We need to ritualise our lament

Clare Condon SGS

As well as a Royal Commission to attend to criminal matters, I believe that we Catholics need to ritualise our lament as the Prophets of the Old Testament lamented, writes Clare Condon SGS.

BY Clare Condon SGS*

In recent weeks, the Australian media has been saturated with stories that challenge the state of the institution of the Catholic Church in this country. Under question has been the ability or inability of Church leaders to deal with the crisis which is the crime of child sexual abuse perpetrated by members of clergy or religious orders over past decades.

Various accusations have been made, including cover-up, protection of perpetrators, and mismanagement by placing the reputation of the Church before all else. I am not in a position to know the veracity of these accusations. Now is the time to allow the Royal Commission to do its work in assessing all these serious matters in a transparent and independent way.

However, other significant comments have been made, stating that Church leaders have failed to respond with care and compassion to those who have been seriously affected by these atrocities. These are also the concerns of ordinary Catholics and of clergy and members of religious orders who go about their daily lives and work with integrity, generosity and good will. I have heard comments and questions like: “Why do I stay a Catholic?”, “What has caused such a destructive force within the Church when the Church itself proclaims to live by the values of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?”, “Where do I stand now as an ordinary Catholic seeking to live a life of faith and love?”

These are times of crisis. The Church in its 2,000-year history has not been immune to crisis.  As an institution it has had its highs and its deepest lows. It is a frail human community where all the weaknesses and sins of human nature can reside amongst us. In our present crisis, crimes have been committed by members of our community.

All of us, who call ourselves Catholic, need regularly to examine our own lives, behaviours and attitudes. In this time of crisis, each and every one of us is responsible for rebuilding the community of the faithful, to be accountable for ourselves in the light of the Gospel, to deepen our prayer life and to reach out compassionately to all those who have been hurt and damaged by such crimes perpetrated by trusted and powerful members of the Church.

In relation to this current tragedy, one of our sisters wrote to me recently. She said: “Is there some way we can acknowledge the sinfulness of sexual abuse in its lack of reverence for others, its arrogant misguided sense of power, control and deceit and the living of a façade, and humbly acknowledge the capacity of human beings to perpetrate evil that results in such suffering and destruction in people’s lives?”

As well as a Royal Commission to attend to criminal matters, I believe that we Catholics need to ritualise our lament as the Prophets of the Old Testament lamented. They cried out against evil and injustice. They called on the God of their faith to lead them to better times, toward healing and wholeness, to stand against the tide of sin and destruction.

Perhaps this is a significant way that we, as a whole Church, can be healed from this dis-ease that has been amongst us – healing for those who are so hurt, and healing for all of us who cherish the best of our tradition and who work towards bringing the Risen Christ to birth in our own lives and in the lives of those whom we encounter each and every day.

As Jeremiah prayed, I pray:

Day and night
My tears never stop,
For my people are struck,
My daughter crushed by a savage blow.

Lord, have you nothing
But contempt for Zion?
Have you completely rejected Judah?
Why have you inflicted wounds
That do not heal?

We long for peace,
We long for healing, but there is only terror.
We have sinned against you
And know it, God;
We share our people’s guilt.

For the sake of your name,
Do not abandon us.

* Clare Condon SGS is the Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict.

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The Good Oil, December 11, 2012. If you would like to republish this article, please contact the editor.

5 Responses to “We need to ritualise our lament”

  1. Carmel Sheehan says:

    Clare. Your post was interesting but somewhat disturbing. As a leader of a Religious Order it would seem your comment “I am not in a position to know the veracity of these accusations” is open to some doubt. Any person who has followed the staements on Broken Rites knows the accusations have been true in a number of instances. These have been recorded in the Courts. Please have a thought for the people who have been abused and do something for them, but don’t say or intimate that you don’t know the instances are true.

  2. mary viney says:

    Thank you Clare. I have been wondering for some time how to respond and would appreciate a community of prayer during the Royal Commission, and after not only within the Church but throughout all praying people. This sin and crime has touched my family and I’ve prayed alone with inspired persistence over 30 years. I don’t want vengeance, or scapegoats, rather a reform of misguided theological and social sin that lies within the Church today in a quagmire of delusions and misunderstanding of God, the Father’s intent and Jesus’ teaching. John Paul II warned us about our cultural faith and practices that swamped true religion. Against all this faithful and valiant people keep answering God’s call to spread the Good News in so many ways with true hope. For this I am truly grateful.

  3. Veronica Box says:

    Thank you Ckare. Ordinary Catholics in the pews are wondering : how can we respond? What should we be doing? Is there a way through this mess not of our own making, but which we must own, because we are the Church? Some kind of ritual would seem to be the answer.Your reflections alwats inspire me. God bless you.

  4. Thank you for this very helpful reflection. Rituals of lament can help us to express and to own our feelings of shame and distress and to do something constructive with them. These feelings are there for a reason and we are unwise to heal them too lightly by focusing on the good things (and there remain many) that the church does. We need to look deeply into this darkness and play our part in eradicating it.

  5. Thank you Clare for your challenging and thoughtful reflection on what may be our stance during the Royal Commission into Sexual Abuse. And the reflections throughout the year are appreciated. Marie O’Connor

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