Archbishop Coleridge releases Pentecost Letter on the Scandals

Archbishop Mark Coleridge has released a Pentecost Pastoral Letter on the sexual abuse scandal. I have read it all through, and find it to be a very serious, considered and balanced appraisal of the situation, which also holds out an “Easter hope” for the future. He has clearly wrestled hard with what to say. Of course, the temptation is often to say nothing, to “bunker down”, as it were, but +Mark knows that that is not the solution.

Here are some of his comments reported today on the ABC:

“No one now can deny the scale of the problem and the urgent task,” he said.

“In the case of clerical abuse of the young, we are dealing with crime. And the Church has struggled to find the point of convergence between sin and forgiveness on the one hand, and crime and punishment on the other.

“True, sin must be forgiven, but so too must crime be punished.

“What’s clear is there will be no quick fix to this problem, the roots of which go deep and wide, we’re in for the long haul.

“On that journey, there’s a need for cool heads and compassionate hearts, always with our eye fixed primarily on the victims we haven’t seen and the voices we haven’t heard.”

A most interesting aspect of his letter is his attempt to analyse what it might be in the culture of the Church which has led to this situation. His conclusion is not monolithic, nor does he claim that his thoughts on these issues are necessarily “complete or even correct”. He concludes:

None of these factors alone would have made the problem cultural in the Church, but the combination may have done so. Clearly, some have to be abandoned – rigorist notions of the body and sexuality, gaps in seminary training and the kind of clericalism they can produce, triumphalism, the underestimation of evil. Others – like the living of celibacy in the priestly life – need to be purified rather than abandoned. Some – like the Church’s culture of forgiveness and discretion – clearly need to be retained, though with a greater awareness of what they can encourage and how they can turn dark.

I urge a reading of the whole letter (see here for the full text). Also, see here for the Encounter program focusing on the letter and here for an audio interview with the ABC.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Archbishop Coleridge releases Pentecost Letter on the Scandals

  1. I have a less positive view of this David – http://australiaincognita.blogspot.com/2010/05/do-bishops-really-understand-why-laity.html.

    Some interesting historical context on why it took the bishops so long to get it – but I still find it bewildering even so.

    And still no sign of any understanding of just why the rest of us might be less than satisfied with mere assurances about how we are listening closely now, and have processes in place.

    The bottom line is that some – even many – priests and bishops lost touch with the essential teachings of the Church on what constitutes serious sin, and their duty to protect their flocks. Not all of these engaged in child abuse or its cover up, of course, but they did allow other types of behaviour and sin to flourish that are just as serious issues.

    Until a commitment to asceticism, orthodoxy and much more are restored, the problems will continue.

    • Thanks, Terra, and thanks too for your comments on your own blog – many of which I would say are reasonable, but perhaps expecting a level of comprehensiveness beyond what a single pastoral letter can achieve.

      BTW, it’s good to see you blogging again – there was a bit of an hiatus there for a while. I had even removed your blog from my blog roll as it appeared “inactive”, but have put it back now for everyone to benefit from.

  2. Tony

    Terra,

    Maybe it’s because this has been such a negative issue in the church so long and the bishops responses have been so inadequate (IMO), that my expectations might be low, but I think this pastoral letter is a real breakthrough.

    I appreciate your observations though (on your blog) albeit coming to very different conclusions.

    • Tony,

      I have to agree that it is a positive thing that one of the bishops is speaking publicly on the issue at last in a way that acknowledges that there is some work to do.

      The Archbishop has made a good attempt at addressing the PR problem.

      And I take your point about the bar being low.

      But the problem is that this is more than just a PR problem, and the trying to run the implicit argument that they couldn’t have been expected to do any better than they did in the circumstances will, in my view, ultimately be counter-productive.

      And frankly I have a problem with the notion that it is somehow understandable that the bishops didn’t really understand how serious a sin this was, didn’t understand the duty to protect their flocks from predators, and didn’t even have a real grasp on the ‘power and subtlety of evil’!

      These things are core business for the Church, and if, as the AB acknowledges, they failed in them, that calls for a very wide ranging set of responses indeed, along the lines of the measures set out in the Irish Pastoral letter by the Pope and more.

      I also find it disappointing that at this point in time it is still seen as essentially an individual problem that can largely be fixed by the bishops listening more closely to the victims and being a bit more sensitive to the issue (that is an oversimplification I know, but certainly a key message of the letter).

      Yet sin always has a communal dimension, and sins aired as publicly as this, administrative failures aired as publicly as this, cry out for greater accountability to us all. There have been quite a few calls for this by prominent Australian catholics, so hard to see why the AB didn’t take this into account.

      The letter is essentially a plea for understanding and acceptance of what has already been done, not a commitment to action, and that’s why I’m unhappy with it.

      • And frankly I have a problem with the notion that it is somehow understandable that the bishops didn’t really understand how serious a sin this was, didn’t understand the duty to protect their flocks from predators, and didn’t even have a real grasp on the ‘power and subtlety of evil’!

        These things are core business for the Church…

        As Paul VI (I think) put it: The Church is “expert in humanity”. I would have to agree with you that this is at least one case when that expertice was sadly lacking!

  3. Tony

    The letter is essentially a plea for understanding and acceptance of what has already been done, not a commitment to action, and that’s why I’m unhappy with it.

    I think that’s a fair call, Terra.