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Two responses to Bishop Pat Power


What do Hans Kung, Geoffrey Robinson, and Pat Power have in common?

They have all commented recently on the crisis in the Catholic church, both locally and universally.

This is a crisis that emanates from the pain and suffering of the hundreds if not thousands of victims of church personnel in the sex abuse cases that we already know about, and those which remain private. However, the other aspect of the crisis, that these three eminent churchmen have broken ranks to highlight, is the dwindling confidence of the diminishing faithful in the leadership offered by their bishops, including the Bishop of Rome.

This apparent lack of awareness by many of the bishops of the world, and even in Australia, was highlighted again for me by the recently released pastoral letter from the Catholic Bishops of Australia for the Feast of St Joseph the Worker. It makes for interesting reading. The subheading is 'A time to set new rules'.

For the bishops to speak publicly on the social justice issues surrounding the economy and the plight of low paid workers is right and proper. However, in the current climate one wonders whether anyone will listen, and whether the bishops can see any irony in their words.

The challenges the bishops set before 'decision-makers in government and business' in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis could just as easily be turned towards themselves and the universal church as a result of the continuing sexual abuse cases and the way they are and have been grossly mishandled in many instances.

Their instructions include the following, and I have taken the liberty of substituting in square brackets the words that could be used to assist the bishops to reflect on their own behavior:

  • We must restore trust in the structures of our society by reducing disparity in wealth [read 'power'] and ensure the market [read 'church'] is not 'the place where the strong subdue the weak'
  • Equity and justice must be built into the very operation of the market [read 'church'] and be respected.
  • Industry [read 'church leaders'] must be accountable not only to shareholders but also to workers, clients, suppliers and the community
  • Respecting the God-given dignity of each person and the needs of the most vulnerable, we must move beyond simply ensuring commutative justice (giving in order to receive) and even distributive justice (the duty to give the minimum owed according to basic needs). We must now consider a higher level of justice based on social solidarity, generosity and compassion.

Imagine what changes could be effected if this advice were taken on board by our bishops.

The Pastoral Letter concludes with a quotation from Pope Benedict himself, that could not be more apt for the current crisis in the church if it were written for this purpose and not in relation to the GFC:

The current crisis obliges us to re-plan our journey, to set ourselves new rules and to discover new forms of commitment, to build on positive experiences and to reject negative ones. The crisis thus becomes an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future.

The bishops and the church should be grateful to Bishop Robinson for his work on setting up structures to deal with and prevent cases of sexual abuse within the church. They also owe him a public apology for the way they treated him after the publication of his book. The analysis he provided was timely and thorough; the warnings he gave have come to pass; the measures he advocated have not been taken up, and so the mess will continue.

As they did with Bishop John Heaps years before, Robinson's brother bishops cut him adrift and attempted to publicly humiliate him. This only gave him more publicity. He has never been more free to do the good work he began years ago than he is now, freed from his episcopal responsibilities. The Australian bishops need to eat humble pie before they are discredited altogether. Robinson will end up being vindicated.

Clearly and thankfully, Bishop Power has also decided he will not be restricted by some misguided notion of club solidarity and loyalty, and speaks the truth as he sees it. He will probably be the next to receive some sanction from his brother bishops.

Recently, Fr Kung addressed an open letter to the bishops of the world. It contained recommendations for change within the structures of the Church, and encouraged the bishops of local conferences to 'act in a collegial way ... work for regional solutions ... [and] use the episcopal authority that was reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council' to address the real needs of the faithful under their care.

The letter has received much publicity. For this not to be an agenda item on the next meeting of the Australian Bishops Conference would be to ignore the 'elephant in the room'. To address the issues he raises, many, if not all, of which are relevant to the faithful in this nation, seems to be of the utmost importance.

This view has been reinforced by Power's recent comments in Eureka Street. It seems to me that facing these issues with humility, honesty and courage, with a pledge to seek guidance from the 'ordinary' faithful would, as Kung suggests, provide 'signs of hope and encouragement and give our church a perspective for the future'.

The child sex abuse cases are not part of history. The cases are ongoing. The hurt experienced by victims continues. The causes are by and large unaddressed. The ramifications for the whole church are significant.

Along with many who have expressed their thoughts and feelings on these matters, I desperately hope these pleas from at home and abroad, summed up by Kung, Robinson and Power, will not fall on deaf ears, but be genuinely considered as a matter of the utmost urgency when the Australian Bishops next meet.

–Shane J. Wood cfc

The Absence of 'Faith' in a Bishop's essay

When a Catholic bishop writes in a public forum proposing a solution for a serious Church problem without reference to faith, holiness and grace, it gives cause for concern. Indeed, Bishop Pat Power's paper in the Canberra Times and Eureka Street fails to recognise that the clerical abuse crisis is ultimately a crisis of faith, the inability to see and treat others as the images and children of God.

By failing to recall a main focus of Vatican II teaching that all in the Church, whether they belong to the hierarchy or not, are called to holiness, his paper stands in marked contrast with Archbishop Philip Wilson's 'Letter to Women from the Catholic Bishops of Australia' issued in February 2010. In this letter, writing in his capacity as President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Wilson declares that 'holiness of life is the greatest service any of us can give our Church and our world'.

Power's paper also does not highlight the primacy of prayer and the Eucharist in this Year for Priests, ideas that Pope Benedict XVI emphasises in his recent letter to the Church in Ireland. It is worthwhile to recall Georges Bernanos' Diary of a Country Priest and Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory, both of which treat the theme of God's grace in a powerful and moving manner, an idea that did not rate a mention in Bishop Power's article.

Another concern is that by arguing for 'a total systemic reform of Church structures' without discussing in detail the strategies that should precede this reform Power did not pay sufficient attention to one of the most basic management principles, that 'structure follows strategy'; that is, strategy determines structure, not vice versa.

Here strategy has to do not only with vision and mission, but also with people (how to recruit, train and retain) and with organisational culture.

My final observation is that it is not beneficial to simplify the complex issues relating to Vatican II reforms in a couple of sentences crafted mainly for public consumption. Power's message gives a clear impression of sincerity, urgency, and also frustration.

My wish is that Bishop Power will use his ready access to the media to address other critical issues facing the Church, namely, atheism (does God exist?), interfaith dialogue (who is God?), and social justice or the dialogue with the poor (where is God?).

Peter Hai


Shane Wood cfc lectures on the Broome Campus of the University of Notre Dame Australia. He has previously worked in the Office of Justice, Ecology & Peace and as Professional Standards Coordinator for the Diocese of Broome.


Peter Hai holds a doctorate in theology from the Australian Catholic University and the Vice-Chancellor's Award for Excellence in the PhD Thesis for his dissertation on the role of lay people in the documents of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences.

Topic tags: Shane Woods, Peter HaiHans Kung, Geoffrey Robinson, Bishop Pat Power, church sex abuse scandal



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Existing comments

Thank you, Brother Shane.

Peter Hai still doesn't get it, does he? Holy words do not necessarily lead to holy deeds.

Questioner? | 03 May 2010  

Something else that Prof. Kung, Bishop Robinson and Bishop Power have in common is that they are headline-seeking, disruptive figures of questionable orthodoxy (well beyond questionable in Kung's case). Brother Woods' article is a petty and mean-spirited response to the bishops' honest intervention on social justice issues. The fact that the Church is experiencing severe problems in one area of its life does not cancel its responsibility to teach.

New rules, procedures and guidelines HAVE been developed in various parts of the Catholic world to deal with the clerical abuse crisis. The Church is ahead of other institutions which have the same problem and the Australian Church has been a leader in the field. One of the church leaders to have recognised the seriousness of the situation and to have done something about is Benedict XVI.

Sylvester | 03 May 2010  

Thank you Shane for addressing the issue.

Dr Hai must be under the illusion that these days newspapers publish doctoral theses. From years of experience I can assure him they don't.There is a limit to what you can say in 600 to 800 words - the limit that even Eureka Street imposes.

According to Dr Hai poor Bishop Power was expected to explain the modern crisis of faith, holiness, the Eucharist, the year for priests, George Bernanos, Graham Greene, as well as outline the details of a complete structural renewal of the Catholic Church. Did I miss anything?

Paul Collins | 03 May 2010  

What does growing in holiness mean? For many of us a strong element of it is about accepting the fact that we cannot live our ideals in any really consistent manner. In the end ideals guide us, they cannot be us. The process of accepting this is to walk the way of disillusionment. As we lose our unrealistic illusions about the reality of a human life we begin to experience the grace that has always been there for us. Human life can be messy and profoundly lacking - far from the ideal. Grace holds us and loves us in this reality. These are the lessons that Graham Green gives us in 'The Power and the Glory'. I believe this book should be essential reading for every clerical leader of our Australian Catholic Church.

Andrew McAlister | 03 May 2010  

Yes, Sylvester. And what Benedict XVI did was to place the good of the Church before the good of the victims. That worked a treat, didn't it?

Erik H | 03 May 2010  

I agree with Erik H. Unfortunately the reputation of the Church is always seen to be more important then addressing the medical and counselling treatment needed by the victims of such terrible abuse. I too hope these matters will be considered when the Bishops meet.

Anne K | 03 May 2010  

I spent 46 years teaching religious education to the young. I concluded that the language that the official Church uses, and Peter Hai does too, has little or no meaning to most of the young people I taught after 1970 (and few before that). Jesus noted, and Charlie Brown took it up, that if you see someone hungry and standing in the snow freezing you are wasting your time telling them that the Word of God is warming and satisfying. You feed the poor sods.

I am with Pat Power and Geoffrey Robinson.

Graham English | 03 May 2010  

Grahame, your comments are exactly mine. Sadly Bishop Pat has already suffered for his openness, integrity and honesty. He spoke at the Marian Procession at Galong (NSW) on Sunday and touched on the issue along with many other observations concerning today's Church.

Sadly Peter, I wish what you wrote was true. From personal experience I know it is not the case. The Bishops have to grasp the reality or they will become totally irrelevant, particularly to our young people-tomorrow's Church.

Gavin | 03 May 2010  

The idea that prayer and holiness is somehow distinct from the honesty, courage and integrity that Bishop Pat Power has demonstrated, and that clerical abuse results from a crisis of faith that does not see others in the image of God, is divorced from awareness of personal responsibility, insight and true wisdom. It is the lack of psychological and spiritual awareness that is part of the problem besetting the church. There is very little in the way of 'how', of a path of practice to enable priests (and laity) to become who they are as children of God, made in the image, and becoming in the likeness of God.

Margaret Smith | 04 May 2010  

Dr Hai,

1) The bishops' and cardinals' systematic & worldwide coverup of their subordinate clergy's sexual abuse of the innocent ARE AIDING & ABETTING FELONY CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES, not just "moral failings". So faith has little to do with this irresponsible lack of basic leadership among the bigwigs of the Church.
2) Actions speak louder than words, so all the holy prattle in the world can't compete with checks and balances in human groups needed to contain the typical human, though sinful, imperfections...

KMC | 04 May 2010  

Brother Shane Wood cfc incorrectly attributes the St Joseph the Worker Pastoral Letter to the Australian Catholic Bishops. It is merely the Pastoral Letter on one Bishop on a topic in keeping with the themes normally associated with that day. Brother Wood might do well to try to pay attention to details. They are important in the matter of communicating truths. Perhaps he might then try to find some other means as a platform to lecture the Bishops on the efficacy his negative opinions..

salan | 04 May 2010  

I read Geoffrey Robinson’s book over the last couple of days in an attempt to understand Bishop Power.

Robinson’s book is not about sexual abuse. It is an attack on papal authority and the Church’s magisterium, particularly that to do with human sexuality.

Robinson’s analysis reflects an understanding of human sexuality held by the Church in Australia in the 1950’s. He does not even mention the radical new perspective on human sexuality (Theology of the Body) pronounced by Pope John Paul II in the early 1980’s. For this reason alone the book lacks credibility.

Today, action is called for on sexual abuse in the Church and it is being taken. Married women should have a role in the education of priests and seminarians.

However, Robinson and Power have the blinkers on when it comes to the most important long term action. The prophecy of Humanae Vitae (consequences of artificial birth control) has come about: infidelity, general lowering of morality, loss of respect for women, imposition of a method of fertility control by governments that they judge to be the most efficacious, and the widespread erosion of marriage with its grave consequences for both Church and State.

Restore Christian marriage and a lot of other things will come right. To do so let each of us heed that Christ’s Church is putting herself at the service of our conscience.

Les Broderick | 06 May 2010  

I have been very interested in the comments made to the articles. They demonstrate the fact that a lively debate is necessary to sort out a few things. 'Salan' (who unlike the authors chose to remain anonymous) mentioned the fact that one bishop only signed the May 1st statement. He is correct. However, the committee is one established by the Bishops of Australia.

The legal or technical nicety of separation here is parallel to one of the crucial issues in the current structure of the church that has enabled so much of the child sex abuse issue to remain untouchable in the isolated principalities we call 'dioceses', where bishops can act with unchallenged authority with little or no accountability to anyone except he who appoints them - the Pope. And he is a long way from the action even if he was inclined to do something.

Shane Wood cfc | 07 May 2010  

There was a time when the Church was held in the clutches of a Romantic ideal. I was victim of this. This ideal raises up the lone spiritual community, the lone warrior, and gives her little support to cope with the loneliness of her commission. The woman who feels first and thinks second is at risk here. She will be faithful to the Church which feeds her, but she will not understand why she is so tired, and why she can't rest.

Let us encourage women to participate in the Church - thanks to the Bishops of Australia for their letter to Catholic women - but let us also challenge them personally to risk personal growth. This growth occurs when one feels supported to the extent that one is challenged, to allow one's self-concept to die, in order to bear fruit.

We are not alone. We are the body of Christ. We need our ordained priests to be holy because they can remind us of the wealth of poverty: that when one is first is invited by love to pray without words tears supply the rest.

(former university catholic student leader, former Catholic school teacher, present-day apostolate as parent and lover-spouse.

Louise Jeffree | 11 May 2010  

What have my tears given me?

Why must I arrange a time to sit with my sisters and cry?

My tears, my hot and salty tears yesterday afternoon, were the sign of sanity. Of frustration that I was too tired to be the heroine for fear of crashing the car (tiredness is like being drunk). Tears come with the death of expectations - imposed upon and accepted by superwomen. It is important to recognise when one accepts the responsibility to love oneself in order that one may feed others. But also that it is a social sin that everything is left to the woman.

Yesterday I cried (only one or two tears, mind you! the recognition was enough) for I was too tired to leave my house and drive to Woolies. With my vigorous newborn asleep and full with milk in my arms, I called my husband, who is currently in the 10th week of parental leave (unpaid, but subsidised by family) to pick up the few necessities for me. He was reluctant - out with a boys day with my son, but when I reminded him that the Holy, windy, Spirit was howling outside he concurred that a shopping trip was saner than a bush bash and he nobly turned for home.

Louise Jeffree | 11 May 2010  

Q: What do Hans Kung, Geoffrey Robinson, and Pat Power have in common?

A: They are all heretics.

G Chambers | 12 June 2010  

Well said!!! Following the May 2008 Australian Bishops statement on Bishop Geoffrey Robinson,I wrote a letter to the Bishops along the same lines as your article and received no reply which I took to mean that the Bishops had no interest in hearing what I had to say and that they were living in their own little world and had their heads buried in the sand.

Ray Ham | 17 October 2010  

In a recent TV debate, Cardinal Pell revealed a grasp of theology that surprised many viewers.

He dismissed the old testament story of Adam and Eve as a myth.

Unfortunately a large part of the Catholic faith is based on that story being true.

Traditional teaching has been that after Adam and Eve were forced to leave the garden of Eden, they were sent into exile and their children
were to forever be regarded as having an inclination to wrong doing
and in need of redemption.

Jesus came to save us from our sins and his crucifixion was to that end.

To dismiss the story of Adam and Eve as a myth, suggests that most catholic theology lacks a sound basis.

Which is not the end of course, as the new Testament tended to preach positive values and even perhaps the universal brotherhood of mankind.

Cardinal Pell's foray into radical theology may have ruled him out as a
possible future Pope, but he might be some kind of modern Prophet now

Jim Bernard | 23 April 2012  

Peter Hai's criticisms of Bishop Power's remarks would carry more weight if he also addressed in a more direct way what to do about the hierarchy's involvement in dealing with bishops and priests who used their power to sexually abuse children. Yes, prayer and more faithfully following The Way is a necessary stragety. Is Dr. Hai arguing that is also sufficient? What did Jesus do when the leaders of His church failed its people? In my reading of the Good News, He spoke out radically for His time. Dr. Hai's comments do not reflect that he seeks to follow that example. To me, Bishops Robinson & Power, & Fr. Kung, more closely emulate Christ's example.

lpmulligan | 09 June 2012  

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