Church leaders offer a pastoral way forward towards understanding and healing in response to the conviction of Cardinal George Pell and the child sexual abuse crisis in the Australian Catholic Church.
BY The Good Oil
There has been widespread debate since the conviction of Cardinal George Pell on child sexual abuse crimes earlier this month, and his subsequent sentencing to six years imprisonment last week. Some commentators have called for an end to the Church, while others are staunchly defending the Cardinal’s innocence.
While the appeal process takes its course, the conviction of Cardinal Pell and the ramifications of the findings of the Royal Commission have caused a crisis of faith for many in the Australian Catholic Church.
Bishop of Parramatta, Most Rev Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv and Administrator of the Diocese of Broken Bay, Very Rev Dr David Ranson have written to their respective communities offering a pastoral way forward towards understanding and healing.
Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv writes:
The revisiting of such grievous wounds has been difficult for many. As we approach Lent, may we, too, grieve with all those suffering intensely. Genuine hope begins whenever we listen to the story of another with an open heart.
Some, too, feel that in the marketplace the “brand Catholic” has suffered a grievous blow. Perhaps so. But we are not a market nor are we a popular cult.
We are first and always a community of disciples following our one master, Jesus Christ. We are not the Church of one particular leader, be it Pope Francis or Cardinal Pell or any other bishop.
We are the living Body of Christ made up of saints and sinners.
We are challenged by Our Lord to reach out to all who are hurting, and to all victims of every abuse and sinfulness. We are to be the “field hospital” for all the marginalised as Pope Francis has asked us to become. We are to be in the messiness of life, not to run away into some “idealised future or romantic past”.
To be such, demands that we let go of our sense of superiority, privilege and power and embrace again our need for healing and forgiveness and to look again at the Suffering Servant leader who is our Lord Jesus.
Many people may say these are only words and they would be correct. However, for us they are the words of Jesus and we are called to put our faith in Him and demonstrate it in our actions by our care for all in need.
This would mean changing the way we think and act so that all may feel safe and welcome in our communities regardless of what they believe, look like, or have, and regardless of their sexuality, gender or marital status.
The season of Lent summons us to a discipleship of humility, weakness and vulnerability, of dying and rising in Christ. We are challenged to remove our heart of stone and to have a heart of flesh instead.
During this period of crisis and darkness, as the Church, let us pray that we have the courage to die to that which is contrary to the Gospel, and rise to be what Christ has called us to be.
Very Rev Dr David Ranson writes:
It is difficult indeed to fathom the ramifications of the dramatic and historic events that have marked these days, resulting in the remand into custody of Cardinal George Pell, subsequent to his recent conviction. The verdict of guilt will be tested now in the Court of Appeal and will either be validated or questioned, and this will take some months. When that time comes, we will be impelled to reflect again on events, one way or another. Now, our thoughts and our prayers go always to those who have been so greatly wounded by the crime of sexual abuse, particularly from within our own community of faith.
The verdict of guilt by a court of law is one thing, shocking enough as it is. Our reactions to this outcome will be diverse and complex. However, the social reaction and the widespread commentary to the verdict is another. We cannot ignore or underestimate the community’s response to the verdict that has been given, and which further adds to our distress. In different ways, the energy of this social response highlights the remarkable collapse of the credibility of the institution with which we are identified – whether by our belonging to our local Catholic parish, or by our association with our Catholic schools or agencies. It places our affiliation under extraordinary stress. It is shameful for us to have to stand before the constant analysis, the critique, and the commentary about our Church, and the declarations of its failures and inadequacies. It forces us to address the question, “Why would we wish to be identified with an institution condemned with such widespread disdain?” We cannot avoid this question. This is the crossroad to which moments such as this bring us. We must answer the inevitable question put to us by the sad circumstances of this week with humility, integrity and courage, such that a new sense of purpose might motivate and guide us into the future, not with stoic resignation, but with genuine Christian hope. In this way, this dreadful moment in the life of our Church in Australia can act to purify and clarify our discipleship.
In this inevitable personal struggle, I am reminded of the words of the famous Scripture scholar, Walter Burghardt, who put it this way once in a homily he gave at a baptism. He said to the woman, being baptised,
“Sonia Maria, before we welcome you through symbol and ritual into this paradoxical people, this community of contradictions, let me make an uncommonly honest confession. In the course of more than half a century, I have seen more Catholic corruption than most Catholics read of. I have tasted it. I have been reasonably corrupt myself. And yet, I take joy in this Church, this living, sinning people of God; I love it with a crucifying passion. Why? In spite of all the Catholic hate, I experience here a community of love. For all the institutional idiocy, I find here a tradition of reason. For all the individual repression, I breathe here an air of freedom. In an age so inhuman, I touch here tears of compassion. In a world so grim and humourless, I share here rich joy and earthly laughter. In the midst of death, I hear an incomparable stress on life here. For all this apparent absence of God, I sense here the presence of Christ. I pray, Sonia Maria, that your life within this community, your experience of a strange God and a still stranger people, will rival mine”.
For many, the paradox presents as a contradiction too difficult to reconcile. But there will be those of us who can enter the paradox and discover a new possibility there.
In all that is transpiring, we are challenged not to lose sight of what is actually happening around us locally. Can we see that love into which we are invited by Christ exercised in our local communities? Does my parish family demonstrate this for me? Do I see this love exercised in my school community, in my agency? I can find the resource to continue to belong to this parish, or to this school, or to this agency if I see there the mystery of Christ’s sacrificial love being lived out in a way that calls me forth to the sense of what is really true, what is really beautiful, what is really good. I know that this truth, beauty and goodness is evidenced in abundance by the remarkable witness, generosity and faith of those who are present with us in our parishes and in our schools and in our agencies.
Through all this, we hold in our hearts all who are so deeply affected, in so many ways, by the crime of abuse in all its different manifestations and dimensions. The ripples of this wound at the heart of our life together stretch out in incalculable ways. Each time we are confronted with its reality is an opportunity for us to reaffirm our diocesan commitment to ensure the safety of our children and vulnerable adults. It is a commitment underscored by our faith in Jesus Christ in whom we hold the fundamental sanctity of every human person. It is our moral, legal, and spiritual obligation to safeguard all within our community. Only in this way can we genuinely foster communities of safety and care for our people and be the Church that we so desperately want and need to be. May the Lord of the future lead us there.
Pastoral letters published with permission from the Diocese of Parramatta and the Diocese of Broken Bay.