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Advice to Bishops on Royal Commission


ACBCIn two weeks' time the Australian bishops will meet in their biannual meeting. It is obvious the Royal Commission into sexual abuse will be a major topic. I respectfully suggest some matters for their attention.

I suggest they invite as many leaders of religious institutes as possible to be present and join in the discussion.

Individual bishops have already promised 'full cooperation' with the Commission, but the gathered bishops and religious need to have a serious discussion concerning exactly what 'full' cooperation will mean. It is vital that all agree in detail on this point.

I suggest that they invite a couple of experts to speak to them on what the Commission will probably require. For example, they might seek out some persons who were involved in the Wood Royal Commission in 1996. They then need to ensure that they are all on exactly the same page.

They need to be aware that one single bishop or religious leader adopting a different idea of what 'full' means can quickly discredit all bishops and religious.

It is obvious that, if a particular case is discussed in the media, the local bishop or religious leader may have to respond. On the national scene, however, there must be one or two bishops or religious leaders appointed as national spokespersons. It must be crystal clear who speaks in the name of all the bishops or religious, and equally clear who does not.

The appearance of Cardinal Pell at a media conference last Tuesday was a disaster for the Church. In saying that, I am referring partly to the words he chose, and partly to the non-verbal messages he poured out. I believe that, beneath the exterior, he is a man who knows compassion, and I know that he has acted decisively on many cases of abuse, but his compassion did not come through to viewers.

It is essential that any spokespersons chosen by the bishops and religious should radiate, by both verbal and non-verbal means, the three virtues of total honesty, sincere humility and profound compassion.

The bishops and religious leaders will need to set up structures through which they can ensure a coordinated response to the matters raised by the Commission. These structures will no doubt cost money. But it would be a tragedy for the Church if the perception were that the bishops and religious were willing to spend large sums of money on lawyers and others to protect them before the Commission, but were being less generous to victims.

This is as much a matter of perception as of reality, and the bishops and religious will need to be constantly aware of it, for they can be certain that the media will.

The Church can never be content with its response to victims and needs to continually revisit this question. I have been perturbed by images on television of several parents of victims who committed suicide saying that no one from the Church has ever visited them. I know the difficulties of following up on each family, but it seems to me that there should be some structures here too.

As a matter of attitude, victims and their families, no matter how angry, aggressive and difficult they may be, are never our enemies, but people who have been deeply wounded by our community.

Moving on to even more difficult territory, bishops and religious leaders need to grapple with the fact that to this day there has never been any serious enquiry into the factors within the Church that may have contributed to abuse. The John Jay study in the United States contained much good material, but it did not answer this need.

For example, there has been a bland assertion in places that obligatory celibacy has not in any way been a cause of abuse, but few people believe this assertion and, as a negative fact, it could never be proved.

Unless and until obligatory celibacy is put on the table for discussion, the question will not go away. The question is not whether it has been the total cause or even the major cause, but whether it has been a significant contributing factor. Personally I find it impossible to deny that it has been such a factor.

There are other factors: the absence of women from the priesthood or from any significant role in responding to abuse; the idea that every sexual sin is a mortal sin and the impossible scruples that this has led to; clericalism and the idea that priests are somehow 'taken up' above other human beings and are 'ontologically different' from them; the feeling of many priests and religious that they must be perfect or at least appear to be; the lack of a true professionalism among priests and religious.

Some of these matters could be dealt with by the Australian bishops and religious, e.g. professionalism, including such matters as better screening processes for candidates; more attention to human development in seminaries and novitiates; psychological assessments, periodic professional appraisals; the presence of a supervisor; obligatory in-service; codes of conduct and a means of dealing with those people who, after every effort, simply do not belong in the priesthood or religious life. Immediate attention could be given to these matters.

Most of these questions are beyond the competence of the Australian authorities, e.g. obligatory celibacy; sexual morality; the role of women and clericalism. Such matters could easily arise in the Royal Commission, and the bishops and religious leaders need to discuss how they are going to deal with them in a credible way.

Since I have been there among the bishops myself, I have much compassion for them and the religious leaders as they try to pick their way through a closely sown minefield. I do not envy them. They are in dire need of our prayers and whatever assistance we can give. 

Geoffrey Robinson headshotBishop Geoffrey Robinson is former auxiliary bishop of Sydney and author of Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church.


Topic tags: Geoffrey Robinson, Royal Commission, clergy sex abuse



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Existing comments

"The Church can never be content with its response to victims ... I have been perturbed by images on television of several parents of victims who committed suicide saying that no one from the Church has ever visited them." Ever since former Archbishop Peter Hollingworth's clumsy response to the family of a child abused by a teacher in an Anglican school in Toowoomba I have suspected that much of the seemingly callous attitude of the church's leadership to the victims is forced on them by insurance companies' lawyers. It seems to be that demonstrations of compassion are admissions of guilt in which case insurance companies will refuse to honour their obligations. If that is so perhaps as a first step the church might consider cancelling all of its insurance arrangements and just "cop it sweet". If that means a loss of church property, including schools and hospitals, so be it. Proudhon may have been a bit wild in linking property to theft but there is no doubt that property is a millstone around anyone's neck and is certainly a millstone the church can do without at this troubled time.

Paul | 15 November 2012  

Bishop Robinson's thoughts here and when interviewed on TV are the voice of hope for the Australian Church. I hope his wisdom is genuinely heard by the Bishops.

Narelle Mullins | 15 November 2012  

My hope is that whomever is authorised to speak on behalf of Australia's bishops is relatively young as the Commission could run for some years. My fear is that bishops are not familiar with giving public accounts of their stewardship and being subjected to cross-examination in a court-like context. The sheep will need to care for their shepherds.

Kim Chen | 15 November 2012  

Bishop Robinson has outlined for ordinary Catholics in parishes a sound plan of response. I would add a call that every Religious Order who has had to answer a charge of one or more of its members allegedly offending must contribute to the costs of the Australian Church in taking part in the Royal Commission. I realise that every diocese will be called on to contribute and that is only right. As for Bishop Robinson's remarks about Cardinal Pell, I would like to remind readers that Cardinal Pell has himself faced false charges of sex abuse and also, just in the last month has faced allegations of being involved in ignoring a complaint. I think he is doing as well as can be expected in the circumstances but agree with Bishop Robinson that a couple of spokespersons be appointed who can be the 'go toos' for the term of the Royal Commission. And as for victims not being visited, what about the excellent Pastoral Care Team of the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese, with professionals and one on one assistance as well as, where appropriate, group sessions held with victims and their families? I'm sure this is not the only diocese doing it.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew | 15 November 2012  

Didn't he admit recently that he would violate the seal of the confessional. I find it hard to retain the prior respect I had for the Bishop if that is so.

Adrian | 15 November 2012  

Back at the time of Sydney's Youth Congress ,many of us were shamed by the the extravagant sideshow & Chris Gherety in an article published in " The Australian " suggested Ratzinger should declare a "Year of Shame "over their disgusting responce to worldwide child sexual abuse . How prophetic was Chris's suggestion of a serious 'sack cloth & ashes'approach with sufficient dedication of $'s & cents (there seemed to be plenty available for the Congress )where needed for victim support . Remember Bishop Geoffery that Bishop Bill M made such a committment to liquidating assets ,if necessary & it cost him his job as an outstanding Shepard of his people . The declaration of "T Y of Shame "would also offer us a wonderful economy of words in trying to describe our highly dysfunctional Heirarchy ,simply by deleteing the 'e'.

john kersh | 15 November 2012  

What a great reflection . Thank you. We the Catholic Church have a right to clear this mess up. Remembering that we have some really great men who just happen to be priests &these men are great men going about god's work. Pray for all of us at this time!! Thank you .

Kerry Barrass | 15 November 2012  

I have never had the privilege of meeting Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, but certainly have had the privilege of meeting Bishop Patrick Power of Canberra Goulburn. They are two very brave men who have never resiled from speaking the truth as they know and understand it. All power to both. Two excellent spokesmen, official or not.

Tom Campbell | 15 November 2012  

This excellent set of proposals for the bishops is humane, practical, and clear-sighted. It is a relief to see some of the bishops finally speaking a language that is honest and understands the real meaning of the term ‘personal responsibility’. Thank God there are bishops who can cut through the crapola we have been getting from some of their other episcopal colleagues in recent weeks. It is also about time that the bishops and others in authority addressed the question of celibacy, because as sure as you’re born it’s one of the main issues on the minds of nearly everyone else in the church interested in this scandal. It is obvious to outsiders that celibacy-by-rule is a determining factor in the clerical culture of the Catholic Church. When the rule says that Father doesn’t have sex it means that Father is above question. Such a social reality cannot work because humans are sexual by definition. Pedophiles have been able to operate without accountability because the celibate culture disallows any questioning by lay and clergy. Many of the people in authority have not known how to deal with the scandals and have turned a blind eye, knowingly. The main obstacle to change in this area, for the bishops and others in the church, is quite simply the intransigence of Rome. Does anyone really believe that George is going to phone his friend Joseph and say, Look old boy, it’s time to rethink the whole celibacy thing. Fundamental in all of this failure to make change is that the only people who can make the changes are male and celibate and friends of the pope. That is what Des Cahill at the Enquiry means by ‘It cannot be fixed from the inside.’

YOURS TRULY | 15 November 2012  

Thank you Geoff. You, Pat Power and Bill Morris have spoken to us Catholics and to all the Australian people in recent days as fallible, searching, compassionate pastors. We know these qualities did not come just with your early retirements, whether voluntary or forced. We know that many of our serving bishops have the same qualities – qualities that will be tested when they all gather together this month. Five years ago in your book “Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church”, you said “there must be profound change in the Catholic Church on the two subjects of power and sex”, and that “what is needed is an open and honest discussion of such matters by the whole church”. You concluded: “When I see this open and honest discussion taking place, I will believe that the church is serious about confronting abuse. Until that happens, I cannot have this conviction.” Let’s hope and pray that this month’s bishops’ conference is the beginning of that open and honest discussion. Justice and compassion for all traumatised by child abuse requires nothing less, as does our sense of Catholicity in the modern world. Caritas in Veritate.

Frank Brennan SJ | 15 November 2012  

My immediate responses having met the man is "Respect! He the dude!". Why dont the media (and the Church for that matter) run with decent, level-headed, intelligent and courageous Catholics like him? Guess not sensational enough?

Valery | 15 November 2012  

"For example, there has been a bland assertion in places that obligatory celibacy has not in any way been a cause of abuse, but few people believe this assertion..." For this sympathetic Anglican observer it is blindingly obvious that celibacy is at the heart of the problem. Leaving aside the unfortunate priests who believed that they could maintain celibacy while they pursued their vocation, and found that they couldn't, the celibacy rule must be a deterrent to some good men who recognise that they are too attracted to women for them to give that vow. Further, some men for whom marriage is unattractive might see in the priesthood an alternative social structure superior to the loneliness of lay bachelorhood, but find in the authority given them by their priesthood an opportunity for sexual fulfilment too tempting to ignore. The gross disproportion between Catholic clerical abusers and those in the remainder of the church cannot be just brushed aside.

Michael Grounds | 15 November 2012  

Thank you to Bishop Geoffrey for offering your wisdom and insight in a pre-emptive way towards the agenda for the forthcoming Bishops Conference. I have always apprecaited the way you have "looked this issue in the eye" and spoke openly and courageously for the good of the whole Church and the human community. Your voice guiding us through this dark time for all concerned gives me hope.

Patty Andrew | 15 November 2012  

Many thanks, Geoff, for a characteristically compassionate, practical, and non-defensive proposal. You understand from within the complexities of the "minefield", but do not shirk the hard questions. And you rightly continue to remind us that the needs of the victims are paramount.

Geoffrey King | 15 November 2012  

Thank you, again.

Liz Hepburn IBVM | 15 November 2012  

Thank you Bishop Robinson for your clarity, these terrible crimes committed by priests and other people who represent the Church has almost extinguished the Faith and trust of so many Catholics, other Christians and all people of good will,in the very church which maintains has a direct succession from Jesus and the Apostles. We can no longer say "it is just a few bad apples", it is obivious that we tragically lead the statistics in the area of sexual abuse of minors. Finally Adrian here listed should see exactly what Bishop Robinson did say about the confessional, there were many caveats, to his comment one being he would ask the person's permission and so on. We must put innocent children FIRST. There have been too many crimes in God's name already.I will pray for all our Bishop's that they will heed these terrible revelations and build up the Body of Christ. Change must come urgently to our world wide church, the "People of God" (Vat.11) must have an active voice.

Margaret M.Coffey | 15 November 2012  

There seems to be much discussion on the issue of the sanctity of the confessional. As a Catholic, I believe that we can no longer ask a priest for absolution for crimes that must come before the civil court. A priest should not give absolution and do all that he can to persuade that confessor to admit to a court, his crime. The time has arrived for this seal to be broken as there can be no greater crime than the protection of the clergy at the expense of our children. That there has been so much heartbreak and tragedy, shame and pain, is indefensible. The Church, we love, is on Calvary with this - and the resurrection will be long and difficult.

Jane | 15 November 2012  

I very much appreciate Bishop Geoffrey's article and most of the comments appearing here. I am somewhat saddened by the generalisation made by Michael Grounds stating that there is a "gross disproportion between Catholic clerical abusers and those in the remainder of the church". This is the type of unproven allegation that the secular press state uses. Institutions can be more easily investigated than can the suburban family!

Kevin Langley | 15 November 2012  

With all due respect it is important not to confuse pedophilia and issues related to celibacy. Many of the cases involving the Catholic Church in Australia relate to pedophilia and this is a very different matter to that of a priest seeking an adult for sexual intimacy. The latter circumstance may be ameliorated by priests being able to marry. Pedophilia is not 'cured' in marriage. Hopefully the Royal Commission will allow many of us to tell our story and for the community to understand the devastation that is caused when our childhood is taken away through sexual abuse. Thank you for your article and its caring sentiment. I heartily agree with you that it is important to speak with compassion and humility and that we need to address the role of women in the church.

Carol | 15 November 2012  

Why not ask Bishop Robinson to attend the Bishops Conference and appoint him spokesperson? I can't think of anyone better qualified, knowledgeable, and sympathetic to both sides.

Fr. Noel FitzSimons | 15 November 2012  

Let's wait for the Terms of Reference before we get too specific on who is going to do what, where, when and how at the Royal Commission. If we really believe in the power of the Paraclete we, catholics, and other people of good will should be praying to the Holy Spirit not only to guide us but also our church leaders to do what is right and just to tackle the problem of the sexual abuse of children. We can't sit back and wait for the Royal Commission to do our duty for us. We, I, must look at what I can do safeguard children from abuse and to ensure that perpetrators are dealt with appropriately. Some of them may be psychologically sick and need treatmetn; some may be simply unfit for a life of celibacy; etc. This is not the place to canvass why some people sexually abuse children. Lets hope the Royal Commission will uncover some answers. But at the moment let us respond positively to Bishop Robinson's plea that the bishops and leaders of religous orders are in dire need of our prayers.

Uncle Pat | 15 November 2012  

" They then need to ensure that they are all on exactly the same page." Oh dear! Isn't that the problem? The Australian bishops, like those in Ireland, have all been 'on the same page' which is why you are all in this pickle. And of course, even if it were possible to have every Australian bishop (but clearly never the Cardinal) on the same page (in a positive sense as I acknowledge Geoffrey Robinson was suggesting) then the only power broker there is, the one who lives in glorious denial in the Vatican, will never be on the Robinson side of that same page. If you are to get any reform at all, you have to stop electing such insensitive people as your Pope, but with Pell as your Cardinal, what possible hope is there for a 'refreshed' view on what the Pope should be doing coming through when this Pope dies and we all wait for the whisps of white smoke? As for paying victims compo, the taxpayer has already funded this expense for you, out of our back pockets every time we pay our taxes and rates as we subsidise your overly generous tax exemptions.

janice wallace | 15 November 2012  

Thank you. we need answers to these questions to begin to develop an new senses of church that discerns with the Gospel as our reference point, not just taking for granted the system that has developed over the ages.

christine | 15 November 2012  

Good on you, Carol! You have got it right! I reckon we could do a lot worse than have Frank Brennan as the official spokesman - he has the media savvy, public respect and academic credibility that is needed. But the bishops would never have that would they. Let's hope they don't roll out the retirees as spokesmen They will be perceived by the general public as belonging to the old brigade regardless of how progressive and genuinely committed to change they might be. Undoubtedly the Cardinal will appear at the Commission - hopefully after an intensive course on how to say what he means and how to display the compassion and empathy which I am sure he possesses but manages to hide from public view with great success. Let us also hope that we reform the church through this commission not destroy it - a great risk if people start pushing their own agendas over the course of the hearings.

john frawley | 15 November 2012  

Don't any of you understand what Janice Wallace is saying to you in this and another current thread? The problem is not just the direct offenders and the hierarchy that covers up; it also includes the rest of you good people who are content to wring your hands, or pray for deliverance, or look to someone else to find a solution, but fail to recognise that the only lasting solution is in your hands. Geoff, Pat, Bill and Frank, among others, are setting an example, but unless all of you get off your tails and wrest power back from the Pope, the Vatican, and the cardinals, the Church will never be yours and you will continue to be treated like mushrooms and never allowed to think or decide anything. Rome and its hierarchy have treated you like children for centuries, and will continue to do so, until you all grow up. It's your choice.

Ginger Meggs | 15 November 2012  

Good advice from bishop Geoffrey Robinson. On the Eureka page there was a St Vincent De Paul society ad. The Catholic church does an enormous amont of good in the community through organisations like SVDP. We don't discriminate - if a person are in trouble and we can help we are there We have hospitals with enviable reputations, thousands of volunteers in every parish doing Christ's work. It seems to me the Salvation Army gets more free publicity than any other Christian religion, yet combined we would do more, much more. I am not being critical of the Salvos, whom I admire, but the disproportionate media coverage. Let's employ some seasoned Catholic PR people and tell the full story of our Church.

John Morris | 15 November 2012  

Please, please, please can there be more emphasis placed on the different forms of bullying apart from sexual abuse which has been rife in the catholic church. The effects of physical and psychological bullying can be as traumatic as the after effects of sexual abuse. Each form of abuse treats the person as a 'thing' to be used by the abuser for their own ends. This form of abuse can be perpetrated by women as well as male church members and can cause extreme trauma to those who have been objectified by anyone which misuses the power with which they have been entrusted. J. L.

Judy Lawson | 15 November 2012  

Janice Wallace has raised an interesting comment about Bishop Robinson's urging the bishops "get on the same page". Bishop Robinson of course means something good, for I'm sure he has in mind a unity of willingness to address the problem without a hint of self-preservation and with a common realisation they must all speak the same language of justice and compassion. But just because HE means that, there's no guarantee "being on the same page" won't degenerate into just a common "getting our story straight." Indeed Janice rightly points out that till now there's generally only been one voice, i.e.the "official" policy of the upper authorities from the Pope down. In a counter-intuitive way, maybe it's now time each bishop says what he honestly thinks and takes responsibility for the affirmation or criticism that might follow. Is it now overdue for leaders within the church to start being independent and morally autonomous and cease being mere "party" members? Is that why it's got so bad? Imagine if you'd heard of a bishop sending a telegram to the Pope telling him his policies and protocols were crap and he was going to do it differently? Maybe that's what's been missing.

smk | 15 November 2012  

I agree with most of what you've said here, Bishop Geoffrey. I wonder though if the following quote will have you following Bishop Bill further into the Papal bad books. Seems stronger than his words which had him sanctioned. "There are other factors: the absence of women from the priesthood or from any significant role in responding to abuse;"

Brendan | 15 November 2012  

Having heard Bishop Putney present at the recent E Conference on Vatican II, I think he would make a fine spokesperson for the ABC.

Joe | 15 November 2012  

Excellent piece by Bishop Robinson. As he says, "the appearance of Cardinal Pell at a media conference last Tuesday was a disaster for the Church." I've had my own battles with the Cardinal on his obdurate climate change denialism, and on that issue like so many His Eminence is stuck in another century. The Catholic Church in Australia needs a strong, clear and compassionate voice to take it through the absolutely essential Royal Commission process.

Tim Stephens | 15 November 2012  

This is an excellent appraisal of the significant issues facing our Church. Can I add, the loss of faith in Catholicism in Australia, and suggest the Bishops support the Pope's call for a Year of Faith which has been singularly ignored in the parishes of the Melbourne Archdiocese. Don't you think the loss of Faith is an issue, and will become even more so when the inquiry into sexual abuse shines the spotlight on the Church? Don't we need a concerted prayerful program similar to the Year of Grace, if we really believe in the power of prayer to effect change and an increase (hold onto!) the faith? Where are our Bishops? Are they too traumatised by this whole issue of clerical sexual abuse to offer leadership? Don't they know their Catholic faithful are hurting and confused too?

Judith Gibbs | 15 November 2012  

Remind me again how celibacy is the issue here?

Why exactly would someone who does not have sex finds themselves turning to children to satisfy their "needs"?

Is celibacy an issue with the thousands of people who get caught every year with child porn on the computers? Or the teachers who abuse those in their care?

I'm a single adult Catholic living by the teaching of the Church on sex and marriage. Though unmarried all this time, not once have I found myself drawn sexually to a child.

It's true that I have the possibility one day of finding someone, while a celibate priest does not. But I just can't follow the logic from lack of sex to pedophilia.

Meg | 15 November 2012  

Well said, bishop Geoff! On the question of the law of compulsory celibacy for presbyters, you are right to view it as a major element of a sexuality-denying church culture. Freely-chosen, vowed celibacy is quite a different, and valuable thing. But the powerful pedestal status automatically acquired by the no-other-alternative celibate cleric joined with the isolation and loneliness of his expected presbytery lifestyle can be a dangerous psychic mixture. Is not pedophilia a mental illness, an aberration of sexuality? To me there is an obvious causal link with compulsory celibacy. Why does the church insist on it?

However, in looking for solutions not only to this disaster of child abuse, but to the whole question of the presbyterate and the woeful shortage of ministers, I dearly hope we in the church can go further than simply saying, 'oh well, guess we'd better ALLOW them to marry.' Let's raise our horizons. Let's invite and encourage ministers who live in a wholesome relationship and welcome them. What a great blessing it would be for the church to have, alongside willing, vowed celibates, a large number of married presbyters (male or female), who live in and belong to local communities with their own spouse and families; who experience the same kind of love and relationships shared by most of their parishoners; who know what their life is like from having experienced it; who relate to and fully understand their experiences and problems; and who talk their language.

A whole new, rather,ancient - even apostolic, form of presbyterate. There would be plenty of us out here who would be available for that kind of ministry. Not a stop-gap, but a blessing. I would hope this would contribute to the smashing of that pedestal as well as to the healthy, human development of both our ministers and our church. I hope your voice, and that of many others may help to heal the sexual, or rather relational sickness evident in parts of our presbyterate.

John O'D | 15 November 2012  

In all that has been said and written about the issue over the past week, this is the outstanding contribution. This is not surprising, since no one is better informed or equipped to speak authoritatively on the matter than Bishop Geoffrey Robinson. It is a great cause for regret that he is no longer formally holding office among our bishops. We can only hope that his voice is heard and his advice given the full measure of consideration that it deserves.

Brendan Byrne | 15 November 2012  

What you are proposing here is simple old fashioned Anglicanism. It has worked for 400 years and it's not too late for the Roman Church to take up the practice. Mind you, the Church should have taken it up at Trent. And why didn't it?

To John O'D | 15 November 2012  

I have had experience of folk (mostly women) who were sexually abused by their fathers and the fathers were Anglican and Protestant clergy or active members of these denominations. A Baptist counsellor whom I truat told me it comes down to men who think they own women, men who are bullies and men who are paedophiles anyway. Frank Brennan wisely commented on this on tv the other night. Some men, married or single abuse children. Whether celibacy adds to the problem I do not know. I do know from experience that when boys were taken into religious orders as children or pre-adolescents and then taught to fear sex, women, and their own bodies and were denied information and forbidden to have friends or to experience any intimacy many of them remained immature and were a danger to themselves and to others. We Catholics are not good at intimacy let alone sexuality. I suspect that if people are honest in front of the commission lots of this will come out.

Graham English | 16 November 2012  

The "celibacy" issue is a furphy. The fact is that most celibate men and women do not turn to sexual abuse of children to express their sexual urges. Fact no. 2: most sexual abuse on children is perpetrated by sexually active heterosexual men.

Just as the Catholic-haters are hijacking the Royal Commission as an excuse to bash all things Catholic, it would appear the "Catholic-hierarchy" haters are also using the Royal Commission (and the sexual abuse issue) to vent about their pet 'reform' issues. ie. celibacy; woman's ordination; Catholic moral teaching, Church structures etc.

Its very sad watching Frs Robinson, Brennan and Power during these troubling times. Some people think that Cardinal Pell is under enough of an assault coming from the media, politicians and the community, without the added attack that is happened from behind.

Michael T. | 16 November 2012  

I do hope the bishops and religious leaders take each point of Geoff's for discussion and action
What better person to suggest the agenda!
What better leader to represent the church!
Would even suggest we need Geoff's experience as a peritus at their meeting
I am reminded of Mary MacKillop's prophetic words on 21 Nov, 1871, to Julian. "Bishops and priests have an awful power – and terrible in the sight of God must it be if that be abused."

leo kane | 16 November 2012  

I haven't read all the comments, but consider this when I was in the role of DP in a WA school and a student report privately that she was beaten with a leather belt if she got a bad report from school. When I reported it to the Principal, Head of Religious Education and our head office liason support person I got these responses in order:
1. you deal with it
2. you can't change these things they are cultural
3. only you heard it, you don't have to report it.

Not one leader or support person advised me to follow through; I did and basically stymied any chance of promotion; and suffered the consequences without any support within the Catholic system.

Stephen Cripwell | 16 November 2012  

Thank you Bishop Robinson for showing moral leadership on this issue.

FR. NOEL FITZSIMONS had a great suggestion to ask Bishop Robinson to be appointed by the Bishops' Conference to act as media spokesperson. I would vote for that, and had I been a lay person in New Testament times, I would even have had the opportunity to do so!

I agree with JANE that we can no longer ask a priest for absolution for crimes that must come before the civil court. After all, Jesus said to the apostles, "whose sins you forgive they are forgiven; whose sins you retain they are retained".

Frank S | 16 November 2012  

I wonder if celibacy is the real issue? There are many religous married men that commit sexual abuse. Surely one must ask the questions. Is it about power? Or is it about damaged people that are attracted to the protection of psuedo religous role?

marcel campbell | 16 November 2012  

Thank you Ginger Meggs and SMK. I don't think anyone has ever agreed with anything I've posted here before, even in part. There is a move required that will be hard to swallow for the 'faithful'. Elements of the Protestants path really have to be adopted, while retaining whatever it is that Catholics think makes them the chosen people. It would help, perhaps, if a fresh look were taken at the current structures of the Church with the thought in mind that, in fact, every aspect of the Church is just a human cosntruction of one form or another. Mostly designed to coerce, to scare, to make timid through awe and 'majesty' in order that the whole shebang keeps working. That is all open to challenge, and challenged it should be. Remove the old glass eye the Vatican stuck on your totem pole to watch over you and chuck it in the bin (being glass make sure it gets recycled). Reconstruct a system that reflects the valued values of today, most of which are human values of long standing and have nothing to do with tablets, mountains or burning bushes. You are still entitled to your sense of community, to your practice of community, to the work of your community, but it might be best, for you and for we others, if you took a stand now, bit the bullet, and fought back, hard.

janice wallace | 16 November 2012  

Well said. I find it difficult to believe that George Pell is not constrained by lawyers and Rome in what he can say. He seems so stiff and unnaturall in his attitude. He is probably scared stiff of the media and what they will do to him. He must be brave and remember it is our church too. We pray for him and any other spokesperson. We need leadership that addresses our concerns as brothers and sisters in Christ expresses our deep regrets and our determination to set things right with the victims and establish better structures in the future.

Kevin | 16 November 2012  

Thank you Geoffrey,for a truly christian response, as opposed to self-serving,defensive and indeed threatening message from Cardinal Pell.
I am so angry and so sad.This abuse of power has greatly diminished the Holy Spirit in all catholic communities.

It is extremely sad to hear the church has also has immunity from civil and criminal reparation and accountability, as centuries ago it cleverly designated itself as not being anything but an owner of property,therefore not being responsible or liable for anything unlawful on it's premises.So for catholics there has been systemic abuse of power AND legal protection; a seemingly 'secularised' view of money when it suits.

The overwhelming allegations and evidence of RECENT clerical and institutional sexual abuse shows the church has not changed;this is not just historic as Cardinal Pell suggests but continually occurring in our parishes.

Sexual abuse is always about power.

I agree with you: It would be very damaging to see the church spend large amounts of money on lawyers.

Jesus,our example of real love,hope and compassion, has shown us his anger with those who are corrupt, inside the church walls. This was very symbolic, in my mind, of His utter contempt for church greed and the abuse of power.

Cardinal Pell has a powerful position in the church hierarchy.Surely he,if anyone, could affect change.I will pray for him, to humble himself, become a real vision of Christ, and a true leader for all.

Catherine | 16 November 2012  

Hi Stephen Cripwell!
What you suffered with regard to the child being beaten with a leather strap for not doing well at Religious Education is par for the course in any bureaucratic organisation - even where it is covered by whisle-blower legislation.
I know one would expect higher standards in a catholic institution which is meant to be inspired by the Good News of Jesus Christ but, alas, the attraction of power, prestige and possessions/money all too frequently proves stronger than the "Come follow me, for I am meek and humble of heart" invitation of Jesus Christ.
The frailty of human nature is a mystery to me, which the mythical narrative of the Garden of Eden does nothing to illuminate.
One does what one thinks is "the right thing" and has to be prepared to suffer the consequences - even to death on a cross.
St Maximilian Kolbe was such a man.
But there are many like him/you in bureaucracies throughout the world, including our very own catholic church administration and institutions.

Uncle Pat | 16 November 2012  

Thank you, Bishop Geoffrey, for the clarity and wisdom of your response. May this indeed be the moment for the true renewal which the People of God are seeking. Your 'Confronting Power..' gave hope to many, as has your ongoing observation about the present and future life of the Church. May the ACBC attend to your advice about engagement with the Royal Commission and begin, as well, to consider ways of addressing the structural change so direly sought!

vivien | 16 November 2012  

Thank you, Bishop Robinson. This is an exceptionally wise and balanced response. I thank God for your insight, in the midst of this mire.

The Church can come through this mess, provided that we allow the truth to set us free. God knows, closing the shutters has undermined our credibility, and for good reason. Integrity matters. We should never seek to defend or conceal the indefensible - not just the actions of paedophiles, but also sins of omission including lack of action to protect the innocent. We all know the scripture verse about millstones. We need to confess the sins of the Church before we can expect redemption. Seeking to continue the cover up will never heal us.

The church has a cancer must be eradicated, and Bishop Robinson's book identified that the Church's attitudes to sex and power need serious reform. However, Sadly, the Church's response to this book was similar to most of its responses to challenges since the middle ages: bunker down and don't engage with the argument, lest the truth of it might force some painful acknowledgement of failing.

Like chemotherapy, the treatment which is necessary for our Church's long term health will cause some serious side effects in the short and medium term. If we take our medicine and weather tha associated pain, we can recover.

The notion that Michael T and others consider it a 'fact' that celibacy is not a problem concerns me. While most abuse is perpetrated by sexually active men, the vast majority of men are sexually active. If we face actual data, not just a dismissive opinion, about the proportion of celibate clergy and religious who have offended compared to the normal population, then we can make a judgement about such things. Let's be open to the truth of this.

My thoughts and prayers are with the vast majority of priests and religious who are good, decent, faithful, and continue to dedicated despite this time of immense challenge. I also pray for the Bishops, from whom we need genuine and courageous leadership, that they will act as Christ would (and how Bishop Geoffrey has outlined), not as Pharisees.

The time for genuine reform in the Universal Church, albeit painful, is overdue. If we don't take our medicine, our cancer will snuff overcome us, and it will be left to other denominations to continue to carry the work of Christ.

Peter | 16 November 2012  

To Michael T: I ask that you withdraw your gratuitous assertions that I have publicly attacked and assaulted Cardinal Pell. I have not, and I will not. I am not in the business of public ad hominem attacks on people, and that includes bishops of our Church. Yes, I have publicly praised those bishops who have spoken with what I judge to be good measure and compassion. Is that not appropriate? Is praise of bishops other than Cardinal Pell to be taken as an assault and attack on him? I would hope we have not come to that. Lets maintain "Caritas in Veritate".

Frank Brennan SJ | 16 November 2012  

The solution some people pose of allowing priests to marry is a problem for the Catholic church, because a higher than normal proportion of priests are homosexual and obviously the church is in denial that homosexuality exists (or at least regard it as a intrinsically disordered). So obviously these priests would be be expected to remain celibate anywhere and continue living suppressed/repressed lives and pretend that they're making a valid sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom.

AURELIUS | 16 November 2012  

variants on Edmund Burke's statement:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men to do nothing.
All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.
In order for 'evil' to prevail, all that need happen is for 'good' people to do nothing.
All that is needed for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.
The surest way for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.
All it will take for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing.
All that is necessary for the forces of evil to take root in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.
All that is needed for the forces of evil to succeed is for enough good men to remain silent.
All it takes for Evil to prevail in this world is for enough good men to do nothing.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Paddy | 16 November 2012  

Janice, you make yet another important point that goes to the heart of a persistent problem in tribal and theological Catholicism: the dependence and fixation on authority, which in this case, is expressed by papal monarchy and episcopal oligarchy in turn. It lies at the root of the great tension experienced by many Catholics: on the one hand, a desire to enjoy all dimensions of creativity, on the other to be fearful or frustrated by a culture of permissions from outside of one's own internal forum. Many will be afraid of your exhortation to draw truth from Protestantism because they have been enculturated to see it as an alien other and because it would never be countenanced from above. To this day, the 16th century Reformation is seen as an aberration of dissent, and not a clarion call that something was profoundly wrong. There will be cultural and ingrained theological pressures to resist thinking of this crisis as anything different, but I agree that if a healthy Catholic community is to survive this it will only be by a radical self-examination and admission that it is, like all others, a partial endeavour to express faith in the kingdom of God.

SMK | 17 November 2012  

Thank you Geoffrey!

Gerard Nolan | 17 November 2012  

This past week has been shattering for all committed Catholics whether faithful priests,religious or lay people, "People of God" (Vat.11) I am loosing trust & Faith in the leadership of our world wide church, where it has been tragically demonstrated that clericalism has been less than open about these crimes of abuse of minors. No matter what the excuse this has been seriously wrong, we have learned Bishops and clerics who excell in most other forms of intellectual persuit, why in God's name has this matter been so concealed "for the good of the church" some past leaders have stated. (Wood Royal Commission). We have many great & charismatic leaders,& I am sure many hidden saints,but now is the time for world wide reform of our church from the Vatican down to Diocesan level.
We the people of God MUST be given an active voice. Women must be heard and so must the Prophets among us for example the great and sadly late Cardinal Mario Carlo Martini SJ and so many others who seem to be ignored by those in powerful authority. I am praying with many others that the windows of our church will be thrown open even wider to allow Pope John XX111's prayer to be fully answered,and for our Bishops to lead with greater courage and solidarity.

Margaret M.Coffey | 17 November 2012  

The scandal has reached the proportions of the scandals of the 16th century. Some of the causes are the positive provisions of the Canon Law, the inherent defects of the inquisitorial system and the Roman/Italian/Continental caste of mind. The latter is probably the main cause. There has been too much "co-ordination". New caste of mind means new bishops. And "Rule of Law" according to common law norms.

David Nelson | 17 November 2012  

And as all of this continues we need to find time and space for healing work to continue. The process will bring forward many who have not spoken before and others who have not really felt heard. Somewhere beyond the frustration and hurt and anger we must make places to allow the work of genorous compassion to continue and grow. I really value the support the Jesuits have given me and my family and friends as we stumble our way together through our intersecting journeys together. These stories that show a way forward must also be told.

john dallimore | 17 November 2012  

If only the bench of bishops could have the courage to repudiate Cardinal Pell as their putative spokesman and to give serious thought to Bishop Robinson's observations.

Peter Watson,Obl.OSB | 18 November 2012  

Paddy, to pick up on your (numerous) line, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing", it would seem that as far as the Vatican goes, Evil has certainly triumphed, completely, herein Australia. I see in the SMH this weekend further proof, perhaps at this stage let's agree to call it 'further pointers', to the depravity of the Australian Roman Catholic Church organisation. From the story it appears that even as Cardinal Pell was assuring the world it was 'all in the past', in fact, it is all very much 'still with us'.

janice wallace | 18 November 2012  

I think the content of Bishop Geoffrey Robinson's article is very important and needs to be heeded by the Bishops of the Church. Yes everyone needs to be informed and be "on the same page " There will only be one chance to rid ourselves of this scandal and more importantly be open about what has happened, acknowledge the offenders and the victims and to somehow help both parties. Further to that I would suggest [as simply an informed lay person in the Catholic Church that we should somehow be informed as to how it is best for us to answer the criticism that will be thrown at us - We too need to "be on the same page" and show a united front - My prayers are will the Bishops during this critical time for our Church. t

margaret Ewers | 18 November 2012  

Thank you Bishop Geoffrey Robinson. As you say this must be made crystal clear. Last week’s media diarchal shows how unsympathetic, uncaring, indifferent the church is coming across to the general population, churched or otherwise. These speakers should not be the ones to speak for the church at this time, on this matter. We need to confess our crimes, take our penance, make amends, and only then can we move on. I must also question the timing of the Year of Grace and Year of Faith, whilst these are good things in and of themselves, they cannot have the desired effect while some of our senior church members are saying what was said last week.

Judy Sheppard | 18 November 2012  

I"m sure the voice of the bishops is coming across loud and clear with the insignia taking such a prominent space on the page.
Eureka Street has always come across as unbiased and uninfluenced and independent now having decided to be making a statement such as this.
From my own experience with bishops it turns me cold I'm sorry to say and a distraction from reading the worthy contributions of its many readers.

L Newington | 19 November 2012  

Thank you Bishop Robinson for this very clear, and as you claim respectful, message to the Bishops and Religious Congregations who will be the ones responding to the Royal Commission. It is a very clear summary of the issues, some as yet unpalatable in Catholic discourse, which must be faced. A Church which sins against the vulnerable in the deepest, most profoundly affected parts of their psyche is not 'of God'. Who then are we? To be 'of God' we must face this question honestly and fully.

ANNE FOX | 19 November 2012  

The ring on the finger of every bishop symbolises his unity and fidelity to the Church, his spouse. Why is the retired bishop Robinson, who 'threw in the towel' giving advice to bishops who are still there witnessing to the truth by their perseverance? It seems easy to criticise and advise from the sidelines. The Church thrives on faith. Where is this much needed faith in the words of a retired bishop, 'canon lawyer' who seems to think that everything can be blamed on papal authority?

Beckett | 19 November 2012  

As a Catholic woman who stands, painfully at times, in the tradition of the Church, and as a practicing Jungian psychoanalyst I am particularly grateful to Bishop Geoffrey Robinson for his courage, his vision and his capacity to speak out the truth about what we all know must be addressed. I pray that his wise counsel will be followed by the Bishops. Much real evangelization among the thousands who await it, could be accomplished if these issues were finally addressed. One thing is sure, they will not go away. Change will happen. In the long run it is better if it is embraced rather than ignored through fear.

Joy Ryan-Bloore | 19 November 2012  

Hello Michael T. Have you left the building? Or do you see no need to apologise? I would like to hear from you again here on the Eureka Street site.

Frank Brennan SJ | 19 November 2012  

Advice to Bishops on Royal Commision ? It will never do to plead sin as an excuse for sin, or to attempt to justify sinful acts by pleading that we have an evil heart. This instead of being a valid apology, is the very ground of our condemnation - Archibald Alexander

Mark | 20 November 2012  

once again we are indebted to Bishop Robinson for a clearly articulated set of action steps that would go a long way to ensuring that the Royal Commission can do its work without fear or favour in the sure and certain knowledge that it will have the full backing of the Catholic Church in all its manifestations and branches. Let us hope that we all have the humility and courage to stand up and face the truth that the bona fide victims will present and the acts of denial and cover-up (should they be revealed) that were part of such a shameful part of our history as church.

Shane Wood cfc | 20 November 2012  

BECKETT 'The ring symbolises unity and fidelity to the Church, his spouse.' If you realise your spouse is enabling crimes on children should your fidelity require you to do nothing? 'Bishops who are still there witnessing to the truth by their perseverance?' By not speaking out they are witnessing their support for criminal behaviour. Blind faith in corrupt officials is not following the teachings of Jesus Christ at all but upholding power structures that Jesus would find totally abhorrent.

Paula Guy | 24 November 2012  

As members of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) it is a 'reality-based paranoia' to feel we are under seige.

I sent an article to the SA 'Tiser stating that, on average, 5/10 of 'Opinions' slam the Roman Catholic Church, its hierarchy and its priests. Two to three of the remainder are a 'slam dump' on the Christian religion.

Against this tsunami of hostility it is difficult when alternate views such as those I posed are not printed. This suggests there may be many more like mine, which further suggests a selection process that is biased against the RCC.

It is important NOT to present a 'victim' mentality, or 'poor bugger me'. I have seen this. It bodes ill and is not consonant with Jesus words "I will be with you to the end of time" ... should give us strength and hope.
have and are prepared to die for, and our martyrs are icons of strength and hope. Faith cannot be destroyed. If it is shaken we must accept it may have been poorly grounded.

In our modern world, image and the ability to communicate clearly are more important than vestiges of power. Our representatives MUST represent with integrity.

Dr Karl H Cameron=-Jackson | 27 November 2012  

In respect to bland assertions that celibacy in not involved, can I advise that an acknowledged authority on clergy sex abuse, Professor Philip Jenkins of Pennsylvania State Universty asserts celibacy is not involved and cites the John Jay study data as indicative of that. [June 1 2010 in the American Conservative. Myth of a Catholic Crisis. I recommend those interested review it.] As a non-Catholic Jenkins presumably has no agendas in respect to this debate. His interpretation seems compelling in respect to what he says is the identified lack of a persistent steady state of abuse phenomenon over the 50 year study period. He points out, if the 'agonies of a celibate' lifestyle caused a problem, such a steady state phenomenon would have been expected in the data, as obligatory celibacy was a parameter throughout the whole period of the study. He furthermore points to the explosion in abusive accusations in a short period (1975-80). He admits it is debatable, but one possible reason he discusses is a sharp decline in moral and discipline controls that higher authorities exercised over priests at that time, in conjunction with an emergence of a 'new age" ethical relativism in that specific time period.

A 'coal-face catholic' | 10 January 2013  

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