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Heed the voice of the wounded child

22 Comments
Moira Rayner |  14 November 2013

Young girl, sad face, head bowedThe findings of Victoria's parliamentary inquiry into the sexual abuse of children in non-government institutions surprise nobody who has been listening. But they are listening to adults, not children. The truth is, we started to talk about emotional, physical and sexual maltreatment as children in the '60s and '70s, when the language and concepts of 'abuse' were developing through the research. The cone of silence started to lift a little. We know now why it did: there were just too many dirty secrets underneath.

And there were a lot more opportunities to talk about them — group and individual therapy, therapeutic and spiritual and 'self-actualisation' movements — and even newly accessible professional, medical, and free and empathetic legal services. As the wounded child within the damaged man or woman spoke, it was eventually realised that if it happened then, it could be happening now.

Unless we take children seriously as people, it will. Unless individuals within the culture of their institution see it as a duty to stick their necks out and challenge its culture, it will. Unless bishops and their helpers and archbishops and cardinals and religious supporting them in their spiritual work take personal responsibility for protecting vulnerable people ahead of protecting the reputation of their institution, it will happen again.

A report of misconduct by even a very powerful person within that institution should not lead to the expulsion of the messenger. It should bring into question the culture of the organisation, that such a report could surface decades after the reported misconduct. It could just happen again. I am acutely aware of the present day experience of Professor Patrick Parkinson, who was asked to advise one Catholic teaching order on its culture, and then withdrew, citing institutional obduracy and avoidance as making the completion of his task impossible.

Still, today, Catholic orders and institutions have chosen to rely on 'the Law' and their insurers' caveats, on avoiding admissions at the cost of empathy and pastoral care, on challenging reporters to proof of facts and liability. It is, to put it mildly, bad spirit. The dirty secrets about the misuses of power come from the structure of the unincorporated church, with its multitude of trusts and shadowed networks.

For hundreds of years, powerful men have decided who gets to talk, and who influences their exercise of authority. For a couple of thousand years the Roman Catholic Church has operated as a feudal empire, now limited monarchy. Even though this started to change a little in the 1960s, the mindset has not.

Only a person with power, in a hierarchy, who does not perceive that 'even' a child is a possessor of dignity and knowledge and a perspective on the world that comes from their own experience, could assault, seduce, blackmail or gratify their sexual needs on the body of one. But the covering up of that offence, the protection of the offender at the cost of the victim, is far, far worse.

Institutions are a means of protecting and enlarging the power of those who control them. Religious institutions claim their ultimate authority from their founders, which makes challenging their fallible use of power a blasphemy. Once, 'Christendom' was an international institution, and it repressed unorthodoxy and encouraged compliance, while later allowing the saints as thorns in their sides that goaded them back onto the right path. This was in an age when the secular concept of 'incorporation' had no meaning.

Christianity is a diverse community now. Perhaps we should use the word 'incarnation' to reflect the fact that Christian people are the church, and to appreciate the full horror of a hard-hearted priestly response to the agony of a child.


Moira Rayner headshotMoira Rayner is a barrister and writer.

Sad child image from Shutterstock

 



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When I was a teacher before I entered the seminary I and the other staff at our Catholic Primary School were inducted into the mandatory reporting tenets of NSW in 1987. I say induction because that is what it was, we were enlisted, as significant people in the lives of children to be their protectors and advocates against any sort of abuse or neglect. When I was in the seminary there was no induction though the first wave of criminal abuse began to surface with reports about sexual abuse of teens in Catholic Youth Groups. Now, in seminaries, there is much good work done with students from psychology to legal requirements. What seems to be the 'missing link' now is the wider culture and its lack of attendance to prevention of criminal abuse and neglect of children for the victim figures are on the increase. I suppose our society will again look at those very significant people in children's lives to be their protectors once more - teachers. And because of the failures in the culture, religion and religious practitioners will also find they have a significant role in both prevention and protection. Some of us never stopped actually.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew 15 November 2013

Brilliant article Moira. Than you for deeply understanding the realities of childhood sexual abuse. I have a question for Eureka Street readers and journalists: Are we now going to also be able and willing to 'heed the voice of the wounded ADULT" who, as adults, have been on the receiving end of clerical sexual misconduct. Yes, a lot messier and complicated after all, child sexual abuse is ALWAYS wrong. But, I assure you, there are many adults out there who have also been 'wronged' and deeply scared by their experience/s of sexual assaults, molestations, attempted seductions, both straight and gay, and who are still too afraid to come forward because they fear no one will believe them, or, think it was their fault, that they were somehow the seducers, just like their child counter-parts a few decades ago. I am so, so overjoyed that the victims/survivors of child sexual abuse by clergy are being heard; you have no idea how much, but I do hope that the many adults will be able to have their voices heard soon, as well. In the end, it is all part and parcel of a clerical system that needs major overhauling.

Stephen 15 November 2013

You are so right .

Bev Smith 15 November 2013

Brilliant article Moira. Thank you for deeply understanding the realities of childhood sexual abuse within the church. I have a question for Eureka Street readers and journalists: Are we now going to also be able and willing to 'heed the voice of the wounded ADULT" who, as adults, have been on the receiving end of clerical sexual misconduct. Yes, a lot messier and complicated after all, child sexual abuse is ALWAYS wrong. But, I assure you, there are many adults out there who have also been 'wronged' and deeply scared by their experience/s of sexual assaults, molestations, attempted seductions, both straight and gay, and who are still too afraid to come forward because they fear no one will believe them, or, think it was their fault, that they were somehow the seducers, just like their child counter-parts a few decades ago. I am so, so overjoyed that the victims/survivors of child sexual abuse by clergy are being heard; you have no idea how much, but I do hope that the many adults will be able to have their voices heard soon, as well. In the end, it is all part and parcel of a clerical system that needs major overhauling.

Stephen 15 November 2013

It is extraordinary that at the centre of the teaching are two remarkable examples of how to behave and how to be aware, neither of which get much airing in this debate, let alone a proper revelatory explanation. The first is the teaching that unless you become like this child, who has been placed at the centre of the community gathering, unless you become like this child you cannot be part of what I am talking about, in fact you are not even with me. The second is the blatant instruction to let the children come to the source of love and nurture and protection that is God in Christ. Every priest should be asked to meditate on these teachings in retreat, to work out the many meanings inherent in the teachings, to preach about them from their heart at least once a year. That would be a start. These and other gospel words contain the way to wisdom in all of this mess. They are a serious confrontation to authority, power and the whole ridiculous attitude of “leave it to the adults, they know best.” Christ seems to be saying, amongst many things said in these teachings, actually it’s the child who already knows best. The saying about casting the destroyer of children’s lives into the ocean with a millstone round their neck, is a more colourful counterintuitive way of saying the same thing. Do you know the average weight of a millstone?

Philip Harvey 15 November 2013

Thank you Moira for your brilliant article. It is disturbing to read of Professor Patrick Parkinson's experience with the Catholic teaching Order. There should be more outrage recorded from Christian people.

Carmel 15 November 2013

Dear Moira Rayner, The Salesian Order Province Leader, Fr Frank Maloney sdb, who opposed Professor Parkinson and 'Towards Healing' knew that "eunuchs" at Matthew 19:12 means an abstaining spouse and not a single person fraudulently.purported for economic and social advantages by their family members to be called to voluntary consecrated celibacy with the fraudulent inducement that consecrated celibacy is a higher calling than consecrated marriage. Maloney's convincing exegesis as a Scripture Scholar is found in his book: 'A Life of Promise: Poverty, Chastity, Obedience', St Paul, 1985 in the chapter on 'Chastity'.

Oliver Clark 15 November 2013

Thank You Moira. I have been experiencing that of which you write for a long time now. The seduction and gratification that occurs by and from some in priests in power affects anyone vulnerable to such advances. I for one found my liturgical membership of folk masses and my CYO socialisation turned into something else quite different by such a person in power which altered, negatively, my entire life.

Jennifer Anne Herrick 15 November 2013

Thank you for these brilliant words Moira! You have expressed the essential lesson- message -and a voice we need to have more loudly broadcasted forever.

Catherine 15 November 2013

I agree with the argument that the Victorian Inquiry raises questions of power within the church, not only over children, but also over adults. Vatican II unleashed much talk of ‘the laity’, but apart from the necessary replacement in existing institutions of religious by laity, this appears to have been essentially lip-service. The issue of child abuse goes directly to the accountability of the hierarchy. So much good-will and talent have been lost as many people have just given up, disillusioned. Now a passive culture seems to hold sway, while most of those laity who are still active seem to expend their energy on the frustrating issue of power within the church, rather than on the primary mission of the laity to the world. (On a different issue, while Professor Parkinson’s evidence in regard to different aspects of the clerical abuse issue has obviously been fundamental, a check of the report, and all relevant submissions and evidence, suggests that a little more caution in citing him may sometimes be in order.)

david moloney 15 November 2013

Moira's article made tears literally well in my eyes as I sit at my work cubicle. The so called "cone of silence" was really only a reality for church and other authorities. In the case of my Catholic high school - everyone knew about it while it was happening - from teachers, students, even the janitor - for a period of 2 or more years, and no-one spoke up about it (until 5 or so years later in court). We can't even start to estimate how just witnessing this situation warps ones's sense of sexuality, intimacy, love and belonging for sensitive teenager going through the confusion of puberty. How much of the relationship dysfunction we see today is as a result of seeing sexuality as something dirty and naughty and to be hidden? Most of my colleagues saw the light - but some like myself did not.

AURELIUS 15 November 2013

Dear Moira, thank you for this powerful article. Thank God for your intellect, compassion and courage. Your reference to Professor Patrick Parkinson's experience though fills me with dread and angry curiosity. How could a so called Catholic order devoted to teaching children remain so inhospitable to the truth after all that has happened? This rejection needs to be publicly exposed and those who are so resistant removed. I agree so strongly with your assertion that unless individuals see it as a duty to stick their necks out and challenge the culture around them our precious children will continue to be abused.

Martin Loney 15 November 2013

Stephen, I fully support and relate to what you have written.

Jennifer Anne Herrick 15 November 2013

Moira, you use the word Christianity but I don't see anything Christ-like in the way the Catholic church and its power brokers have dealt with the issue of abuse. Until the power brokers start acting like Christians the church will continue to lack relevance in the modern world.

John 15 November 2013

I find it disturbing when people point to "the clerical system", or "church hierarchy" or "power" as a the reason for the cover-ups. I'm not sure which translation of this passage is more accurate - some seem to point to a different meaning: "but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." I prefer the translation that replaces sin with "lose faith". To me they seem like different things - and would be appropriate for what has happened in this saga.

AURELIUS 15 November 2013

Fr Mac Andrew has failed to mention there were many who were abused in seminaries, some then moving on to abuse others so it's never a "them and us' .

L Newington 15 November 2013

I have only one word for your beautiful article: Spot on.

john stuyfbergen 15 November 2013

As the dust settles following the release of the report by the Parliamentary Committee and church leaders have made the appropriate sympathetic noises, it is clear from the the subsequent comments by Archbishop Hart and Cardinal Pell that the church hierarchy is determined to resist the core reforms recommended. At the centre of moves to provide adequate redress for survivors of abuse and prevent further abuse is the requirement for incorporation of church bodies. The church must be subject to the same accountabilities as other organisations including being subject to civil suit and vicarious responsibility for the actions of its agents. The church must be forced out from behind its sham corporate structures that are used to avoid responsibility. Moira is right; fundamental cultural change is required. While we are waiting for it, legal and structural reform might force the church hierarchy to take the issue seriously.

Tom Keating 16 November 2013

So if the hierarchy won't change, what are you, the people in the parish going to do? Ring your hands? Pray? Write comments in ES? Or just try to wish it all away?

Ginger Meggs 19 November 2013

Suffer, Little Children The sound of the muffled cry The thud of the bastard’s belt The cry of the unheard whimper The rage of the rivered welt. The scream of the dying spirit The silence of the slaughtered lambs The murdered love for the other The outreach of unwanted hands. The thumping fearful heart The pulsating jailed up rage The twisted inner wrenching The bloodstained, blankened page The tear of the innocent skin The rage of the blood red stream The fear in the tiny ones mind Oh black now the innocents’ dream One day all shall be avenged one day, all shall find their God Until that day These lives shall drain the earth until they crack that frozen, hardened rock of the faith-of-our-fathers-living-still Nay, of the bloody-mindedness-of-the-soldiers of-Constantine-possessing-still: They who will not see and will not listen to Christ voice, now screaming, piercing into their hearts and minds sobbing, “Suffer, little children, to come unto me”.

Anonymous 21 November 2013

The wounded voice of the child within and without. How wonderful there is an avenue to express your innermost feelings anonymous, whether they relate to you personally or not. Times have certainly changed haven't they, for all of us.

L Newington 21 November 2013

I believe in the prison system paedophiles are regarded as the lowest of the low and often have to be protected from their fellow inmates. There is a sense of moral outrage about what they have done and a desire to protect society from their incursions. Although I would not condone vigilantism I think the sense of moral outrage is a good thing. Jesus would, I think, have shared it for it is an abominable crime. Forget sin and the afterlife: it's something that needs attending to in the here and now. I think the failure to effectively deal with the matter is very much an institutional one. It is interesting that any real justice meted out is done by the secular courts. So much for the Church being the leaven in the lump. As Moira says, the Church is not just an institution but its people. I think that people needs to believe in itself and maintain its moral indignation at the way things are being handled by the institutional Church. The Church needs to do some deep soul searching. A return to Christlike humility, as envisaged by the current Pope, may well be the way to begin.

Edward F 22 November 2013

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