pray and fast in reparation, out of love for Our Lord Jesus Christ, Our Saviour. This I am more than prepared to do in the context of the whole Church and the particular Church to which I belong (the Archdiocese of Hobart).

        • “I merely note that I do not believe in corporate guilt”.

          The bible, especially the Old Testament, but also the New, does know of “corporate guilt”. In a sense, we all share corporately in the sin of Adam. It is not personal guilt, but it is a corporate guilt of the whole human race.

          And, of course, there are many cases in the OT where punishment is meeted out on the whole of Israel for the sins of her rulers – the classic case is the Exile into Babylon itself. This involved both innocent and guilty, but all shared in the guilt as a body.

          The Exile threw up real tensions and questions about corporate and personal guilt. In the book of Ezekiel alone, we get two meditations on this. The first is about the Watchman in Ez 33 – if the watchman sees danger coming and does not warn the city, he is guilty; alternatively, if the watchman sees the danger coming, warns the city and they do not listen, he is not guilty – though the end result is the same. (Something there for our priests and bishops to consider…) . On the other hand we get Ezekiel 18 where the Lord condemns the saying “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” – and concludes that it is it is the one who sins who is punished for sin, the one who repents of his sin shall live. This seems to go against the older wisdom of Ex 20, which says “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me”, but is in fact in accord with it as the same passage goes on: “but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

          Anyway, you can’t just say “I don’t believe in corporate guilt”. There is such a thing, but the Scriptural witness seems to show that ultimately it is the decision the individual makes – to sin or to abstain from sin/repent of sin – which counts.

          There is also something called “systemic evil” which we have to acknowledge has a real place today. I may not steal food from the hungry, but in so far as I am able to live a lifestyle that allows me to throw food into the rubbish bin while there are people in the world going hungry, I have to acknowledge that I have a share in the evil of the “system”. I make up for this in my personal life by giving charitably and works of mercy. Again it is about the ethical decisions that I make – but I cannot ignore the reality of the corporate guilt in which I have a share.

          • Louise

            I don’t know, David, I just think that if one is pretty well powerless to do anything much about it, how can one be guilty? Guilt, surely, involves the will. I do not will for there to be an excess of food here and a lack elsewhere…

    • Is “clericalism” (whatever that word means) really part of the problem? What do we mean by “clericalism” or “deference” to clergy. Is there not a proper “deference” we should show to priests on account of their office? There is an “improper” deference, to be sure – one which defers to them as human beings or for their human qualities rather than to their office and believes they are so personally holy that they are capable of no evil. I think we need some fine-tuning of definitions here so that it is clear that when talking about “deference to clergy” as part of the problem, we are not confusedly opening the gates to a kind of “anti-clericalism” that is, in fact, “anti-Catholicism” (or at least “not-Catholic”).

      • Peregrinus

        “Is “clericalism” (whatever that word means) really part of the problem?”

        Yes, it is, at least in the rather extended meaning that I am assigning to the word, which I admit may not be immediately obvious. It’s only tangentially about deference.

        One of the features of this crisis is, of course, the cover-ups. Why did bishops cover up? I suggest not, for the most part, because they approved of child abuse or at least regarded it as defensible, or because they saw the abusers as victims, but for other reasons:

        – The bishop is “father to his priests” and usually knows them personally, whereas he mostly doesn’t know his flock. The moral claims the priest would have had upon him may have weighed more heavily that the moral claim of the the victim, because of the closeness of the relationship.

        – I think that’s understandable; it’s only human. But what it means, of course, is that the bishop feels closer to his priests than to his people.

        – But of course the whole vocation of the priest – the reason we have priests at all – is to assist the bishop in doing what he is supposed to be doing, which is being a father to his people. So, to continue (in a rather strained form) the family analogy, the childminder has become more important to the parent than the children are. Because of his understandable human feelings, the bishop comes to confuse his clergy with his church. (Hence,“clericalism”). Something is amiss.

        – Bishops saw themselves, I think, as “protecting the church”, which meant a combination of protecting the reputation and standing of the clergy, and (often) protecting the material assets of the diocese. They weren’t, as I think is now abundantly clear, actually protecting the church, the people of God, the Body of Christ; they were damaging it. They were protecting the institutional structures – the professional workforce, the buildings, the funds – whose purpose is to serve the church, but they were protecting them at the expense of the church. They had lost sight of the whole point of those structures and institutions, the reason why they matter. Again, the bishops were confusing the institution with the church. Again, something was amiss.

        This, I think, is at the bottome of what I mean by “clericalism” – assigning to the clergy/the institution a significance which belongs only to the church.

        And it wasn’t just bishops, which is where the question of deference comes in. We had a prevailing culture in which church, the People of God, the Body of Christ, was routinely confused with church, the people whose vocation is professional ministry, and the business and activities of those people. Hence, deference to clergy by the laity in relation such as expectations of propensity to sin in this way (or at all), expectations of willingness to lie about it afterwards; readiness to disbelieve or discount accusations of clerical sex abuse when there was, in reality, no reason to do so.

        And while we can criticise (past generations of) clerics for fostering this culture, we can also criticise those who embraced it. Nobody, in the end, could have forced this attitude on us if we had been unwilling to accept it.

        • Thanks for this, Perry. I do think we need to be careful in throwing the term “clericalism” around loosely.

          As a Lutheran, I was taught by Martin Luther’s explanation of the 8th Commandment in the Catechism that “We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.”

          In the current circs, that may be hard to do, and when facts are known, we certainly are justified in speaking of the facts. But if we are to put the “best construction on everything”, I think we can also say, misguided though it was, that “cover-ups” (as they have come to be known) – although always misguided – were not always done maliciously or selfishly. Most certainly it was rarely done with an appreciation of the great damage they were causing by taking this road. In a misguided way, and terribly ironic way, I believe that those who “covered-up” (as it were) did so at least in part because they feared the very scandal that we now have. They weren’t just thinking of the clergy, but of the damage the revelations of such crimes would do to the Church as a whole, and yes, even to the cause of the Gospel.

          The Catholic Church has always had a use for the word “scandal” which I had never come across in my Lutheran experience. For instance, the rule that if a divorced and remarried person were (after commiting him/herself to living as “brother and sister” with their partner) to be admitted to the Eucharist, it was only to be done in a way that did not “cause scandal”. Sometimes they were advised even to receive communion elsewhere where their history was not known to avoid this. I cite it only as a case in point of what “scandal” meant in days of old.

          Just wondering out loud here for a bit, there was some idea (at least at first) that this was a scandal that only affected Anglo-phone Churches. Could it be that some of the “cover-ups” were due as much to a fear of anti-Catholicism in the prevailing Anglo-Saxon/non-Catholic culture as it was to any kind of “clericalism”? The thought could well have been to do anything to avoid giving more fuel to the fire for those who would attack the Church. Again, tragically ironic.

          Whether it was a case of doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason, or the wrong thing for the right reason, or even the wrong thing for an understandable if unjustified reason, we now know one thing: they got it dreadfully and tragically wrong. The question is: can they now get it right? My strong conviction is that the answer to this question is “Yes”.

          • Peregrinus

            There’s much truth in what you say, David, but little comfort. It may be that cover-ups “were not done maliciously or selfishly”, but so what? They were done just the same.

            Was it Augustine who pointed out that sin is virtue misapplied? Covering up to avoid scandal may be a neat illustration of the point, but the sin remains. Remember, I’m not interested in pointing fingers at individuals , in judging the state of individual bishops’ souls. It’s not just that bishop or those bishops who are called to repentance but also us, the church. And we as a church may have created a culture in which particular virtues, or virtuous instincts or attitudes, are overstressed to the point of sin, or of becoming an occasion of sin. That’s not good.

            And the second thought that worries me, if I’m honest, is this. I find it relatively easy to distance myself from the sins of child abusers. I am subject to various temptations, but this is not one of them and I find it easy to thank the Lord that I am not, in this respect, as certain other men are. That may not be a sound attitude, of course, but it does enable me, rightly or wrongly, to distance child abuse and child abusers from “the church”, which I naturally conceive of as consisting of people like me, not people like them. What they did was alien to the very idea of “church”.

            But the cover-ups are different. I wholly understand the instincts and impulses which led bishops to behave as they did; I share them. I’m not saying that in their position I would have done what they did – I sincerely hope I wouldn’t – but I do understand why they did it, whereas I am simply baffled as to why anyone would want any kind of sexual encounter with a child.

            And this, in a way, is more horrifying, because it tells me that the instincts and attitudes which were so easily perverted in this instance are engrained in me, and therefore (since I naturally conceive of the church as consisting of people like me) in the church at large. And I understand the temptation to dismiss our problem as the alien influence of a dysfunctional sexual culture, as the impact of media sensationalism, as evidence of anti-Catholicism, because they are all attractive alternatives to the alternative of confessing that, yes, this is due to a diseased ecclesial culture of which I am a part.

            We need to understand honestly and openly why this happened, why it flourished so. Attempts in certain quarters to find conspiracies, centrally co-ordinated polices and “smoking guns” at the very top are misguided; what happened, happened without any co-ordinated policy, and this is, when you reflect upon it, more horrifying that if it had been centrally planned and controlled.

            Louise makes the point that she didn’t abuse and didn’t cover up, but that’s the thing with institutionalized sin, sin ingrained in a sinful culture. Lots of people who haven’t committed the sin nevertheless participate in the culture. And as long as the culture persists, so will the sin. We’ll never undergo metanoia if we close our minds to that.

          • Peregrinus

            On a separate point, I think there may be something in what you say about the, um, disproportionate representation of Anglophone churches among those affected by this crisis.

            I’m not convinced, though, that this is because of an undue emphasis on reputation and standing as a response to the anti-catholicism/anti-clericalism prevailing in the Anglo-Saxon world. There’s a long-standing tradition of anti-catholicism/anticlericalism in continental Europe and Latin America too.

            I think what’s unique about the Anglo-Saxon world is the formally or informally established status of Anglicanism, the minority status of Catholicism, and the suspicion of Catholicism as something “foreign” and “disloyal”. This “outsider” status may have bred a particular form of insecurity in Anglophone Catholicism in which the reputation, standing and respectability of the church acquired an altogether inappropriate emphasis.

            If this is so, what the church was looking for here was insider status, acceptance by the establishment; it was looking for validation from the approval of the powers that be. What we have here is a problem of constantinianism; the church compromising the gospel in order to be close(r) to those who wield power and influence. I think it’s related to clericalism; a kind of first cousin.

            • If this is so, what the church was looking for here was insider status, acceptance by the establishment; it was looking for validation from the approval of the powers that be.

              True. Especially when the “powers that be” was in fact popular opinion. We have had to learn to wear the opprobium of the masses, and to repent publically of our corporate sins. This in fact in the final analysis serves the cause of the gospel in a far deeper way, if more painful.

  3. David, could you allow me to get very, very angry for a moment and express it here. (I have already expressed it over on Catholica.) Late yesterday I read the report on Broken Rites of the behaviours of a Victorian priest Paul David Ryan who is presently behind bars. I don’t know of a single other case that has upset me as much as this one. Part of my disappointment I am sure comes about because I learned of the case through another report on a person I once counted as a friend and work colleague, Ronald Conway. You’ll find the reports on Ronald Conway and Paul David Ryan at: http://brokenrites.alphalink.com.au/nletter/page196-conway.html.

    The anger I want to vent is that if we had been dependent on people such as yourself who are forever trying to excuse the Pope and the Institution, the victims of abuse would still be waiting for justice. Can you not see that it is this very “thinking with the Magisterium”/”we are so faithful to the magisterium” mind frame which is at the very heart of the profound crisis Catholicism is going through at the moment. We cradle Catholics were brought up on that sort of thing. Read the stories of those who were abused, and those who committed suicide, afraid to tell their parents of the abuse because the entire culture of the institution was that the institution — and priests, bishops and popes could do no possible wrong. You seem to want to take us back to that. I just get extremely angry reading this sort of drivel from a small sector within Catholicism who seem to elevate to the first article of their Creed that “the Church (and the Pope and the Bishops) can do now wrong. They ARE infallible — and not just in Doctrines of Faith but in virtually everything.” Unfortunately you people get preferment in employment in the institution. The institution couldn’t give a rats arse for the rest of us. We’re lucky to get a few crumbs off the table. Do you have the slightest understanding of how you come over to a lot of people who have to sit around waiting for a few “crumbs”?

    The Catholic Church IS dying. 86% of the faithful have already turned their back on sacramental participation. Do you honestly believe the sort of formulas that you offer are going to reverse that? Or do you honestly believe that the small segment of the population who share the sort of outlook you present have really been singled out by Almighty God to be given access to “truths” that are denied to the rest of humanity?

    • Louise

      Conway died on 16 March 2009, aged in his early eighties. On 26 March 2009, he was commemorated by a requiem mass in Melbourne’s cathedral.

      Cardinal George Pell, of Sydney, sent condolences. Before becoming an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne in 1987, Pell had been the head of the Melbourne seminary and he is said to have liked Conway’s work in assessing trainee priests.

      And Cdl Pell knew of the shocking abuse of Conway’s clients?

    • Louise

      And who has had charge of the Catholic schools for example these last 40 years, Brian? Orthodox Catholics, or dissenting ones? You’ve had the run of the Church these 40 years and you couldn’t manage to hang on to the sheep you had, bring more in. Hopeless.

      • Louise

        Should have read:

        “You’ve had the run of the Church these 40 years and you couldn’t manage to hang on to the sheep you had, much less bring more in.”

        • Louise, who has had charge of the Church for the past 40 years have been two of the most conservative/orthodox popes you could find in the whole of Catholic Church history. Even George Pell wrote about five years ago that the so-called “liberals” got out of the Church decades ago. Don’t go blaming the “liberals” or Catholic teachers. The reality is that the agenda of the Church for the past 40 years has been firmly in the hands of two men who at every single opportunity have endeavoured to undo what the assembled bishops of the world discerned the Holy Spirit was endeavouring to lead the Church. They have excommunicated the so-called “liberals” at every opportunity so don’t go blaming the liberals for the mess that we see today.

          • William Tighe

            This is a disgustingly disingenuous response. No pope can micromanage “the agenda” of the Church at the local or educational level — and it is at that level that libertine liberals (and a few sociopaths like the late Fr. Maciel) have had a largely free rein of things.

            I’ll put it otherwise. For all the good that John Paul II did on the world stage, the Church would have been far better served by another anti-modernist pope like St. Pius X who would have anathematized the proponents of the liceity of contraceptive practice, advocates of “choice” in the matter of abortion, and proponents of WO and SS within the Church, and cast them out of the Church if they refused to recent their views.

            I still hope for such a pope.

            • “the Church would have been far better served by another anti-modernist pope like St. Pius X who would have anathematized the proponents of the liceity of contraceptive practice, advocates of “choice” in the matter of abortion, and proponents of WO and SS within the Church, and cast them out of the Church if they refused to recent their views.”

              Hear, hear, Dr. Tighe.

              “[You] still hope for such a pope.”

              And so do I.

            • Past Elder / Terry Maher

              I guess the Holy Spirit is asleep at the switch, since you have the popes you have instead of the ones of wishes and fantasy.

              Or maybe it’s the whole pope thing that is the wish and fantasy, and the Holy Spirit is doing just fine and has nothing to do with that.

              • “[You] guess the Holy Spirit is asleep at the switch, since you have the popes you have instead of the ones of wishes and fantasy.”

                The Holy Ghost gives us the Popes–and priests, and bishops–we deserve. There’s an article dealing with that in a recent (the latest? I’m not sure) issue of The Fatima Crusader.

                “Or maybe it’s the whole pope thing that is the wish and fantasy, and the Holy Spirit is doing just fine and has nothing to do with that.”

                Well, He hasn’t allowed any Pope to define error or anathematise truth.

          • Louise

            No, Brian you are quite, quite wrong. Certainly at the very top, the people in charge have been at least not overtly dissident, although it could be argued that they have absorbed a certain degree of Modernism.

            But be realistic. Dissident Catholics are always carrying on about Power. Consider this: if I do not wish to be informed about the teachings of the Church I need never open (or even own a catechism) and in this archdiocese I am not likely to hear much orthodox preaching.

            I need never listen to a single word the Pope says from one year to the next and many Catholics clearly do not. Yet, every Sunday, I must listen to one of the priests in this archdiocese (normally my PP, of whom I am very fond, as it happens, even if he is often wrong) yammering on about whatever trendy topic they can wring out of the Gospel.

            These are the kinds of people (and bishops) who have been in charge of the schools etc these past 40 years, Brian, and they can take the responsibility for the appalling exodus from the Church.

          • Past Elder / Terry Maher

            Disingenuous? Been in charge of the schools etc? Great Zeus cloudgatherer, who put them there, and who did nothing about them — the same people who allowed inferior translations of a text to stand for a generation.

            They were not elected at a Voters Meeting or a synodical convention. The excuse that those at the top didn’t know what was going on flies as poorly when it is used to excuse officials who wear period costumes and pointy hats as those who wear business suits.

            No-one expects micromanagement. Nor is it micromanagement to expect that overseers shall in fact oversee.

            Listen for once to Brian — not that I agree with him any more than he would agree with me — if for nothing else than to gain, for one thing, some sense of the extreme dysfunction of each side thinking the other has locked them out and looking to some hoped-for future that is always just around the corner when their “what the church REALLY teaches” shall prevail, and for another for some sense of how the Catholic Church looks to most of the 14% who have not, unlike myself, turned their backs on sacramental participation in it.

            • Louise

              Well, and who put the Arian bishops there? Sorry, PE, but the Catholic Church has survived this kind of thing in the past and will do so again.

              Given that I disagree with you fundamentally on this issue, why would I take your advice to listen to Brian? Neither of you cares about the survival of the Catholic Church. You hate it, and Brian just wants to turn it into a facsimile of himself.

              Given that Pope John Paul II seems to have been fairly straight up and down in, for example, the Church’s teaching on sexual morals, we must – I suppose – attribute his creating/tolerating dissenting bishops for reasons of incompetence, or something else not directly related to the dissent.

              • Past Elder / Terry Maher

                JPII made cardinals of one after another of men once forbidden to teach as Catholic when there was an RCC. It was directly related to the dissent, because the “Catholicism” upheld by him and here is simply a mild version of the same thing you condemn in its fuller-bodied version.

                I would not think you understand the appointment of bishops in the time of Arius to be the same as now and therefore comparable.

                I don’t care about the survival of the Catholic Church because it is doomed and only have to say to those in it Come out, people of God, lest you share in her sins and receive of her plagues, for in one hour its judgement shall come Amen.

                “It” is not worth the energy to hate.

                If one can find in what Brian has said, however, no concern for the survival of the Catholic Church, one has understood nothing whatever of what he said.

                • Louise

                  LOL!

                  The Catholic Church will never be destroyed b/c she is the Bride of Christ.

                  After 2000 years of sin and sheer incompetence, not even Catholics have managed to destroy the Church.

                  I will not “come out” since there is nowhere else to go.

                • I seem to remember that Martin Luther was offered a Cardinal’s hat at one stage. A cynical step, maybe, but it would have been interesting to see what kind of Church we would have had if we had a Martin Card. Luther in our history! Before people get too shocked, remember that Francis was seen by many as a heretic in his day too, but the Pope of the day recognised a good thing when he saw it, and headed off the more extreme parts of the Franciscan movement by coopting Francis as a Saint. Hardly cynical, and the Church benefited no end.

                  • Past Elder / Terry Maher

                    Everybody knows the mendicant orders are but dogs in the street, lacking a proper communal life like a real monking monk and devoid of any sense of work whatever contra St Paul who would be a burden to none, the labourer is worth his hire, and the labora of the grand and glorious, great and uproarious SOBs, I mean OSBs. Not to mention the later absolute joke of not owning anything in their wealth — the original tax evaders putting their money in some other name.

                    Better to wonder what kind of “Church” (read, of course, The Catholic Church, which is God, Christ and church unto itself) you would have had had Aquinas been a Benedictine like he was supposed to be. Great Judas at chapter, he had abbot of Monte Cassino (casino, really) all bought and paid for by his family, as these things are properly done, and then when the miserable mendicants got to him they tried to fix him up with that nice Italian girl.

              • “Brian [Coyne] just wants to turn [The Catholic Church] into a facsimile of himself.”

                Louise, for a laugh, check out Mr. Coyne’s “vision of a vibrant Catholicism”:

                http://www.catholica.com.au/forum/index.php?mode=thread&id=47246

    • Christ gave the apostles and their successors the bishops and the head of their college the Pope the duty to sanctify, to teach, and to govern his Church. Whenever they do this in a Christ-like way, we, the people of the Church, have a corresponding duty to receive their ministry with Christ-like docility (a word which is, I suspect, a red-rag-to-a-bull in this conversation). I do not draw the direct line you do between such God-pleasing docility and the sexual abuse crisis. In fact, I reject it out of hand. I do see a direct connection between the lack of such God-pleasing docility and the current crisis of faith (which you also bring up at the end of your comment).

      As for authority, I believe that it is a gift of God to our Church that he not only continues to exercise his authority as Son of God in his Church, but that he has chosen to do this in a concrete way through real human beings to through the Apostolic Office. It is my conviction that the exercise of authority in the Church (in fact anywhere) goes awry under two situations: when those who have real authority use it falsely (that is when they either fail to exercise it or use it for a purpose which it was not given), or when people in positions of power and influence claim an authority they do not have (ie. a false authority). I agree that it is not beyond those in positions of either real or false authority in the Church to abuse their authority and power. Without question this was a risk that Christ took in committing to human beings the authoritative offices in the Church.

      Nevertheless, in my experience, Christ has followed through on his promises to the Church (the powers of hell will not prevail against it and the Holy Spirit will lead you into all truth etc.) especially in the teaching ministry of the Bishop of Rome. “He who hears you hears me”, our Lord said (Luke 10:16, I think), and I, in God-pleasing docility, seek to hear his voice. Many people look elsewhere to hear that “voice”, and so find other “truths”. I accept and understand that. I dialogue with people who have formed their own understanding of “truth” on the basis of many different teachers and their own particular experiences. I, as a Catholic Christian, look to the Church, and for this I offer no apology. As St Peter himself said “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”

    • Past Elder / Terry Maher

      OMG. They’ve had the run of the church these last 40 years? And who allowed that — there was no pope, who appointed bishops, who appointed priests, who … Who allowed that are the same people who allowed clerical sexual abuse.

      Especially in the teaching ministry of the Bishop of Rome? But wait, we’ve only now got an evangelical pope, the dream of the Reformation, I just learned. So who were they listening to before, Judas H Priest on a Vatican balcony?

      You may not take my counsel and, re to whom shall we go you have the words of eternal life, and actually go to the Lord and his words of eternal life as St Peter did, rather than some self-styled, or rather Imperial-styled, successor thereof, but perhaps you could at least pay some more heed to what Brian is saying in a Catholic context.

      • You may not take my counsel and, re to whom shall we go you have the words of eternal life, and actually go to the Lord and his words of eternal life as St Peter did”

        “He who hears you hears me” (Luke 10)
        “You are Peter and to you I give the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt 16)

        Good enough for me.

  4. Past Elder / Terry Maher

    What about those non-evangelical popes?

    Apparently what is also good enough for you is the verbal alchemy by which “you” becomes the Roman Catholic bishops and “Peter” becomes the pope, evangelical or not.

    Again I say pay some heed to what Brian is saying.

  5. Tom

    Brian has correctly noted one source of the difficulty within this whole mess; that in some cultures the clericalism is so strong that those who suffered sexual abuse committed suicide rather than come forward to accuse their abuser. That being said, giving due authority to the Church and Her ministers is not the same as clericalism. Brian has grown up in what sounds like a very Irish culture – it has been one of the worst in these situations.

    Clericalism is a problem in its own right; clericalism is not the same as sexual abuse. Brian does a disservice to his cause by conflating the two of them. Clericalism is not the cause of sexual abuse although it can act as a sort of catalyst in the sense that it makes it harder for the abusers to be revealed. Sexual abuse is nothing to do with being in a situation where people revere you; ordinary people, police, teachers etc., are also abusers. The myriad of sexual abuse and the destruction of international ‘pedophile rings’ and pornography rings speaks of a different issue together: this goes deeper and has a different cause.

    We are in an ecclesial reality where the sacraments are given to us through the ministers, where the Church is locally lead by Bishops/Arch Bishops, and is united internationally by the Pope. These people are necessary and are a great source of inspiration and joy for the Church. That being said, treating ministers with respect is different from treating them like living saints.

    We can’t have in our mind that Pope’s, Bishops or Priests are not sinners; this is unfair to both us AND them. How can they be them self if they are thought to be holy? How can they reveal the truth of their life, and more importantly how can they reveal the resurrection of Christ in their life if they are holy and perfect? Christ comes to perfect us, He is not a slap-on addition, or a modification of us. Priests, Bishops and Popes are also human and need to discover the resurrection of Christ for them, and the love of God for them in their history.

    As to how to deal with this problem, I defer to Schutz; I think he has written well on this. Do not, however, make the mistake of thinking clericalism is the source of this corruption.

  6. Paul G

    I’m not convinced by the argument that deference to clerics as persons is the cause of this. My only contact with a pedophile was with a lay teacher at a Catholic school (it did not affect me, thank God and I only found out years later what he did). Even back in the sixties, his authority was recognised as much as that of the priests at the school.
    (By the way, I read that Woody Allen has defended Roman Polanski at Cannes this week. Is this an example of “artistism” causing child abuse?)

    I think that where we all bear responsibility is the secrecy surrounding these cases. It is not a secret in the sense of locked doors and confidentiality agreements, but just reluctance to talk about it amongst the faithful. Even when these case fill the newspapers and TV news, I have never heard it mentioned from the pulpit and only once mentioned in a parish newsletter. As the saying goes, “the Devil loves a secret”, so this reduces the chances that people will talk about suspicions and concerns, and it also avoids the public humiliation of the culprits, which surely can be a form of reparation for all concerned. I think that all the faithful in the pews need to know all the practical details, such as how many priests from the diocese have been convicted, charged and credibly accused.

    I am also sceptical of internal Church procedures like Towards Healing. I don’t know much about it and stand to be corrected, but I think we need to mimic the child protection procedures from the state, where the processes are clearly spelled out and require a third party like DOCS or the police to be involved immediately. If someone is accused of a criminal act, the police must be contacted, even if the victim is reluctant to do it themselves.

    As far as “persecution” by the media is concerned, I think there is a bigger problem than people using clerical abuse cases to attack the Church. From everything I have read, the majority of child abuse cases do not involve clerics. Who is debating what causes these cases? We only hear the arguments about clerical celibacy etc, but what about all the other cases?

    • Louise

      By the way, I read that Woody Allen has defended Roman Polanski at Cannes this week.

      Woody would.

    • Louise

      From everything I have read, the majority of child abuse cases do not involve clerics. Who is debating what causes these cases? We only hear the arguments about clerical celibacy etc, but what about all the other cases?

      The perpetrators in all the other cases were not sufficiently clerical.

      We had the horrendous story here just recently of a 12yo girl who was prostituted by her mother and a pimp to some 100+ men in Tasmania. Assuming them to be local, there are therefore some 100 paedophiles roaming the streets, with apparently no great hue and cry from the public. I wrote a letter to the paper about this, asking what will be done to find the men who had sex with this child. I don’t know if it was published though.

      Double standard much?

      There was – rightly – considerable outcry against the mother and pimp, but what of these men who think its okay to to have sex with a 12yo girl?

      Who are they? Do we know them? (Are they perving on my daughter?) That’s what *I* want to know.

      • Louise

        And I will say this: my parish priest is the standard dissident Hobartian cleric, but he is a pretty good bloke in many ways and I have a strong affection for him. He has never conducted himself in a way that causes me any sense of unease, regarding matters of a sexual nature. As far as anyone can judge, my kids are likely to be safer with him than some other men I might be acquainted with. He does not seem to seek to be alone with anyone at all and certainly not kids, but he is universally kind.

      • Paul G

        Indeed, we need to know that. A lot of people would say the main thing is that the police will pursue the 100 pedophiles because there is no institution like the Church to protect them, so we can just leave it up to the police and psychologists.

        But I don’t think it is as simple as that. Just 50 years ago, no-one ever thought about pedophilia if they saw an adult male with his arm around a child (eg look at movies made then). That at least proves that the idea of pedophilia never occurred to most people in those days, whereas it is top of mind now. Do we really know if it is more common now? Is it caused by advertising and sexualisation of children? What can we do to prevent it?

        • Paul G

          clarification.. my comment “we need to know that” refers to your previous post – they got out of order.

        • Louise

          A lot of people would say the main thing is that the police will pursue the 100 pedophiles because there is no institution like the Church to protect them, so we can just leave it up to the police and psychologists.

          There has – to my knowledge – been no mention of prosecuting the men who actually used this girl, from anyone. Nobody seems concerned at all. That’s what bothers me.

          • Louise

            And makes me think that that the angst about paedophilia is – if not fake – then very selective.

    • Louise

      If someone is accused of a criminal act, the police must be contacted, even if the victim is reluctant to do it themselves.

      Is this not done then? What about mandatory reporting laws?

      • Paul G

        According to the case on the ABC 7.30 report last night, there was a priest who was found guilty of inappropriately touching a child by the Church tribunal, but the victim now wants to go to the police, only because she thinks the priest hasn’t been punished enough by the Church.
        I don’t understand the legal position here – that is what confuses me about internal Church protocols. If there is no requirement in a case like this for the Church to call the police, does than mean the complaint the woman makes now is unlikely to succeed?

        • Peregrinus

          The rules in Towards Healing about mandatory report are as follows:

          1. If a complaint concerns an alleged crime, the complainant is told that the church strongly prefers that the matter be referred to the police. Where the alleged crime is one covered by a civil law mandatory reporting requirement, the complainant is told about this too.

          2. If reporting is mandatory as a matter of civil law, then the church personnel will report the matter, regardless of the complainant’s wishes.

          3. If reporting is not mandatory as a matter of civil law, then the complainant can opt not to take the matter to the police. The church investigation does not proceed until the complainant has made a decision about this.

          4. If the complainant decides to report the matter to the police, then the church investigation is deferred until any criminal justice process has been concluded. Counselling or other assistance may be provided to the complainant in the meantime.

          5. If the complainant decides not to report it, then two things happen:

          a. First, the complainant has to sign a statement acknowledging that they have been urged to report to the police and have been told the reasons why this is desirable, and saying that they have nevertheless decided not to report to the police. The church investigation cannot proceed until this statement has been signed.

          b. Secondly, details of the alleged crime are passed to the Director of Professional Standards (a church employee), who passes them on to the police except for any details which would identify the complainant.

          This last rule is an awkward compromise between protecting the confidentiality of complainants, and enabling the police to investigate alleged crime. The truth is that information which does not identify the complainant is of limited value to the police; without the complainant to give evidence there is little chance that the offender can be charged or tried.

          There is nothing to stop a complainant who has opted not to go to the police and who has pursued the Towards Healing process to its conclusion (or who is in the course of doing so) from changing his or her mind, and reporting to the police. If that happens the Towards Healing process, if not already completed, will be suspended and will resume when any criminal process has concluded.

          In principle a delay in reporting doesn’t change the legal position, but in practice it does change the evidentiary position. Memories fade, witnesses die or move away, first person evidence becomes less credible to a jury. The longer the delay before reporting a crime to the police, the less likely is a successful prosecution. But that is true regardless of whether the intervening period is taken up with a church process or not.

          I should add that I didn’t see the ABC programme last night and I know nothing about the case it discussed. It may well have been dealt with before Towards Healing was introduced.

          • Paul G

            Thank you very much for this. Perhaps its my fault, but this is the first time I have heard an explanation as detailed as this. The ABC 7.30 report never mentioned Towards Healing, I just assumed that is what the victim meant by saying “people shouldn’t go to the church, go to the police”.

            A couple of things I don’t understand…
            You say if the TH process has completed, the complainant can still go to the police. I thought they have to sign a comittment to not pursue it anywhere else (especially if a compensation is paid). I think it would be good if that were not the case.

            In your case 5 (b), is that the case where reporting to the police is mandatory, but the victim has not done it? (That must be an awkward legal situation). There was also a story on ABC Lateline last night about Bp Wilson, claiming he took evidence from a victim, passed the information on to his then Bishop, and then did not report it to the police himself, saying he had passed the buck to the Bishop. (This is the assertion on Lateline, not from Bp Wilson himself). That sounds a little like your case 5 (b).

            This is all very complicated, and I’m not sure that the direct involvement of the Church in the process helps anyone (although I have never had any experience of knowledge of TH myself, so I am speaking with the confidence of ignorance.)

            • Peregrinus

              Hi Paul.

              Confidentiality agreements

              The church can’t, and never could, get people to enter into a binding agreement not to report a crime to the police. An agreement of that kind would be (as a matter of civil law) illegal and unenforceable. That’s not to say that there couldn’t be some kind of confidentiality agreement, and in the past there often was, but it would not extend so far as to prevent a report to the police. (In the past, though, victims might not have been aware that signing a confidentiality agreement did not prevent them from going to the police. It could be that they were even told – wrongly – that it did prevent them.)

              Towards Healing now provides that any agreement which does emerge from the TH process is not to require complainants to remain silent about the circumstances which led to the complaint. So not only are complainants free to tell the police; they are free to tell anyone they want what has happened to them.

              Final agreements

              There’s the separate (but related) question of whether any agreement with the victim that emerges from the TH process is to be treated as final, at least as regards financial matters, so that once the victim has signed the agreement and received the agreed compensation he cannot subsequently sue the church (for more compensation for the same injury).

              This kind of agreement is still possible under TH, but (a) before signing it the complainant must have independent legal advice, or sign a statement saying that they decline to take legal advice, and (b) the church is to pay their costs of getting that legal advice.

              It would be possible for TH to provide that no final financial agreement was possible; that the complainant could always go to court and seek further compensation, and that their agreement to accept what they had already agreed would not be held against them. But there are two problems with this.

              First, the technical one. These compensation payments are usually partly funded by the church’s insurers. Insurers won’t make payments unless they have a guarantee of finality. Thus if only non-final payments could be made, the funds available would be much less, so complainants would tend to be offered smaller payments; if they wanted the larger payment they’d have to go to court, with all the attendant publicity, stress, risk, etc. This is not necessarily in the best interests of complainants.

              Secondly, the psychological one. If there were such a rule, then complainants could only achieve “closure” by taking a (public, expensive, sometimes risky) court action.

              Mandatory reporting

              I don’t know of any mandatory reporting law which requires the victim to report a crime. Generally the laws identify a class of professionals (e.g. school teachers, social workers, medical workers, counsellors) who are required to report evidence or suspicions of abuse of the vulnerable. These laws can be controversial because, of course, they may deny the victim of a particular crime the possibility of confidential treatment or counselling. I’m not honestly sure where the various Australian states stand as regards mandatory reporting; presumably TH is applied in states and territories which impose different obligations in this regard.

              Bishops and priests are not generally among the professionals who are covered by mandatory reporting laws, but doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, welfare workers generally are. Anyone entering the TH process will come in contact with members of these professions, and so will be within the scope of whatever mandatory reporting laws may apply.

              Not every case of abuse, of course, will come within the scope of mandatory reporting laws. The laws are often limited to cases of [i]child[/i] abuse, whereas TH will address allegations of abuse of people of any age.

              • Louise

                I don’t know of any mandatory reporting law which requires the victim to report a crime. Generally the laws identify a class of professionals (e.g. school teachers, social workers, medical workers, counsellors) who are required to report evidence or suspicions of abuse of the vulnerable.

                That was my impression.

                Again, thanks for this important information.

              • Thanks once again, Perry. Good information to put it all in perspective.

          • Louise

            Excellent information, thankyou, Pere.

        • Peter Golding

          Today’s Melbourne Age (18/5) carries two articles about abusive priests.One talks about the frustration of two women with the church’s process of dealing with abuse,but the article was silent as to whether or not either of the women went to the police and if not why not.
          I suspect readers would be aware of accusations of abuse made involving the actors of the TV sitcom “Hey Dad” earlier this year.Whilst this was being played out in the media,I heard the police say on more than one occasion that they could do nothing until a formal complaint was made to them.It appears that a complaint has now been made and the police have commenced an investigation.

          • I read through all these articles, and while the actions of the priests which they report were damnable, I struggled to find how the Church’s process in dealing with the situation could be faulted. The situations are painful and messy, and human justice (whether ecclesiastical or civil) is – unfortunately but unavoidably – rarely swift. God’s justice, on the other hand, will not be slow.

            • Peter Golding

              I agree totally David.
              Yet another article in today’s Age (19/5) which indicates that despite it’s best efforts,again the church has been unable to resolve a messy situation.

            • Paul G

              I agree that there is an element of malice in the way these cases are pursued. Pretty obviously, many of the critics try to implicate senior bishops and the Pope, even though their cases are weak.
              Having said that, I think justice has to be seen to be done. The motivation for internal processes might be to protect vulnerable victims, but it can also be interpreted (and sometimes might actually be) to protect the reputation of the Church.
              The problem with not going immediately to the police with every accusation is that the faithful become suspicious of all priests, and also the guilty criminal priests might feel they will be protected.

  7. Louise

    I think that all the faithful in the pews need to know all the practical details, such as how many priests from the diocese have been convicted, charged and credibly accused.

    That seems like a good idea, with the care that those who have been accused still be entitled to the presumption of innocence.

  8. Louise

    Even when these case fill the newspapers and TV news, I have never heard it mentioned from the pulpit and only once mentioned in a parish newsletter.

    Probably a valid observation in general, but again to give my parish priest his due, he has never shied away from this issue and has spoken of it in his homily in clear terms, at least twice in the last couple of months.