December 2012

We need to ritualise our lament

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 Good Samaritan Sister Clare Condon.

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

Sister Clare Condon is a former Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. She served as leader from September 2005 until September 2017. In 2013, Clare was awarded a Human Rights Medal by the Australian Human Rights Commission in recognition of the Good Samaritan Sisters’ work with asylum seekers, Indigenous Australians and the victims of domestic violence. In 2022, Clare was awarded an Honorary Doctor of the University from Australian Catholic University.

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