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A new conversation about Church sex abuse


HandSince my ordination to the priesthood 12 years ago, the millstone of sexual abuse revelations within the Catholic Church has weighed heavily. Indeed, such is the extent of the crisis, that in some circles priest and paedophile have become interchangeable words. It is as if we have moved from an unhealthy 'A priest would never do that' to an equally unhealthy 'He's a priest, so he probably did do that'.

I do not presume to speak for anyone else. I am not a spokesman for the church. My intention is to help break open a new and broader conversation in which truth might hold sway against a collective silence and inertia.  

The spectre of sexual abuse has become a defining moment for the Church; one that, if not addressed more universally, more openly, and more humbly, poses a serious threat to the Church's life and authority. We are, after all, dealing with something akin to crimes against humanity.

Just think: priests and others vested with authority in our Church and trusted as its representatives have raped children; caused emotional trauma that has led to suicides; and covered up or remained silent, and in so doing have protected paedophiles.

Yet amid the thousands of shattered lives, the institutional church is tending towards resuming normal programming while this overwhelming problem corrodes from within.

The Church is desperately in need of a long-term collective, coordinated and global response. Something of similar scope and dedication as the recent translation of the Roman Missal: an intensely focused institutional endeavour that demanded the attention, energy, and gifts of hundreds of church leaders throughout the world.

In seeking to deepen the Eucharistic experience and to elevate and brighten the language of prayer, Church leaders must also ensure that the weightier matters of Church life are not neglected: justice, mercy and truth. The language of the Missal can only edify and elevate when those who have compiled it, who sing from it and  pray from it, are just as actively attentive to the language of love, and all it demands of us. 

Catholics are served by some extraordinary leaders who are courageously addressing this crisis head-on; but too many have acted, and continue to act, like the 'hired men' of John's Gospel 'who abandon the sheep as soon as they see a wolf coming, running away, leaving the wolves to attack and scatter the sheep'. 

Underpinning this 'hired men' culture is a pervasive clericalism in which men feel set apart, vainly pursuing the trappings of power and prestige. What can emerge is a culture of careerist clerics and prince bishops who place personal gain, reputation, and their own survival ahead of everything else, even the lives of the young. They find themselves living within a kind of ecclesial-gated-community walled by self-interest and a protective silence.

Although they are a small minority, they are a very powerful and damaging one. 

The Church is founded on the example of one who (as described in the biblical book of Philippians), while 'being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped; but emptied himself taking the form of a slave'. Is it too much to ask that such an institution be vulnerable, open, and transparent for the sake of others, especially the powerless, and ensure 'servant leadership' is embraced as a core quality in its leaders?  

The people of God — in the pews, in the villages, in the schools, people everywhere — are longing for Church leaders to face the truth with humility. It should be their core 'business' to protect the sanctity and dignity of the young. The consequences of not doing so do not bear contemplating. 

It is not good enough to adopt a siege mentality by blaming an 'aggressive anti-Catholic media'. It is not good enough to say 'that happened a long time ago under someone else's watch'. It is not good enough to say 'that's an Irish problem, that's a Boston problem', or that it is 'disloyal' to raise these matters publicly.

There has to be a collective, universal response: to remain silent and passive is to perpetuate the effects of the abuse on both victims and the Church.

Dioceses might like to consider that on a given date, the faithful are invited to engage in some symbolic action within the Sunday liturgy, such as a prayer for the victims and a pledge to reform those destructive elements within Church culture. They might also consider establishing their own truth and reconciliation commissions in which victims are given a voice, and leaders are encouraged to listen.

There could also be a worldwide gathering of leaders to specifically address this crisis. What a message such a universal gathering would send to our children, our people, our world.

It is better for a man, for a Church, to roam the streets destitute, foraging for bread, for truth, than to roam the corridors of power, feasting on privileges and on food that does not last. The leaders of the Church have a profound responsibility: humbly and gently to walk alongside others, especially the most vulnerable.  

Peter DayFr Peter Day is priest assisting at Corpus Christi Parish, ACT. He holds a Bachelor of Sport's Journalism from the University of Canberra and worked as a radio broadcaster with the ABC from 1990-92. In 2005 he founded HOME, a comunity-based centre providing supported accommodation for people with chronic mental illness who cannot live independently, or are at risk of homelessness. 

Topic tags: Peter Day, Church sex abuse



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A stunning, powerful and hope-filled commentary.

Andrew C | 23 July 2012  

Excellent! Amen.

Winsome Thomas | 23 July 2012  

It is necessary to use all our powers of discrimination and judgment when Satan -' the hired man ', transforms himself into an angel of light, lest by his wiles he should lead us astray into hurtful courses. For, while he only deceives the bodily senses, and does not pervert the mind from that true and sound judgment which enables a man to lead a life of faith, there is no danger to religion; or if, feigning himself to be good, he does or says the things that befit good men, and we believe him to be good, the error is not one that is hurtful or dangerous to Christian faith. But when, through these means, which are alien to his nature, he goes on to lead us into courses of his own, then great watchfulness is necessary to detect, and refuse to follow, him. But how many men are fit to evade all his deadly wiles, unless God restrains and watches over them? The very difficulty of the matter, however, is useful in this respect, that it prevents men from trusting in themselves or in one another, and leads all to place their confidence in God alone. And certainly no pious man can doubt that this is most expedient for us.

Bernstein | 23 July 2012  

I've been reading ES for a little while now and this whole article, but most especially the last paragraph, comes closest to a solution to redeeming the 'hired men' who 'abandon and scatter the sheep'. Other denominations could take note as well. Thanks Fr. Day.

Pam | 23 July 2012  

Spot on!

Narelle Mullins | 23 July 2012  

"There has to be a collective, universal response..." and it can only begin if us priests are seen to be doing it, renewing our own personal lives of belief and action. We need to be seen and known for taking days of prayer, attending spiritual direction and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, engaging men of our parishes in asking their support as we live chaste lives and, in our turn, supporting a renewal of 'men culture' by looking at such things as diet, exercise, awareness of emotional health (and illness),alcahol use (mis-use), the complementarity of 'women culture' and of course there is the thing about power and its inseparable mate 'meaning and purpose in life.' For that, we must look to Jesus Christ and live a vow that it is not our Church but His and it is not 'our' people, but His that we 'serve'. Our Church leaders can only lead if we let them and for that to happen in the case of us priests, we must love them and the mission they have, because they are Christ for us disciples. Too often we denigrate them rather than give them what they need to lead us.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew | 23 July 2012  

A courageous article Peter, and long overdue in its call for wise universal rsponse. The problem is that the current Church leadership is not capable of doing what you request. The "leaders " you envisage coming together will not be found amongst our current formal leadership group. Time and again they have shown that they cannot listen, discern and act with integrity. Your wise elders and youngsters will need to be drawn from others, and who has the power and the money to achieve that? Maybe the laity , which includes the Religious Orders should develop a coalition of the willing and wise, pool the monies they give to support the current leadership hierarchy, and begin to find new wine and new wineskins.

Garry | 23 July 2012  

Peter, you express so well much of what I feel, but there is still more to consider. The tragedy of those who were abused cannot be underestimated in any way, but so many of us are all victims of what has happened. So many of us suffer because our trust was betrayed, because ,now, our integrity is also questioned. We were and remain committed to a worthy belief, to a practical concern for others, and to an institution still capable of much good. All of this has been vilified and tarnished because of the unimaginable actions of a few and the incredibility and confusion of others. It must be remembered that paedophiles are notoriously devious, notoriously secretive and that much more is known now about their way of acting and of the unlikelihood of their reform than was known years ago. Surely, a certain past naivete on the part of those who were betrayed should also be forgiven and some recognition given to the fact that we all need to be healed. The question can always be asked, who are the most vulnerable? They are not always the most obvious.

Sheelah Egan | 23 July 2012  

Reading this I couldn't help but think of The Catacomb Pact, sadly long forgotten http://www.traditioninaction.org/ProgressivistDoc/A_036_CatacombPact.htm Perhaps adhering to such a pact, we the Church, might have seen some of the humility required by church 'leaders' in regard to the 'crimes against humanity' of paedophilia & sexual abuse. I am one of 8 children, at least two of us, as children, were subjected to ongoing sexual abuse, one of my brothers by a priest, me by a nun. The ramifications have been too enormous to begin to explain in a forum such as this. The Catholic Church has much to answer for!

Helen | 23 July 2012  

Well done Peter. As one who has written on this topic before I'm glad to see a priest speaking out and calling for action on the sexual abuse issue. Change has to come from within the clerical culture or it will not come at all. Conversion, penitence and reparation should be the key words, not blaming the victim or the media for the woes of the Church.

Neil Ormerod | 23 July 2012  

This is the best article I have read on the sexual abuse crisis. It is a gospel based challenge to church leaders, from Rome to Melbourne, to be more open and proactive in this area. No more lobbying against enquiries, no more tipping off abusive priests (The Age today). Linked with this challenge is a greater one asking the victims and their families to forgive.A national reconciliation day would be a real sign.

Garry Eastman | 23 July 2012  

Thanks for very thoughtful piece. This issue is as important and central to our future as you rightly say. Assuming that justice is now being done, or attempted to be done, in many cases - either through the law or through Church processes, that is not enough. In addition to efforts on a case by case basis, your article points out that something more is needed, something deeper and bigger and more widely felt and more complete. Could you expand on some of your ideas here? Does the Church anywhere in the world have an open reconciliation commission on this issue? How would it work? Taking Australia alone, do we know, even remotely, how many victims of criminal clerical abuse there have been? Has any group, Church, victim support group, or other body, asked all the known victims across the country, and the families of the victims, what they would want done which has yet to be done? So many things have to happen in tandem - victims need care, healing, whether by being given a voice, being heard and understood, compassion, compensation, justice in the Courts or all of those. As a criminal barrister, I can point out that any Church response needs to allow the State's criminal law to function properly, justly - a complex overlay to your reconciliation commission idea. How many victims who have been through Church processes or Courts want to do more to expose past wrongdoing, how many want to be left alone, how many have stories to be told which we should all be told, which the victims want us to hear? With such questions in mind, I am wondering whether your reconciliation commission idea could be developed by you, and whether a starting point may be to learn and collate as much as we can from as many victims as we can, and pull together all the knowledge that different groups in this country now have? Has that ever happened? It would be a huge but perhaps essential project. Wouldnt all the groups involved (and we are all one group in this really)- the Church, the victims, the carers, all benefit from this? Can you suggest a plan which all can work with? And all the while such national knowledge gathering and processing and planning has to be done in a way which protects those already so harmed. As you point out those harmed are foremost the victims of abuse but also their families, and all the good religious who feel so polluted and shamed by what others have done. We have a long way to go on this, and my ideas above are just some quick thoughts in response to your article, obviously not a solution - but I greatly feel the need to more often read and hear, to do, open and respectful discussion about these matters. So thanks for your article.

Julian McMahon | 23 July 2012  

Beautifully written, Peter. We have had enough cursing of the darkness. And can I urge readers to reflect on Sheelah's points also.

Frank | 23 July 2012  

I will be the dissident voice among the chorus of praise for this article by Peter Day. I read it several times to see what constructive proposals so easily pleased the commentators. I had to get down to the final few paragraphs before the hand-wringing stopped. Then what? On a given date, 'some symbolic act' a prayer, a pledge, a truth and reconciliation commission, a gabfest for church leaders. If Peter Day is really interested in how victims think and feel about this matter, he might have mentioned legal reform that puts an end to the cowardly legal construct that the church is not an entity that cannot be sued and that it bears no vicarious liability for its priests, nuns and brothers because it is not an employer. He might have mentioned raising the level of compensation from the 'take-it-or-leave-it' pitifully low levels now offered to victims on the proviso they keep their mouth shut. He might have mentioned transferring the large sums of money the Church spends on defending the indefensible to assisting victims in their legal actions. He might have mentioned a fundamental change of policy whereby the church stops treating allegations of sexual rape of children as a private 'in-house' matter and instead treating it for what it is - a crime. He might have mentioned that the church should defrock all priests found guilty of sexual crimes. He might have mentioned the church taking serious and effective prevention matters. Peter Day and his cheer squad may feel that more open talk is a positive step forward. But victim groups will not find much hope there. It's well past time for real and decisive action.

Frank Golding | 23 July 2012  

Thank you. Finally we hear from the heart of man and not the ego. Refreshing challenge to a Church leadership that prides itself on not being a democracy. Our Church needs to recognise the need for societial standards to closer reflect church experience for survivors and perpetrators. Humbleness and transparency are needed for our spirit to rest in the forgiving arms of our Divine God. I pray for these spiritual essentials to be evident in our leadership, laity, institutional church system and wider society. Amen

Samantha | 23 July 2012  

Thank you, Fr Peter, for a courageous, honest,clear piece of writing, which faces squarely, the extent and seriousness of this problem within our Church, but also gives some hope that this problem in not insoluble.

Maryrose Dennehy | 23 July 2012  

If only the Church could be open to these suggestions, what a difference it could make. Perhaps then healing could begin for all those estranged from Church as a result of its pride, its total inability to feel for the victims.

VinetaO'Malley | 23 July 2012  

Peter Day raises the bar in requiring an elevated public consciousness level on this subject. Not only, however, does this raised consciousness need continuously to attend to the ramifications of damaged and indeed at times ruined lives of so many adults violated as children but the Church's consciousness level needs to be raised also in a broadening of attention to the very serious ramifications of violations against women by clerics, ramifications which are sexual, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. Such ramifications, in and for the lives of many adult women, violated as adults by the power inequality inherent in a careerist clerical culture, must begin to be recognised by the Church leadership. The damage from perpetuated violation in particular, needs to be recognised in an elevated consciousness such as Peter Day suggests.

Jennifer Herrick | 23 July 2012  

I agree with Frank Golding. I read the article with mounting hope until I reached the feeble suggestion of a symbolic action within the Sunday liturgy. How's that going to help? Or a worldwide gathering of leaders? Don't they do that all the time? You can imagine what that would come up with: another pious pronouncement in semiarese and a return to business as usual

Oldg | 23 July 2012  

The real force behind sex abuse and rape within the church has not yet been properly articulated - it's not about sex, but about power. The inkling I get from social analysts about the dynamics of rape is that it's not done out of purely sexual drive to fill a suppressed/repressed desire - it's done to feel in control, to dominate and to humiliate. It's psychopathic behaviour.

AURELIUS | 23 July 2012  

Peter, your message brings such hope. When will the Church generally begin to speak openly about healthy human sexuality, and acknowledge that to do so will at least begin to address the destructive causes and outcomes of so much dysfunction?

Jennifer | 23 July 2012  

An excellent article whose sentiments I totally agree with, and some important suggestions for action in the comments by Fr Mac Andrew. Another concrete suggestions: each diocese needs to review the handling of all past cases through a transparent, independent process not least to find the other 'Fr F' cases that bishops, priests, police or others have failed to act on, and see if anything needs to be done, or anyone needs to be held accountable.

Kate Edwards | 23 July 2012  

These are fine words, Peter Day, but I wonder would you be prepared to go to jail rather than "break the seal of the confessional" to report an abusive colleague, as Frank Brennan appears to have declared on the ABC's 7.30 Report that he would?

Michelle Goldsmith | 23 July 2012  

Why do Neil Ormerod and Father Day write, as if the abuse problem is a clerical thing?] As if fixing the clergy[a small abuse percentage anyway] will solve the endemic church/and societal abuse problem? In fact, the abuse evil is at a higher percentage among lay people and families; It is as absurdly counterproductive as,using chemotherapy for cancer of the lung, and bypassing cancer of the stomach.

Father John Michael George | 23 July 2012  

More apposite statistically, michelle goldsmith, is how many family members are prepared to inform police, about rampant child abuse in families? will dad and mum report incestuous child sex abuse?

Father John Michael George | 23 July 2012  

I declare that I am a friend of Fr Peter, but I write not as a friend of his but a person from the pews who is disillusioned by the Church leadership, and in particular by its the handling or rather gross mishandling of sexual abuse over many decades.

There are of course many, indeed I believe the great majority of clergy, who are truly wonderful pious, hard working followers of Christ. But, unless that particular cohort of the Church is free to speak out against injustice and things that are simply wrong and evil, then what hope is there? We are all human and no one person or group can claim to get it right all the time.

I note and respect Fr Mick MacAndrew's comments and agree that we should pray for and support the church leaders, but query whether one must be elected to be a "leader", or indeed whether the true leaders are those who put themselves out there knowing full well the likely spectrum of reactions. History (both church and general history) is full of ordinary people who have had enough and do something about it!

I also expect that Christ works in ways we will never fully appreciate in seeking to get His Good News to the people.

I also note other comments to the effect of "too little too late", and have great empathy for that view. I wonder however if this further conversation sparked by Peter's writings is simply a further part of Christ's larger plan for all of His church to participate in the debate, to raise the things that could / perhaps should be done /considered (as suggested by Frank Golding)as reparation for the abuses that have occured worldwide.

Tony Carey | 23 July 2012  

My observation is that Peter Day &Frank Golding are singing from the same song sheet ! The time has arrived for the drawing of a line in the sand & with its collective hand on its heart for the Church to accept full culpability for the criminal activities of some of its members & it's unexplainable protecting of these perpetrators (The Age Front Page Today ) . Frank Golding is right ---- the time for talking has passed ---what is needed now is honesty ,contrition , and A genuine attempt to regain credibility with the Catholic population !

Damien Smith | 23 July 2012  

I am an Anglican and am concerned with all cases of sexual abuse and misuse of authority. The problem goes back to the fourth century when the Western church was influenced by "Manichaeism" a heresy that consisted of a dualism between matter and spirit that devalued our physical being and regarded the human body as an encumbrance. This led to an abstract piety that concludes that the body is "worthless" anyway and however much one abuses the body it wont effect the Soul. There has always been a misunderstanding between the Pauline concept of the Body and the Johanine one.Paul distinguishes between the body (Soma) which is the body as it is designed to be, and Flesh (Sarx) which is the body corrupted by sin. John on the other hand does not make this distinction and talks of the "Word become Flesh" and "Marriage" as a one flesh relationship following on Jewish precedents. In modern times we have seen developments in the social and health sciences which emphasise the whole person and the re-discovery of tactile therapies. In the 19th century the "laying on of hands" and "Unction" were developed as healing sacraments When I was in the Torres Straits I was impressed by their care of children. When a child was restless the natural response was a massage not a smack. We must realise the distinction between "touch" that is therapeutic starting with "Bonding" as infants that at all levels rspects personal integrity and is essential for healthy development and any form of physical and emotional violence that is a betrayal of trust and is destuctive.In all ministries there must be positive sensual awareness which should form the basis of all ethical behaviour.

john ozanne | 23 July 2012  

Perhaps Frank Golding and others might like to read the unedited version at

Zoë | 23 July 2012  

Thoroughly endorse Fr Day's comments - the 'Church' system needs an allover shake up!! We have the Scriptures and the Eucharist - let us get back to the basics.

Joan Thomas | 23 July 2012  

There is much talk about what might/should/could be done to reform the “institution” – for “institution” read the hierarchy. In all the words I see written there seems to be little hope that the hierarchy will do much if anything about this. They have painted themselves into a corner in so many ways. But there are many damaged, hurting victims/survivors waiting, hoping. Everyone says something needs to happen. The main place it seems now from which any action could take place that has any chance of success is through ordinary people, the baptized, those in the pews. I am the convener of a group called “For the Innocents.” We are ordinary people who know there are many victims and survivors – “the innocents” - of sexual and other abuse committed by those in the Catholic Church and in other religious communities. It is the suffering of these people and their need for and right to healing that compels us to raise our voice. Daily these innocents carry the legacy of criminal actions committed by perpetrators in positions of authority and power. Additionally for some of them, their awful suffering was then compounded by their subsequent treatment at the hands of some of the hierarchy and church officials. Those transgressions are just as serious, given the breach of trust those officials held in the name of us all, and despite the message they purport to proclaim. On even the most cursory of reflection about such abuse, the damage is not just to the individual but also to their families and immediate communities. The story of Chrissie Foster in her book “Hell on the way to heaven” is a prime example of this. The whole Church is affected deeply by this scandal, emotionally, ethically and morally. It is Christianity itself that has been abused. We, as ordinary people, can apologise to the innocents, their families and friends for the gross burden of betrayal, hurt, isolation, and unwarranted guilt they may have had to carry as a result of sexual or other abuse by Catholic clergy, religious teachers or workers. Yet there are good priests and bishops who strive to support those in need. One can imagine the anguish they feel as they try to pick up the pieces in a ravaged parish. Moreover, they become unfairly tarred with the opprobrium due to the perpetrators. They need our support for their good work. In an effort to achieve the healing they deserve, we have formulated an apology. We make it as ordinary people to the innocents among us, to their families and community. We want this apology to be experienced as a sincere attempt to let them know we are with them. Their suffering, their need for and right to healing also compels us to make a public gesture of sorrow for what has happened. So we wish to take action as follows; a) make a public apology with a symbolic act of reparation, b) through those in the pews, to offer support to the abused and their families where they live ie in parishes. Hopefully this would be a team effort with their pastors, indeed any one of good will. It is the daily one on one listening that heals above all as happened after the bushfires. We would like this apology to be given by ordinary people to the abused in every diocese in Australia indeed around the world if that were possible. The symbolic act would be chosen appropriate to the group making the public apology. Could this succeed? While we began as a small group from those who trained at Corpus Christi seminary Werribee in the fifties, sixties and seventies our membership has widened to include victims/survivors. When we approach these innocents and apologize for what they have suffered and endured they are initially amazed that anyone would be thinking of them. And then often the tears flow as one witnesses the healing commence. The full apology in printable form can be found by going to the “Links” section at http://au.groups.yahoo.com/group/fortheinnocents/. Also there is the full reason for the apology and how the group came about.

Bob Munro | 23 July 2012  

It is impossible to resolve this with a global universal response. When you have the highest of the highest participating in gready corrupt practices and in complete denial of any cover ups or making any proper compensation available to victims of child abuse, you will never resolve this problem.

Brian Cherrie | 23 July 2012  

Thank you, Peter Day, for stating the truth. It was good to have that coming from a priest; it gives me hope. I also hope you will take on board what Julian McMahon and Frank Golding have written: we need action. Will you champion the change needed? These crimes were and are facilitated by the authoritarian nature of the church. Somehow that needs to be reigned in.

Frank S | 23 July 2012  

The Church must become it's own harshest critic, and accept of itself nothing less than truly acting out Christ's love in the world. We as a Church, on all levels, must strip away our worldly wrapings (Read: Chains), bow down and wash the feet of the world. Our love must be our testimony, our service our offering, our lives our proof. We will never bring any to God, or heal the Church or world by our light, we must instead strive to reflect the abundant light of Christ.

L. OBrien | 23 July 2012  

Pray to God that such a concerted response from the church will be forthcoming.

Janice | 23 July 2012  

Wonderful article. Thank you. I have inwardly wondered if there is an Ecclesial equivalent of a Royal Commission? Often being able to have one's experiences acknowledged and heard by those in authority can commence some measure of healing. Helen, my heart goes out to you.

Moira | 23 July 2012  

Excellent article and thank you. There are many people out there trying earnestly to make change in our Church but without effective results. How do we reach those in power - how do we change their minds and hearts to ease the pain they have caused so many.

Clare Gerber | 23 July 2012  

As a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy, I am severely disillusioned bythe leadership to remedy this situation. I do not believe the hierarchy cares about victims as much as much as it cares about preserving an image. I have not experienced compassion, justice or care from the church. Instead I have been vilified, shamed, cut off. Not only was I abused at the hands of a pietist I have been further traumatized as I have sought understanding and an apology. I was not interested in suing or beloved church. I wanted to be heard, believed and offered compassion. This had not happened. Not only did the abuse destroy my places of hope and safety, it has now destroyed the foundations upon which my life was ordered.the church leadership had had ample time to listen and dialogue. Now it is well past time fir discussion. Only concrete and substantial contriteness and restorative justice over time may begin to help offset the dissillusionment, shattered faith and lives of victims. Stop blaming us, stop vilifying us, stop the smokescreen and do something real. I truly thought the church had made progress in this war, but watching over time the church continues to choose protecting itself over hearing the cries of the hurting.

kristi | 23 July 2012  

Interesting sentiments but...if you're a Roman catholic priest in my experience you are immediately suspect! You are part of a culture of entitlement. I ceased attendance at Mass before Easter this year and will not be returning any time soon if ever.

George Kaczanowski | 24 July 2012  

Peter, Thank you. I sent it on to my really good bishop, Francis Malooly.

Bruce Byrolly | 24 July 2012  

Point the finger of blame at misguided leaders, say a few mea culpas, have a non challenging, pointless talkfest, then pat themselves on the back while ignoring victims, our needs, and ongoing child protection. Catholics have two roles in fixing this issue. To stop shouting down victims' voices and let us be heard, and to stop getting in the way of justice. We know how these monsters exploit our vulnerabilities, and the neglect of our parents, communities, police, and courts. Because we know this (though none of us wanted this knowledge), we know how to thwart determined serial predators, how to deliver justice and healing to victims, and how to protect children from suffering as we did. It requires law reform. It requires child rapists, and those who protect them, be prosecuted. It requires child rapists be prevented from access to children. It requires parents be informed about predators in their community. It requires secret files be handed to police. It requires obstruction of justice in all its forms stop. It requires help for victims be taken out of the hands of the church. By not going far enough, the author has deflected criticism and undermined the impetus for change.

Nicky Davis | 24 July 2012  

I disagree wholeheartedly with your 3rd last paragraph. As Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi stated, "Forgiving the oppressor while he is committing injustice is permitting him to continue." Reform will happen,not in the church services, but in the courts. Notice what's happened at Penn State, the pedolphile is in jail, Paterno is disgraced and his statue removed. The president, the board, and anyone else involved will be fired and possibly taken to court for their involvement and prior knowledge. The victims will be given just due. This should happen to every man in the hierarchy. The house should be cleaned from top to bottom, the criminals jailed and removed. Prayers are an easy feel good way out, but as the pope knows all too well, money counts! There's the hue and cry that the church will be bankrupted. So be it! How much money did Jesus need? Not palaces, gold, capa magnas or property were needed by him. As long men in robes and priestly collars hide behind their self serving platitudes, the church will continue to implode and children will continue to be harmed. How about truth, openness, accountability, and honesty for a change? Perhaps we should pray for that!

ginny | 24 July 2012  

A wonderful, courageous, hope-filled response to all of the confused hoping and praying for an honest appraisal. But - are 'they' listening? Or - just silence behind the facade of another "solution". Yes, the Year of Grace is wonderful; yes the new translation of the Missal was no doubt well-intended. Many good things happen in the parishes, but everyone can see the depleted attendance. Yes, lots of prayer, but there must be more and don't 'they' know?

Mary Maraz | 24 July 2012  

Excellent article, Fr Peter. Truth, Justice and love are concepts that are found in each other. The prophetic women and men inside and out side the church are calling for the institutional church to become more accountable, more open and more loving and gentle institution. Unfortunately current attitudes by the church reflects an attitude of fear than humility that seeks not to reconcile but to blame very thing else than taking a critical look at itself. The energy spent in translating the Roman Missal has been a distraction. A distraction away from more profound problems within the church. The wonderful and yet tragic aspect in this awful affair is, there are members of our community who wish to embrace and commit the church to a process of reconciling and healing but their voices are not listened too.

Paul Donnelly | 24 July 2012  

The traditional role of a priest whether pagan, Jewish, voodoo or Christian - involves sacrifice. This sacrifice is not always just and is sometimes brutal, but the Christian ideal of sacrifice, as lived out by Jesus, is to bear the brunt of the suffering oneself and transform it. Priests (clerical and generic) are called to transform suffering, not inflict it on others.

AURELIUS | 24 July 2012  

This is the text of an email that I sent to Fr. Peter Day earlier today. He has asked that I post this email here and I am pleased to do so. Fr. Jim Connell Hello, Fr. Day, I am a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee (USA) where I serve as the pastor of two parishes in Sheboygan and I am an advocate for victims/survivors of Catholic clergy sexual abuse. Today, a leader of SNAP here in Wisconsin forwarded to me an article that you wrote, “A new conversation about Church sex abuse”, as it appeared on eurekastreet.com.au. Thank you for such bold writing. You call for a new conversation that would generate a long-term collective, coordinated and global response. I agree and count me in. The whole and complete truth about this crisis must come to light. Indeed, without knowing the whole truth, there can be no justice; and without justice, there can be no healing. Next September 15, I will be speaking in Boston at the “Voice of the Faithful 10th Year Conference”, noting ten years since the Boston Globe published its series on the Church sex abuse crisis - and ten years since the formation of the VOTF. My comments will include the call for a network and an association of priests throughout the world who are willing to stand in a public and vocal way with the victims/survivors in their call for truth and justice, so that healing and peace can one day be a reality. Your writing energizes me. By the way do you happen to know Fr. Tony Kerin of the Archdiocese of Melbourne? Tony and I were classmates in Canon Law studies in Rome and he was recently in the news calling for an investigation into the Church’s clergy abuse crisis and scandal in his archdiocese. You don’t stand alone. May God’s blessings be with you and your people. (Fr.) Jim Connell

Fr. James Connell | 24 July 2012  

Meanwhile beyond clergy abuse myopia:
"Incest between an adult and a child is usually considered a form of child sexual abuse[51] and for many years has been the most reported form of incest. Father–daughter and stepfather–stepdaughter incest is the most commonly reported form of adult-child incest, with most of the remaining involving a mother or stepmother.[52] Father–son incest is reported less often, although it is not known whether the prevalence is less because it is under-reported by a greater margin.[53][54] Prevalence of incest between parents and their children is difficult to assess due to secrecy and privacy; some estimate that 20 million Americans were, as children, subjected to incest by a parent.[52]

According to the National Center for Victims of Crime a large proportion of rape committed in the United States is perpetrated by a family member:

Research indicates that 46% of children who are raped are victims of family members (Langan and Harlow, 1994). The majority of American rape victims (61%) are raped before the age of 18; furthermore, 29% of all rapes occurred when the victim was less than 11 years old. 11% of rape victims are raped by their fathers or step-fathers, and another 16% are raped by other relatives.[55]"[Wikipaedia]
statistics of abuse in other professions[teachers] and churches is higher than catholic clergy abuse
[clergy abuse is horrific sacrilegious mortal sin but to over-focus on one area is to discriminate against millions of other children abused in societies and churches

Father John Michael George | 24 July 2012  

Thank you Father Peter for naming the issue for what it is - an abuse of power. Maybe the old concept of a clergyman as the exalted member of a community, which I can remember as a child, was the start of the problem. Even though Vatican II raised the lay people of the Church to a full participation through the rite of baptism, the reality remains the same; power still resides in the upper levels of the Church and woe to those clergy or layman who question that exercise of power.I have seen too many examples where well meaning people have dared question the status quo and payed the price. I am thinking of Bishop Pat Power who remains tireless in his quest for justice.
Peter, you are very brave to come out and question the current attitude, I salute you!

Gavin | 24 July 2012  

In responce to Fr. James Connell's comment.

We are not focusing on some small percentage of abuse and holding the victems as more important than those abused under other circumstances. What we are doing is focusing on abuse in the Church by Her priests. We are focusing on injustice within our domain which we have the power to rectify.

L. O'Brien | 24 July 2012  

“A new conversation about Church sex abuse” indeed! Squallers in doctrine but fails to deliver in the material aspects of the number of lives the catholic church has ruined over a long period of time. The damage done to so many and the deafening silence amongst the various laypersons of the church has protected the paedophiles. There is a problem within the church which has fails to bring forth a solution for the many children, many now adults who’s lives were destroyed. The church still overlooks the victims the survivors for this abuse. Church leaders must ensure the weightier matters of church life are not neglected: justice, mercy and truth, might be better these words were directed to Archbishop Dennis Hart and Cardinal George Pell. Quote “It is not good enough to adopt a siege mentality by blaming an 'aggressive anti-Catholic media'. It is not good enough to say 'that happened a long time ago under someone else's watch'. It is not good enough to say 'that's an Irish problem, that's a Boston problem', or that it is 'disloyal' to raise these matters publicly.” Quote “They might also consider establishing their own truth and reconciliation commissions in which victims are given a voice, and leaders are encouraged to listen.” Many have already felt the justice meted out by the church’s own organization “Towards Healing” many will tell of the anguish and suicide attempts because of it’s feeble attempts of keeping the victims down. This article merely pontificates and fails to address delivering justice to those lives that were ruined. STEP INTO THE SHOES OF THOSE LIVES THAT WERE DESTROYED. The words maybe different.

Garry H | 24 July 2012  

Congratulations to Father Day for this inspiring response to this terrible crime of clerical sexual abuse. This problem is rife in the wider community but takes on an even more sinister dimension when the perpetrator is a Catholic priest. If only our Bishop's Conference would read this article by Father day and act on some kind of national Catholic reconciliation path to reach all people of good will, especially the victims and the many disillusioned Catholics who are so numbed by this scourge and its consequences. Margaret Coffey

margaret m.coffey | 24 July 2012  

FR. DAY: As a survivor I do not see all priest as predators. However I do "feel" most priest are enablers as they DO NOT publicly admit, nor do they address,the abuses of the system of the culture of Clericalism How can one "move on" , in Cardinal Dolan's words, when the very instrument of enabling the abuser is not addressed. This culture, this stone wall, must be addressed and the sooner the better for all, (the laity, the parish priest, and the hierarchy, and the institutional Church), involved. Ps. I returned, after a 35 yr absent, to A Vatican II church in 1998 and have received much help from my Jesuit parish in the last 5 years. This culture is my last stumbling block!!!

Magy Stelling | 25 July 2012  

Your article is most thought provoking. I keep going back to the image of the Pharisees being compared to tombs filled with whitened bones. The "atonement" has not been enough to undo the damage caused. I work to remind myself that it is probably only 10% who are so corrupt in the priesthood and that I my brothers and my son were not violated - nor any woman that I know as it is not only boys who were molested. It is very hard to defend my church to family members who have left it, to friends who are not Catholic. And then I remind myself of the times when my actions and examples have been also scandalous to others. This latter helps keep a perspective. I am truly blessed that I have interacted with many truly holy priests and nuns in my 78 years of life. The bad ones were few. Today I am glad - yet saddened - to see a monseigneur here in the US sentenced to prison for his role in this global sin. Thank you, Fr. Day.

kathleen anderson | 25 July 2012  

Come Come L O'Brien "within your domain" are the democratic mechanisms to rectify the"20 million Americans, as children, subjected to incest by a parent". Why focus on clerical abuse ignoring millions of other victims in families,non catholic churches,teachers,scouting organisations,Hari Krishna etc etc[your USA state schools are a cess pit of child abuse-but government bureaucracy face union strikes for subpoenaing teacher files.

Father John Michael George | 26 July 2012  

Long before his dismissal, I applauded Bishop Bill M. who was very much 'draging his coat' by declaring his pledge to liquidate Toowomba Diocese assets if required, to support any victims of abuse there. Never declared by Rome but likely much to do with their later actions. Beautifully put Father Peter & very complimentary to " The Australian" article of Chris Gerehety ,perhaps a year back ,suggesting Ratzinger declare a "Year of Shame ", remorse, sack cloth and Ashes ,rather than the pompus theatre ,such as Sydney's Youth Congress .

john kersh | 27 July 2012  

Recently I was made aware of yet another tragedy relating to clergy sex abuse.

John Pirona was found dead not long after he left a note saying he could no longer “endure the pain” ; pain stemming from sexual abuse by a Maitland priest.

There is little, if anything, one can say to adequately respond to the crime perpetrated on this innocent man; not to mention the acute heartache of his family and friends.

I understand that in response to calls for a Royal Commission into the Church’s handling of sexual abuse cases, the bishop of Maitland-Newcastle, Bill Wright, said, “I am broadly supportive of public inquiries into these matters.”

These words and the tragedy of Mr Pirona’s death elicited the following response from Cardinal George Pell:

"Sexual abuse is a sinister and serious problem which must always be addressed. The perpetrators should face the full force of the law. I am shocked and saddened by the tragic death of Mr John Pirona and offer my deepest sympathies to his family and friends.

"Particular organizations inside and outside the Catholic Church have experienced tragic and extreme problems in this area. We acknowledge the pain that victims and their families have experienced and continue to experience, and extend our regret and sincere sympathy to them. We continue to try to the best of our ability to assist them. We recognise that there have been failures and we continue to work to refine and improve our manner of responding to victims and the allegations and concerns they bring forward.

"I understand and support Bishop Wright’s statement yesterday that these problems are best examined by an independent inquiry of some sort. Sometimes local situations as in Armidale require an inquiry.

"Church authorities in New South Wales cooperate routinely with the police and our activities in this area are regularly monitored by the Ombudsman. If there was need for another general inquiry it should be wide ranging, covering not only the Catholic Church but all religions and charities, and not only non-government organizations but government organizations also. I cannot see the need for a state-wide Royal Commission at this time but if there was one the Catholic Church authorities would cooperate fully."

So where to next? How does justice come to the Pirona family?

Peter Day | 27 July 2012  

Just what I needed to read, thanks for giving voice to all the good priests out there god bless you all

marie kelley howard | 29 July 2012  

Fr. Day,

I liked your article and agree with it. A big question I have is how does the parish priest implement your idea of inviting the faithful to engage in some symbolic action within the Sunday liturgy, when the priest might meet strong resistance from his bishop? The problem is that the RCC is a closed system and unless some priests and Bishops breakaway together with those members of the church that want change, I think it is going to be a long time before something meaningful happens. I hope I am wrong.
Frank Pasquariello

Frank Pasquariello | 29 July 2012  

What these scandals point to is this society’s lack of protection (laws) for children. We often gawk at the third world’s mistreatment of children but fail to acknowledge the lack of protection we give our children. It is narrow-minded to say this is a Catholic problem or a navy, army or air force problem…..this is a social problem in which we all bear the responsibility to correct and uphold. Recently in the United States, The Penn State University child sex abuse scandal centered on former Pennsylvania State University football assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky's sexual assault of at least eight underage boys on or near university property. After an extensive grand jury investigation, Sandusky was indicted on 52 counts of child molestation dating from 1994 to 2009, though the abuse may date as far back as the 1970s. Those involved put the institution’s interests before the person/child; this applies to all the cases above. No one is above the law; clergy, civil workers or athletic personnel. Enact of enforce laws that protect minors and you solve the problem period.

Simon | 29 July 2012  

very nice article Fr. peter.

sebastian | 29 July 2012  

I have two problems with this article. The first is the the suggestion of taking the "institutional endeavour" the recent translation of the Missal as how to go abpout fixing thngs. This seemed to me to just another crude example of RC conservative insiders bullying the rest of us, including the Bishops for the most part.The result in parts is pretty awful The second issue is about ignoring the general atmosphere of violence and brutality that characterised so much of the Church`s "caring" institutions whether schools, or orphanages or shelters for pregnant girls for so many decades in so many countries.So many nuns, brothers and priest were demonstrably nasty and bullying in their public behaviour.Unless we can appreciate the even more disturbed sexual-abuse as a subset of this gross and widespead psychopathic misbehaviour; an abuse of power and trust which was tolerated and seemingly regarded as "normal" by so many for so long, we will just not get to the bottom of things.Or understand why the Church has been abandoned by so many. The appointent only of outspokenly highly-conservative bishops is also highly dubious and also smacks of institutional bullying.

Eugene | 30 July 2012  

A very welcome article; let's hope it provokes constructive thoughts among its readers. There are two sides to the sex abuse crisis in the Church. One is the fact that so many wrong 'uns passed through the selection process and the education process to be ordained over a period of a few decades. Or was it only in this period? Or how many were, at first, good priests who fell because of poor support once they were on their own? This aspect of the problem is now being studied and I will not comment on it until there are published conclusions to be considered. The second aspect is the fact that all over the world, Church authorities reacted in a way that was inept and unprincipled. I can discuss this because I can see many other examples of the same faulty conduct on behalf of Church authorities. Let me give two of these examples. I was married in 1967; for some years before and after that, we were told, in season and out of season, that the rhythm method is an effective form of birth control. There was no doubt, no questioning. Those who reported failure were fair game for innuendo about lack of self control, sometimes with a crudity the nuns would not have tolerated in the primary school playground. The most outspoken scientific support came from husband and wife Doctors Billings. At some point it was discovered that the rhythm method was not effective and in due course a much more effective method - called the Billings method - was publicised and still is. Nobody owned up to having been wrong all those years - not the Doctors Billings, not the bishops, not the raucous redemptorists. Nobody apologised to the people whose lives they had blighted. The long term effects of this sequence of events have not been properly considered. My second example seems to put me at odds with Peter. I don't think much of the new liturgy translation and I think the method used was foredoomed to fail. The sensible thing to do would have been to put early drafts on the internet and invite comment. Instead they closeted themselves and when they were satisfied, announced that it was excellent. They butchered the gloria and made it unsingable, and there are other gaffes as well. The underlying problem is the same as is found in all hierarchical organisations, including conspicuously, the military. Rule one comes to be that no-one in the "lowerarchy" is to see the "higherarchy" with egg on their faces. So Peter's suggested "worldwide gathering of leaders" could easily turn out to be an exercise in avoidance and complacency. If you look back at the history of the Vatican Council, that was very nearly an exercise in avoidance and complacency.

Jim Jones | 30 July 2012  

An excellent and highly commendable article, Peter. One of the problems dealing with paedophilia is that it is so abhorrent to most normal people that I think most people in responsible positions, whether in Church or State, used to have problems coping with the idea any responsible person: father; relative; teacher or priest would be capable of it. The recent revelations of it should have shaken such authorities out of their complacency. Of course safeguards need to be built into any system and continually refined. Obviously trainee priests, teachers, police etc. need to be vetted as much as is possible, but no system is perfect. Frank Golding, Kristi, Nicky Davis and others brought up valuable points. There have been priests and higher clergy, here and elsewhere, who have taken up the victims'cause, sometimes at great personal cost. In my opinion those in the Church should not be legally treated any differently from those outside.

Edward F | 30 July 2012  

Even utterly orthodox apologist Dr Rumble MSC was supernuanced re rhythm method QUESTION: Dr. Upham says that "since 1932 the Catholic Church has endorsed the rhythm system". RUMBLE REPLY: That is an example of the misrepresentation I have mentioned. How false the assertion is should be evident from all that I have hitherto said on the subject. The Catholic Church does not advocate the use of the rhythm system. Far from endorsing it in any wholesale fashion, she declares that the continued restriction of marital relations to the non-fertile period by married people is sinful where they have no serious reasons for doing so over and above the mere avoiding of children.

Father John Michael George | 31 July 2012  

Joy and jubilation! Just when I was feeling more despondent than ever at further revelations of clerical sexual abuse in our beloved Church, along comes this remarkable call to action from Father Peter Day. I hope that the hierarchy will act on his suggestions. I think that the shame for this culture of abuse needs to be shared also by the laity because we are part of the wider society that has condoned or done nothing about the dreadful decline in sexual mores since the 1960s.

Peter Phillips | 31 July 2012  

A wonderful, courageous article which opens up a feeling of hope that something really worthwhile and positive can happen. The betrayal of trust may never be fully restored, but, to read such an article by a young priest can only give courage. Perhaps the "leaders" envisaged CAN be found by openly encouraging those elected ones who now lack the bravery we know they must show. Thank you Fr. Day - sometimes just one voice can achieve much.

Mary Maraz | 01 August 2012  

Sorry,but your statement"the faithful are invited to engage in some symbolic action within the Sunday liturgy, such as a prayer for the victims and a pledge to reform those destructive elements within Church culture.'

This does nothing, until the Church is prepared to admit that not only their priests have abused children but also their archbishops and bishops have covered this up and protected these pedophiles.I thought Jesuits were better than this

Sean | 01 August 2012  

Bravo Peter!

Denise MacKay | 01 August 2012  

Wouldn't it be wounderful if the Jesuits and other religious orders, organized such organizations such as 'RISE,' mentioned at the end of the following news extract... : William Lynch, the man acquitted last Thursday of felony elder abuse and assault charges stemming from an encounter two years ago in Los Gatos with a priest he says brutally raped him as a boy, has began a nonprofitorganization to help sexual abuse victims. Speaking to reporters after the not-guilty verdict was read by the jury in Department 34 of the San Jose Hall of Justice the afternoon of July 5, Lynch said he wanted to start an agency that would also help repeal the statute of limitations for sex abuse cases.Lynch, 44, was acquitted of felony assault with intent to cause great bodily injury and felony elder abuse under circumstances likely to produce great bodily harm or death. The jury also found him not guilty of misdemeanor elder abuse, but hung 8-4 on the lesser misdemeanor assault charge. In Lynch's case, although he and his brother brought a civil suit against Father Jerold Lindner SJ in 1998 and settled out of court for $625,000, he was prevented from pursuing criminal charges against the cleric since the alleged abuse was committed in 1975, when he was 7 and his brother was 4.The Lynch brothers claim Lindner brutally raped and sodomized them while their family participated in camping trips at Portola Redwoods State Park. Lynch's nonprofit is called Roots for Invidividual & Social Enterprise, or 'RISE'. The site says its mission is to "end the cycle of sexual abuse against children." It further states that RISE is a program and foundation for victims of sexual abuse providing health services, legal representation, and community advocacy to promote awareness and policies for social change.The site also says the organization's purpose is to prevent child sexual abuse and empower children and adults affected by child sexual abuse to live peaceful and productive lives.Thank you Eureka Street, for having the courage to have posted this.

Monica | 02 August 2012  

"So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.( Matthew 10 : 26 ) : http://annfreespirit.over-blog.com/article-will-lynch-trial-this-week-justice-where-the-hell-are-you-107161257.html

Monica | 02 August 2012  

Thank you Father Peter for putting into words what so many concerned Catholics are feeling. So impressed with your observations.

Anonymous | 02 September 2012  

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