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Clarity beyond clericalism: Bishop Long at the Royal Commission

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The final sessions of the Catholic 'wrap up' at the Royal Commission have been dedicated to summarising and testing what has been said in previous sessions. The numbers of complaints, abusers and cases presented have been horrifying.

Bishop Vincent LongNothing should be allowed to minimise the evil represented in them. The panels of people interviewed offer some evidence, nonetheless, that children will now be safer when under Catholic care.

The most thought provoking testimony given was that by Vincent Long, Bishop of Parramatta. It was notable for its directness, honesty and the awareness it displayed of the importance of church culture. Bishop Long grew up in the Vietnamese Catholic Church and was afterwards chosen to lead the Australian Church. In his responses he focused particularly on clericalism and its role in giving license and cover to clerical abuse.

He worked out of a fairly simple distinction between two images of the church. One sees the church as a kingdom in which the subordination of the people to the king and to the hierarchical grades of officials is fixed and sacralised. The other is of the church as community with an ordered network of relationships that enable the nourishing of people by the spreading of the Gospel.

He associated clericalism with the first image, commended by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The communal vision was identified with the Vatican II and Pope Francis.

This distinction is often made. Bishop Long's contribution to it lay in his sensitivity to the way in which particular cultures mould themselves to metaphor to affect practice. In the Vietnamese church he saw a culture with a high acceptance of hierarchy. When this was married to a church with its own hierarchical vision, the result was a church where bishops and priests could act tyrannically and with impunity.

Reflection on the Vietnamese church sharpened his observation of the Australian Catholic Church and his identification of the practices that are an index of clericalism.

He was forthright and unambiguous in calling out the effects of using formal titles in communication with — and between — priests and bishops, of distinctive robes as the ordinary dress of the clergy, and particularly seminarians, of the lack of respect involved in processes such as that involved in the pursuit of Bishop Morris, and of the lack of involvement of women in church leadership.

 

"Bishop Long's account of clerical sexual abuse and its relationship to clericalism is persuasive. In the directness of his language and his refusal to allow disputed questions about the signs of clericalism to remain fudged, he presented a clear way forward."

 

Such practices encourage an abuse of power that lies at the heart of the sexual abuse of children, and assures the perpetrators that they will not be held accountable for it.

Bishop Long's vision of the church was embodied in the style of his testimony. He answered questions simply without defensiveness or circuitousness, in language accessible to the commission members. He also introduced his personal experience when asked. He spoke of his familiarity with the Vietnamese church, of his observation of the way the Melbourne Model had led to the alienation to some victims of sexual abuse, and of the effect that long conversations with nine victims in the Parramatta Diocese had on him.

In the final words of his testimony he mentioned that he himself had suffered clerical abuse as a young refugee in Australia. The authority of his words came not from his position as bishop but from his experience and the way it had shaped his life.

Bishop Long's account of clerical sexual abuse and its relationship to clericalism is persuasive. In the directness of his language and his refusal to allow disputed questions about the signs of clericalism to remain fudged, Bishop Long presented a clear way forward. It is to be hoped that it will be taken resolutely.

My only cavil is that I believe he oversimplified when he ascribed the 'kingdom' image of the church and its resultant encouragement of clericalism to Popes John Paul II and Benedict. Both popes in fact followed Vatican II in commending, often very inspiringly, the image of a communal church free from abuses of power. The opening to clericalism, perhaps attributable primarily to Joseph Ratzinger as adviser to Pope John Paul II and later as Pope himself, lay in their fear that the distinctive quality of priesthood was being undermined and in their consequent exaltation of it. This opened the way to the clerical construction of life and a priest and of the relationship between clergy and people that Bishop Long rightly deplores.

 


Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Read Bishop Long's testimony in full here.

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Vincent Long, Royal Commission, clergy sexual abuse


 

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Another very informed and helpful article. An attractive pen-portrait of what seems to be a scarce personality - a truth-loving Aussie Catholic leader. Surely The Realm of God (the Basileia, the Kingdom) as taught by Jesus, to be CLOSE and WITHIN us - the very Holy Spirit of Christ - must be strongly contrasted with 'the kingdom of this world'. The glorious Reign of God is no problem. The problem arises when those charged with its oversight abjure Christ's principles and embrace the world's way. The true way is servant-like 'power-under'; the world's way dominating 'power-over'. The first way hinges on faith and love; the second way on possessions and position. Many of the clergy have much to answer for, yes; yet doesn't someone need to ask whether a worldly, faithless ethos has also been tolerated among us ordinary parishioners? How effective will sincere clerical metanoia be if it's strangled by diocese and parish inertia? We can hope and pray that someone is planning how to effect the extensive grass-roots transformations that'll be required to support our beloved clergy - newly reformed in Christ and thoroughly de-clericalised.
Dr Marty Rice | 22 February 2017


"In the final words of his testimony he mentioned that he himself had suffered clerical abuse as a young refugee in Australia. The authority of his words came not from his position as bishop but from his experience and the way it had shaped his life". Yes, yes, yes! Because of my experience with Bishops, I seriously doubted even this good man. Not anymore. He was brilliant and in the ways you rightly point out, Andrew. And may I add, he confirmed my findings and developing understandings about so many elements of the sexual abuse of adults. Thank you Bishop Long and thank you Andrew. "My only cavil" is that, in your last paragraph, you sort of undid much of the good of what you wrote previously.
Stephen de Weger | 22 February 2017


If Bishop Long and his vision for the Church prevail, there may be a future for the Catholic Church after all. On Andrew Hamilton's view that Bishop Long oversimplified the kingdom image, one only has to remember that Benedict was keen on the princely trappings, wearing clothes and shoes to emphasise his position as the King of the church. The outward appearance gave testimony to the inward attitude. The impression given was that clerical culture was alive and well with him.
Frank S | 22 February 2017


I am a catholic lay mother. When I think of Pope John Paul II, I think of Youth World Day, and all the millions of people who flocked to see and hear him when he travelled to their countries. I think of his book 'Veritatis Splendor', a book I read in a whisper whilst breast feeding my beautiful new born baby boy, so he could hear it too. When I think of Pope Benedict I think of the 'Catechism of the Catholic Church'. When I think of child sexual abuse , I don't think the perpetrator as being a priest, nun, or lay person, but a Monster, attacking a small defenceless child. When I think of that child I think, that could have been me but wasn't. Had it been I would have wanted only ONE thing. I would have wanted a kind, determined person to have protected me, believed my words, understood my silent tears and mood swings, comforted me and reassured me that Monster no longer had any power to hurt and scare me or other children like me. Because I am a mother I can clearly see through the drunkenness of sin and denial. The clergy must now sober up to reality, not only admit their Monstrous crime but make radical change, by including a new VOW to never again scare and abuse helpless children as a cunning and hungry wolf left freely to prey on them have and would, turning their life into a nightmare. When I think of the Kingdom, I think of it being in my heart. That's the kingdom ever mother prays her children grow up to live in all the days of their lives.
A mother | 23 February 2017


I remember full well arriving in Melbourne in the late 50s to an Irish-Australian Church in full swing under the late Archbishop Mannix who, albeit a great defender of Irish freedom, was an autocrat in his position. I think that sort of Church was the environment in which all those evils you mention flourished. The early Irish Catholics in Australia wanted to get away from what they considered the patronising English ways of the first bishops who came from Downside Abbey. In a similar way we - whether of Irish descent or not - need to move out of the shadow of a diaspora 'Irish' Church whose day has gone. I notice Bishop Coleridge and Archbishop Fisher wearing, respectively, full clerical gear and a Dominican habit when talking about how shattered they were by the revelations of this Royal Commission. Bishop Coleridge then took the (politically) naive and unfortunate step of simultaneously launching a Church campaign against a move in Queensland to decriminalise abortion. Some of the language he used was taken up and used against him by the Deputy Premier, herself a Catholic. It was not a good look. The Church has lost credibility which hampers its ability to speak out. It will be a long time before it gets it back.
Edward Fido | 23 February 2017


Clericalism is the maintenance and increase of church power. It breeds contempt for the rule of civil law. This is a good article Andrew as its high time someone openly confronted the issue of the clerical hierarchy thinking they are above civil law. Bishop Long appears quite fearless in tackling the secret life of the proponents of abuse who hide behind their status and rank to perpetuate and cover up their abuses. And I agree, the way the powerful cartel of Messrs Pope Benedict, Pell and Coleridge attacked and vilified Bishop Morris was an absolute disgrace. Fancy accusing someone of heresy inter alia for wanting open and frank debate on the ordination of women. And issuing some phoney edict or verdict smeared with the snake oil of infallibility. Is the church a male club? Its degrees of status and title are akin to the aristocracy and its hierarchy of the middle ages. However whether children are safer as a result of the current Commission remains to be seen. Bishop Long is also right that women should not be treated as second class citizens in this "church". There has been too much emphasis on forgiveness for the abuse issue and now its time for some serious retribution.
francis Armstrong | 23 February 2017


We must see all through the eyes of a child. Only by placing the child first, can we eliminate Clericalism, and all the shades of abuse that stem from it: Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the last of all and the servant of all.” Then He had a little child stand among them. Taking the child in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me, and whoever welcomes Me welcomes not only Me, but the One who sent Me.”… What is so difficult to understand?..." Whoever serves/helps (not Lord it over), the least of my brothers severs,/helps Me".
AO | 23 February 2017


Why does it feel like the Archbishops still don't get it. I think Archbishop Costello just answered my question, He said "I just can't understand how people who have given their life to the CHURCH can do such things". Shouldn't they have given their lives to Christ and His teachings first and foremost - the Church supposedly being the institution formed [by Constantine] to uphold those teachings? If the Church is so full of failure of culture, well, if you've given your life to the CHURCH.....there it is. Bishop Long seems to have been able to discern the difference, possibly because he also was abused as an adults.
Stephen de Weger | 23 February 2017


Archbishop/s at the Royal Commission: We are all listening to your words!!!!!????
Stephen de Weger | 23 February 2017


Sorry, that should have read...We are "hearing your voice/s and seeing your face/s. Thank you Bishop Long
Stephen de Weger | 23 February 2017


Assuming they are listening (or reading), I would love to know how many of the more conservative commenters here are coping with, thinking about the Church leaders seemingly ceding traditional Church 'authority', structure and culture to the recommendations of the secular world (Royal Commission). The archbishops are falling over themselves trying to be humble and apologetic for all their failings - in the past. But are they in the past. Would love to know what Bishop Long thinks about this, too. So, is the Church now going to take their lead from the secular will? Just wondering. The Church has ALWAYS seen themselves as in the world but not of it, and certainly leaders of it. How does what all the Archbishops saying today figure with this central teaching/belief/culture?
Stephen de Weger | 23 February 2017


It was shocking to hear of Vincent Long's own experience of sexual abuse at the hands of the Church. Despite my compassion for his personal experience, I still think it is debateable to connect sexual abuse with the "perfect society"-hierarchical model of Church. Authority structures are a fact of secular life as well as Church life. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Regrettably we still hear of papal interventions to "save" clerics who have been outed as abusers, and this is a mistaken notion of mercy.
jenny | 23 February 2017


Oops-another quick point: Nicene Creed which we say at Mass :...."He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,and his kingdom will have no end." My point is we are invited to take our place in a Kingdom without end. That's a hierarchy. It is a permanent feature of the Catholic Church. Sorry about that.
jenny | 23 February 2017


Great article. Thank you, Andrew and even more to Bishop Long. His connection of clericalism and clerical abuse is convincing. Authority structures are necessary, even perhaps a hierarchy - but the particular form of hierarchy the Church has developed is, I think, unique today, and uniquely dangerous. (Sorry, Jenny, but I think you've misunderstood this). Accountability at all levels, decisions made at the lowest level they can be, and inclusion of females and males throughout the Church. I believe if we'd had all three, thousands of children would have been safe from us. As it is - better we should have been thrown in a millpond...
Joan Seymour | 23 February 2017


No one person has reflected on the subculture permeating throughout the church apart from sex abuse. The Jekyll and Hyde presentations one would never believe it existed., if the camera doesn't lie then that's enough.
Lynne Newington | 23 February 2017


Dear Joan Seymour, great comment. I agree with your 3 majors: open accountability (NO more secrecy); subsidiarity (participative responsibility at all levels); fully integrated with the godly wisdom of Christian women. This would work, especially if clergy and laity are free to 'say it as they see it' (Ephesians 4:25 ". . there must be no more lies. You must speak the truth to one another, . ."). Have we not also been gravely underestimating the opposition (Ephesians 6:12 ". . it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against Sovereignties and the Powers who originate the darkness in this world, the spiritual army of evil in the heavens."). Chatting to seminarians last year, we couldn't help noticing how naïve they were about what Pentecostals call 'spiritual warfare'. We need to teach them something more than just secular psychology, philosophy, and ecclesiastical politics if they are to know how to recognise spiritual attacks and how to defend themselves and their ministry. There must be no more clergy produced who, although technically highly competent, are yet wide open to spiritual/ethical deception. It's no good 'throwing them in the deep end', they need to be trained in this.
Dr Marty Rice | 23 February 2017


Thank you for highlighting Vincent Long's wonderful words. Surely the hope for the future, and one hopes the next Cardinal to lead Australia. My beef is that no where is the hierarchy doing anything to help the other victims; clearly the first victims are those who suffered direct abuse, and then abuse again by the cover up. They are always the most important. The other victims I refer to are the cradle Catholics who have totally lost their church and no longer feel able to be involved. The loss is immense, and we are left with guilt, pervasive sadness and frustration and no one gives a damn!!! Telling us to return to mass is an illustration of how little they get it.!!!Hopeless!!!
Morny | 24 February 2017


Canon lawyer Fr Thomas Doyle said "I don't know of any explicit canon that says that the interests of the victim have to take precedence or have to be significantly considered. I think if there was one a lot of our discussion would have been changed somewhat significantly. But the fact is there hasn't been as I said. I believe the focus has been on the perpetrator, on the priest." source: The Royal Commission 16-02-2017 page 42. If Moses smashed the first set of tablets when he descended from the mountain top, surely the church leadership can add new canon laws called for by international secular courts. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/_INDEX.HTM
AO | 24 February 2017


I would only add that we all who have supported the church bear responsibility. And how do we make atonement? It is not enough to say sorry, that we now have the problem under control. What is missing I think is a sense of atonement.
Joe McGirr | 24 February 2017


When are these blokes going to turn up in sackcloth and ashes at the local jain and ask to be taken in for 5 years penance cleaning out the toilets? BIshop Long could do community service.
Lee Boldeman | 24 February 2017


An important article, Andrew. Vincent's prophetic voice gives hope to many.
vivien | 24 February 2017


As always Fr Andrew Hamilton presents his point of view on a sensitive topic with courage and compassion. I listened to snippets of Bishop Long's interview and admired his candour as well as courage in acknowledging clerical abuse. He has set a precedent for healing and hope. Thank you to both priests.
JUDELINE WADHWANI | 24 February 2017


I seriously question the relevance to the Australian situation of what was happening in Rome. In my own diocese right up to the early 90s the Church was open and consultative.So rather than the response to abuse crisis being caused by clericalism I'd say clericalism was the response (of I guess an ageing clergy and episcopate). As has been said there is an inherent contradiction between claiming that the seriousness of abuse was not seen and the lengths gone to in covering it up.
margaret | 24 February 2017


No, no, no Jenny. Hierarchy and the Kingdom which was proclaimed while the Christ was dying in a criminal's execution are polar opposites. The writer of Matthew's gospel (23:8-11) , speaking in the context of Jesus' denunciation of scribes and pharisees, quotes him as saying that church leaders are to be called neither "Rabbi" nor "Father" because "you have one Father--the one in heaven," an anti-hierarchical statement if ever I heard one, and one which I don't recall having heard read too often in church. Good church leaders step down from the hierarchical exercise of power and lead from among their people, recognizing as Francis does that all believers are gifted with the Holy Spirit, and that the Church is a a group of "pilgrim people, always on the way." I think that you conflate the Christ's Church with that creaking mediaeval structure, the church.
Anna Summerfield | 24 February 2017


Clericalism is dogging the Catholic Church in numerous ways, the clerical child sexual abuse scandalous tragedy being only a symptom of a malignant cancer in our Church. Pope Francis has stated that clericalism is a Church cancer that needs to be excised. I can't see most clerics excising a cancer that they are part of. Lay people must demand that their Church hierarchy include them in decision making at all levels in the Church, including at the level of the College of Cardinals. If they don't, the Church, already seriously ill, will become just a largely irrelevant pseudo-religious sect. Christians are leaving the Catholic Church in droves. They have not abandoned Christ but they don't find Christ vitally alive in their local Parish Church. In many cased, they find clerics who dress and act like authoritarian Roman princes. I challenge Catholics to stay in the Church and reform it from within. The Catholic Church has enormous potential for good, as evidenced by its countless good works, but the People of God need to stand up and be counted. Clerics who are there for power and prestige, not service and living the Gospel, need to be called out and challenged!
Grant Allen | 24 February 2017


I went to Parramatta Marist Brothers from 1960-1966: although not aware of any sexual abuse( being a mere and mild kid), I did see the nastiness of one Brother, who later was jailed for abuse. I saw his mean side. The day that we marched down to Parramatta Park the day President JFK was assassinated in 1963 to play Cricket. Some kid must had made some comment or swore at him and he have the kid a backhander and knocked him flying. He was one mean critter and I had felt his wrath one day with the cane, when I avoided attending Army Cadets after school. 'Tis a shame that some of them are like that. The Church that Christ founded is perfect in itself; just some of the people He 'employs' gives His church a bad name.
Michael Richards | 24 February 2017


I am so glad people like Stephen de Weger and Bishop Long are speaking out about the abuse of vulnerable adults. I was a young adult in my twenties. I went on a retreat. The provincial of the Order gave the Retreat. He was a deeply respected man as a spiritual director. I was lucky (I thought) to have had the chance to meet him and have a brief conversation about my own journey. Because of my interest in prayer we arranged to meet again and as a result of this he was happy to become my spiritual director. Language has been mentioned. This man in my eyes had tremendous power. He taught me the Jesus prayer and sat next to me is his long robes encouraging me to remain silent. He gave me passages from the Song of Songs and sent me off to meditate on them. Everything was spiritualized and then within this context he started to over a period of time abuse me. Never for one moment would I have conceived that this man was an abuser. To me everything about the relationship had become so spiritualized through his direction that I was only to see God and me alone. This was his direction and teaching. Vulnerability has been mentioned. I came from a strict catholic background. I was to find out that my brother was abused as a child by a Religious. People outside this culture and within can judge my abuse as consensual but I can tell you there is nothing consensual about it.
Ann | 24 February 2017


The power, vulnerability and language is the same whether one is 12, 16, 19, 21, 28, etc. What happened to me years later when I tried tell others was worse than the abuse. People seemed to have no idea about the dynamics that took place; by that I mean the power imbalance and the prior concept I had of this man’s Godliness. My case was almost identical to that of my brother and other survivors who are under 18years. The results were shattering. My mental health deteriorated. I was fractured and I felt a terrible guilt and shame that I could have let this happen. I blamed myself, and others around me blamed me as it was seen as consensual. This was slowly destroying me. Lucky for me I found a twelve step group and was able to sit with other shattered people, many of whom are Catholics and began my own healing. What a sad state our church is in. I still practice. I have learnt through Recovery that no one is going to take my right to be a catholic away from me and certainly no priest. I wish the church could be filled with the people I have had the honour to meet in twelve step groups. They have so much to teach the Catholic Church. Thanks Stephen and Bishop Long for your love and care for those of us who still have no platform. My hope is that in time the door will be opened a little more so that the many of us who still have not had their stories acknowledged (women and vulnerable adults) will be heard. Ann
Ann | 24 February 2017


"clericalism and its role..." Clericalism began with Constantine. When he became Emperor of Rome in 306, he automatically became the head of any Roman Religion, with the Office and Title of Pontifex Maximus, a title he retained until his death. He referred to Church officials as his 'clerks', as functionaries to do his bidding. In 325, as Pontifex Maximus, he convened and presided at the opening of the Council of Nicaea, where the Trinitarian formula first originated, and so was clearly added to 'Matthew's gospel at this time. In 381, after 27 years and 10 Emperors later, the Emperor Gratian was the first to decline to use the title of Pontifex Maximus. It was then adopted by the pope. Clericalism was on the way.
Robert Liddy | 24 February 2017


Often it is overlooked that Catholics parents have as much love for their children as any other parent. This includes a protective response to any risk, Catholic mothers also talk to other Catholic mothers. So dare I suggest that if there were a significant risk of abuse, then enrolments would have fallen off dramatically. They haven't... so I conclude this is a witch-hunt...and not a realistic assessment of any widespread problem.
malcolm harris | 24 February 2017


I have been under the impression that experts are suggesting that men do not enter the priesthood as fully formed paedophiles but end up that may. If this is true then something happens while they are within the clerical system that encourages them to develop that way.
Ivan Tchernegovski | 24 February 2017


@ malcolm harris 24 February 2017. Malcolm, I am sure you are echoing the angst of many a Catholic, seeing their beloved Church exposed as it is. But his has had to happen and it's not so much about the 'witches' as it is about the victims/survivors who have suffered in silence for far too long. These are the members of the Church that Jesus was especially drawn to, not the leaders - except mostly to scold them. Was Jesus dong a witch hunt in regards to the religious leaders of His day?
Stephen de Weger | 24 February 2017


Thank you for this piece on Bishop Long. Many welcomed his evidence. I attended a baptism/confirmation Mass at St Francis, Lonsdale St at which Bishop Long presided. All present were struck by his sense of community, his patent sincerity, his all-round ecumenism. We are fortunate to have him a Bishop in Australia. I don't agree with your final paragraph. Pope John Paul's treatment of the liberation theologians hardly reflected the spirit of Vatican II. I have no difficulty in accepting the view of Dr Hans Kung: "This papacy (under Pope John Paul II) has repeatedly declared its fidelity to Vatican II in order to then betray it for reasons of politically expediency.... A mediocre, rigid and more conservative episcopate will be the lasting legacy of this pope". Of his former academic colleague at Tubingen University (Pope Benedict XVI) Kung said: "The Pope's theology remained the same as that of the Council of Nicea of 325AD."
John Nicholson | 24 February 2017


Is it not just a hierarchy/institutional thing, but perhaps something right at the core of Christianity? I had the radio on, but wasn't listening, recently, until I heard a voice which I instantly recognised. Not the person, but the tone. You heard that voice all the time at school and in church when I was growing up. This time it was that bishop or archbishop in Queensland talking about abortion. All I heard was the absolute conviction of total authority: "I am speaking for God, and you should obey". If this attitude is at the heart of your belief system of course there will be abuse.
Russell | 24 February 2017


What is so terrifying that the word "sorry" is unable to be uttered by an Archbishop to a long-standing suffering mother after the Royal Commission hearing this week? This lack of love and manifestation of fear and terror is EXACTLY the opposite to Jesus' message to our world. What, I wonder, is sooooooo difficult about being humbled, and thereby becoming humble, as a measure of "living" a faith of forgiveness and love? It's beyond belief (pardon the pun!) that the church hierarchy don't get it. Such hypocrisy can only help people find a better and more honest path of pilgrimage through contemplative practices ... away from geologically-based parishes ... where the God of life and vitality is 'elsewhere'.
Mary Tehan | 24 February 2017


Many of us are talking about "out with an old culture in with a new". Good,, but the elderly recall similar widespread, conversation in the aftermath of the 1962-65 Vatican Council. Reportedly most of the abuse convictions and a huge number of allegations are from those years when many restrictions on clergy and religious disappeared, as did many clergy and religious.The abuse claims were not properly dealt with (to put it mildly) and neither were parental complaints about many Catholic classroom R.E. and humanities teachings. A spokesman for another denomination has blamed poor recruitment and poor supervision for his denomination's abuse tragedies. Re Archbishop Mannixl (a most courteous and friendly prelate as I know personally), later this year we might hear more of his courageous stand against World War 1 conscription - the 100th anniversary of the second plebiscite.
Rod Manning | 24 February 2017


Stephen de Weger; “Shouldn’t they have given their lives to Christ and his teachings” ? I suggest they should have given their lives to GOD. Examples of human hubris began when it was thought that “God created man in the image of himself”. It continued when it was thought that God made Earth as a special home for man and resided just above the clouds and had as a primary concern the affairs of mankind. It continued when early man tried to manipulate God by offering sacrifices as bribes or atonements, instead of trying to develop within themselves the qualities they saw in God, such as generosity, compassion, tolerance, and love. Ascribing great insights such as the 2 Great Commandments to being ‘Revelations’ by God leads us to passivity, instead of working “as if everything depended on us”, and developing our God-given talents. Deifying the messenger and the structures set up to promulgate the message are further examples of human lack of diligence in cultivating the qualities that will lead us to know, love and so serve a Loving and Personal God.
Robert Liddy | 24 February 2017


Thank you Andrew, it's encouraging to hear about Vincent Long's honest and thoughtful testimony, and thank you Ann for sharing with us your horrific experience at the hands of a manipulative abuser. Your strength to keep up your faith is inspiring.
Morna Falkland | 24 February 2017


On clericalism and witness. Was the arrival of our Redeemer in a stable deliberate and significant? If so, do we acknowledge that first principle as fully as we should in our Church and in our lives?
Columba | 24 February 2017


Dear Mary Tehan, please don't give up on the Catholic Church. At 74 years of age, with hard-earned PhDs in both science and theology, I've travelled around the world and explored different religions and denominations. ALL religions have similar problems (or worse even). What is happening in the Catholic Church is possibly something like birth-pangs. Could you see yourself as one of the midwives praying and working for a successful outcome from all this blood and pain? From reading the life of Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop: it's always been a tough road for true believers. In John 16:1-4, Jesus tells us of the extremes that can be expected by truth seekers. Jesus also says we've to pick up our cross each day, if we are to follow. Reading the promises of John 10:27-30, shows that following Jesus is the wisest thing anyone can do; despite the seemingly endless scandals. Let's pray for each other.
Dr Marty Rice | 24 February 2017


@ Robert Liddy 24 February 2017. Well, you're splitting 'trinities' here but yes, you're right and only echoing what Jesus himself said and showed anyway. I thinks that's one reason I still like 'Christianity' in its essense that is: For me anyway, what I liked the most was that this religion said, "Hey, I'm not going to TELL you what God is like anymore - I'll SHOW you and I'll do so in your form, too so you can understand it". "And then I'd lie you to do the same - I can't work through mists and ideas, only through the bodies/actions of others, like I did with Jesus".
Stephen de Weger | 24 February 2017


@ Ann 24 February 2017 . Thank you for sharing your experience with us. We need to hear from people like yourself, in the same way that people needed to hear the stories of victims in the Royal Commission in order for the social mindset to change, at last. May your continuing journey be a very fruitful one, one which truly counteracts all the damage done. Peace to you and your loved ones.
Stephen de Weger | 24 February 2017


Although it is currently an open season on clerics two things need to be noticed. Firstly the many clerics who were not clericalist. And secondly the many lay folk and organizations who seldom challenged the clergy, those who remained silent during sermons and complained to one and all about the clerics but seldom spoke to the face of the offender. The collusion was mutual. Many of the reactive comments are understandable but they do not constitute the full systemic picture.
Michael D. Breen | 24 February 2017


Bishop Long is demonstrated in the article as the most authentic Church leader we currently have. Here's hoping Pope Francis would seriously consider him for the service of Melbourne as its Catholic archbishop.
Brian Gleeson | 24 February 2017


"So dare I suggest that if there were a significant risk of abuse, then enrolments would have fallen off dramatically." Malcolm i think you will find that enrolments did fall off for some order owned/run schools when the abuse scandal first emerged.Certainly in the early 1990s I knew of Catholic mothers who did talk (obliquely) and say there was no way in the world they would send their sons to schools run by the Brothers.But what happened then was that the places were taken up by non Catholic parents who wanted a bargain priced private education for their sons. And so the conspiracy of silence continued . I myself sent my daughter to a co ed boarding school run by the Brothers with no idea that one of the confirmed offenders was still on the staff there. In my view a wide cross section of the Church including laity is deeply complicit in the cover up. So today when the Archbishops are promising radical change in the future i'm just praying we can all be involved in the solution just as we were involved in the problem.
Margaret | 24 February 2017


Dear Robert Liddy, I tend to be in agreement with the brilliant Stephen de Weger. To me you seem to have argued well but, sadly, contrary to our much loved New Testament. For example: Philippians 2:13 - "It is God, for God's own loving purpose, who puts both the will and the action into you." This is NOT "working as if everything depended on us". As you declare, for the last 300 years we've been progressively throwing Jesus Christ out and depending on ourselves alone. This is the spirit within WATIC (western aggressive techno-industrial commerce) which is currently destroying our lovely planet as well as birthing the lust that is a driver of abuse by some clergy and others in powerful positions (much of which has still to be disclosed).
Dr Marty Rice | 24 February 2017


Is there a way to convey thanks to Bishop Long for his integrity and courage and loyalty to gospel values . I am sure many of us have been reinspired by his faith. In 'old age' it has certainly stirred and revived my soul to know there are bishops who are speaking as he is. I shall pray to Cardinal Arns (recently deceased but who also gave inspiring loyalty to gospel values) for Bishop Long.
Patricia Foley | 24 February 2017


Ann, your story is full of courage and truth, and many can relate similar experiences where the dynamics of vulnerability and language is not confined to persons under 18 years. Vulnerable adults are those who open up to and confide in an older trusted person or spiritual teacher. But vulnerability is not a weakness, it is a required condition for the life of the Spirit. God's life is with the vulnerable, not with the powerful. As Robert Liddy points out: Clericalism has its roots with Constantine, it is a cultural phenomenon with worldly values that have become entrenched in today's Church. The result is a Catholic culture that can only be called 'fake Christianity.' Jesus taught that there is only one true Father in heaven, whose life is dynamic and cannot be captured by Holy Orders. The notion that a priest has ontological 'being', which is conformed to Christ is not possible because of human nature which is always present in every priest and this means his character is always subject to physical appetites.
Trish Martin | 24 February 2017


While Bishops and clergy fail to respond to honest and critical comment from right-minded Catholics and instead surround themselves with obedient and well paid executives and greasing employees who will tell them what they want to hear, nothing will change. It does look a little like 'The Emperor's New Clothes'. The tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, about two weavers who promise an emperor a new suit of clothes that they say is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent. When the Emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, no one dares to say that they don't see any suit of clothes on him for fear that they will be seen as "unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent". Finally, a child cries out, "But he isn't wearing anything at all!" The child's voice has become a chorus!
Patricia Boylan | 25 February 2017


thanks Ann for being prepared to tell a bit of your experience. I relate to it all too well. The commonly held false notion that a gross imbalance of spiritual power magically dissolves at 18 years of age is a major barrier to abused parishioners getting just recognition.
Jennifer Herrick | 25 February 2017


The Church is better NOM era because it involves the laity. TLM introduction in our parish destroyed all the Parish community and unity. Over 200 laity left Parish and TLM still boasts just 20 - 25 laity after two and a half years. A small Parish. Too much Clerical control now.
RITA | 25 February 2017


Trish Martin writes: “The notion that a priest has ontological 'being', which is conformed to Christ is not possible because of human nature which is always present in every priest and this means his character is always subject to physical appetites.” Hasn't this argument been met by the definition of Christ as True Man in addition to being True God? Appetites are subject to will. Christ, as truly human in all things but sin, subjected his appetites to his will which in turn was subjected to that of his Father. Are we saying that no other human can do this? We already know, from common sensical and scientific observation, that even when will is not involved, age (and sickness) can diminish the strength of an appetite. So, the lure of an appetite is not absolute but contingent upon other factors.
Roy Chen Yee | 26 February 2017


Ivan, no indeed that is a distorted impression. The best I can offer is for you, if you have the time, to read the transcripts of the last RC Case Study 50 and you will found a font of information there.
Jennifer Herrick | 26 February 2017


ah Marty your retort to Robert is all too sweet given our dialogue in another article forum! In this instance we agree finally that NT encompasses OT or Christian Scripture encompasses but nuances Hebrew Scripture but both reject Pelagianism. Yes?
Jennifer Herrick | 26 February 2017


Why biased reporting? The royal commission is not about the Catholic Church - it is included - so where is the equal reporting of the brutal and heinous sexual crimes suppressed in the same way by medical profession? When will come one in the media remove the bias tag and speak up for women? RC has received reams of evidence about medical sexual crimes - who continue to suppress - royal commission terms of reference include medical profession and they are also guilty of covering up men in white collars who raped children as the children needed urgent medical attention - where are the medical records?
Brenda Coughlan | 26 February 2017


@ Michael D. Breen 24 February 2017 . Michael, I'm sure most would concur that there were/are many priest/religious who aren't 'clericalist' or abusive. However, one of the really sad things I've had to face in my own life and study is the realisation that with every single Catholic group that I have been involved with, and that's a few, all had an abusive, or misconducting cleric/religious or two, or more. Either that, or they tried to cover up one. This was not the fault of the laity - we were taught not to question or even suspect that a cleric could do anything wrong let alone at this horrific level, so, we couldn't recognise it even when it may have been in our face. But, some did. They were the parents of those abused. But they were told to leave it in the hands of the good Church who would deal with it, which is what good Catholic parents did. Then, as we have now found out, that cleric went on to abuse elsewhere. Yes, it may seem that it's "open season" on clerics, but perhaps this is because good ordinary people were, themselves for too long, 'open season' for clerics.
Stephen de Weger | 27 February 2017


Roy Chen Yee your question is a good one, but we claim with John the evangelist that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God." Jesus is from the Trinity so on the level of his divinity Jesus had knowledge of the Father. The question is: did Jesus have access to this knowledge as a human being? From the perspective of the priest to have knowledge of the Father is not possible except through faith and love for Christ. The difference between faith and belief is significant, because religious belief can take the place of faith. When Religion places emphasis upon belief rather than faith it becomes a power that can be worldly. A priest must always be aware of what drives his vocation: love (faith) or belief because belief can be driven by the opposite of love which is fear.
Trish Martin | 27 February 2017


I am pretty simple and I am trying to read and make sense of some of the responses. I am finding some of it is going around and around in my head. As someone who has been abused I often am faced with people who are trying to work out how to move on and address this etc. I think for me what happens is I am left with this open wound and as I have tried to express, it is a fractured pain that I find other survivors seem to understand and identify. Thanks for the responses I received from those who also identify with this pain. To be honest the last couple of weeks have been so painful. I would love nothing better at this point then to sit with a group of survivors and others who know this pain and to just hold each other. I am trying to still practice. Not one word of this whole abuse thing has been mentioned by our parish priest and I feel so alone in my local parish community. I feel like I am an alien and I don’t belong. I am feeling very alone. Could we all just sit with each other and express to each other that as fellow Catholics we care for each other. Because at this moment I need to know that more than anything. Please can we just hold each other? Is there anyway Catholics can start to come together like this ?
Ann | 27 February 2017


Ann, the feeling of being alone with your ongoing pain is a feature that all survivors experience. Sexual abuse cuts deep into the human psyche in a way that is best managed by sharing with those who really care. I have been doing this for years now and it does get better. There are a number of supporting groups in Victoria, I belong to a group called For The Innocents: Website is www.fortheinnocents.com You are very welcome to join this group. Have a look at the website and read the articles which may be very helpful. Honestly it is the bishops who should be running groups for listening, sharing and rituals of healing.
Trish Martin | 27 February 2017


Trish thank you and I will look this up. I have had much support but it all seems to be from outside the church. Toward Healing like these other supports can only go so far as can psychologists etc. The deep pain seems to me to need to be reconciled within and each time I try to keep attempting I have this wall I seem to come up against. It’s almost a topic that has become undiscussable at a parish level. At least that is my experience. As I mentioned twelve step groups seem to be able to really allow for that acceptance and identification. But that is still not my sense of being within the catholic community. Do I leave? Do I stay? Where is the forum to be able to even talk like this ?
Ann | 27 February 2017


Margaret, on the 24th was responding to my comment of the same date, when she said "and so the conspiracy of silence continued". Her theory does not ring true. In the provincial city in which I was raised... there were no secrets. Everything came out, gossip about everybody... but we never heard of any abuse allegations. Not until we read the abuse narrative in the national media. Which brings me to my own theory. In South Australia the media has repeatedly told of the case of disabled kiddies sexual abused, whilst in the care of the Church. Yet the guy convicted was not a priest, or religious, he was a volunteer bus driver. My point is this. If the popular narrative were true, about depraved priests, then why aren't media files full of cases of convicted priests?. Surely to justify or bolster their narrative they would use such cases. Yet their only case seems to be the one already mentioned? Why?... My theory is that a witch-hunt is usually light on actual evidence.
malcolm harris | 27 February 2017


I am at a loss to nominate any current Australian bishop to lead us out of this mess. Perhaps, and only perhaps, Vincent Long is one such leader but I don't know enough about him. I could however, nominate several bishops who should resign for the good of the church.
John Casey | 27 February 2017


Bishop Long's analysis is admirable and overdue from a still-serving member of the apostolic succession. In my lay view, however, it only serves to draw attention to that elephant in the room: sexual moral teaching. As Terry Eagleton remarks, "Christ was remarkably relaxed about sex". Far more, it seems, that the puritans who came after. Who first understood "increase and multiply" to be a command to be followed automaton-like, rather than the loving blessing of a fecund God? Who canonised the delusion that sexuality is purely instrumental and not a deeply human means of consolidating regard for the other? Why has Catholic "tradition" made sexual identity a reprehensible thing to be suppressed as far as possible - and its vilification, alongside the mystique of clerical power, ultimately the wellspring of abuse?
Fred Green | 27 February 2017


I would find it difficult to nominate any current Australian bishop to lead us out of this unholy mess. Perhaps, and only perhaps, Vincent Long is one possibility. I don't know enough about him. On the other hand, I could nominate several bishops who should resign for the good of the church.
John Casey | 28 February 2017


I think you should all have a look at the article on Eureka Street called "Language, Power and Harm in Clerical Sexual Misconduct" by Stephen D e Wagner (Feb. 15, 2017). Its about abuse of adults and the discussion that follows is amazing.
Trish Martin | 28 February 2017


The Church and her authoritarian structure simply reflects the patriarchal structures within our society. Clericalism does not stand alone. Abuse of children and vulnerable adults (those seeking to develop themselves one way or another) is, in our society, prevalent everywhere. Prior to Howard (who, like good clerics everywhere, believed that families were respectable places) we had funding and support for "Break the Silence" programs, allowing abused people to support each other in facilitated groups. The numbers were horrifying. This was changed to blaming Aboriginal men for abuse of children. They, like the clerics of the Church now, wore the guilt as a group. Authoritarian structures allow this abuse. Add this to children taught to respect and/or fear the power of the abuser. Add also the training of the vulnerable persons to believe that they are the instigator/naturally homosexual/ready for sex now/ a liar or their family will be shamed and punished. What do we have with all these things? We have a savagely damaged population of people who trust no one, and especially a good and loving god. Equality within the spiritual communities could help to change the way our societies operate. It is a start and best later than never.
Audrey Winther | 28 February 2017


Fred Green: Sigmund Freud believed that sublimation was a sign of maturity (indeed, of civilization), allowing people to function normally in culturally acceptable ways. He defined sublimation as the process of deflecting sexual instincts into acts of higher social valuation, being "an especially conspicuous feature of cultural development; it is what makes it possible for higher psychical activities, scientific, artistic or ideological, to play such an important part in civilised life". Wade and Tavris present a similar view, stating that sublimation is when displacement "serves a higher cultural or socially useful purpose, as in the creation of art or inventions". Wiki. Something akin to what Bishop Coleridge also said speaking about chastity/celibacy well lived. 24 - 02 - 2017 Royal Commission.
AO | 28 February 2017


Trish Martin: “….did Jesus have access to this knowledge as a human being?” The two views, that he did and that he didn’t, still continue among scholars. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. What Did Jesus Do. When tempted in the desert, he didn’t tell the Devil to go away because he was God. He rebutted each temptation by referring to an external standard, Scripture. That’s how a human being should discern between right and wrong, by finding out what the approved texts say. What happens when you’re unsure about the humans who are the official custodians of the texts? He had an answer to that too. “The Pharisees sit in the seat of Moses. Do as they say but not as they do.” The nuance is that it doesn’t matter whether you like the mouthpiece or not, it’s the content of what is spoken that is important. As for the difference between faith and belief, there isn’t any. There is only true and false. The Bible says that faith is belief in things unseen. The Church, pillar and foundation of the truth, tells you which beliefs of the things you cannot see are right or wrong.
Roy Chen Yee | 01 March 2017


@ Audrey Winther 28 February 2017. "We have a savagely damaged population of people who trust no one, and especially a good and loving god". Audrey, the more I study criminal behaviour, the more this statement is confirmed. Criminal behaviour, anti-social behaviour, lack of trust/the ability to trust, anger, suspicion, hatred, almost invariably has foundations in trauma particularly childhood trauma and abuse/neglect but also adult. A great deal of what is classified as mental illness also has its roots in such trauma (see B. van der Kolk). Thing is both are what one could almost describe as normal reactions to abnormal or unexpected situations of which trauma, high in levels of betrayal, is the greatest (J. Freyd). And yet, we still tend to treat such things as weird, deviant or odd things that fall out of the sky onto random people, from nowhere. Also, some call it original sin or the flawedness of humanity. It is definitely related to our inability to be perfect, especially as parents, or to have perfect childhoods and never be harmed in any way. However, paradoxically, it is what makes us creatively human in the best ways as well, if we have self-awareness. What our duty in life, therefore, as I see it anyway, is to become as fully self-aware as possible and to know what lies in our unconscious - damage, flaws and all - and that is driving us. We need then to deal with our own flaws, damage, trauma so that we do not continue the cycles of harm in any way, and even work towards healing them. I believe this is why Bishop Long's story has resonated so deeply and convincingly - he is living this.
Stephen de Weger | 03 March 2017


One more thing...Apologies to Bishop Long who may well be cringing at all the comments being made about him. More so, apologies for comparing you to other bishops. This no doubt causes you some grief, I suspect. But, we need to discuss these things, we really do, and we need examples to draw on. There are so many disillusioned Catholics and others out there who are lost, looking for hope, anywhere, but particularly in their home religion, like Ann above. We simply cannot give them more stones when they are asking for bread. Giving 'stones' causes even more damage, to more people. 'Bread' is 'humanly experienced truth' relayed with obvious sincerity. On this only can people be sustained.
Stephen de Weger | 03 March 2017


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