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Restorative justice beyond the Royal Commission


Child Abuse Royal Commission Sydney Hearing, December 2013Last week I went to the Royal Commission and had a private session, which means, in short, that I am a victim of sexual abuse. That history spanned nearly three decades. My encounters with one perpetrator prepared me for more harrowing experiences during adolescence, and later in a marriage that turned violent. Those crimes have shaped my life, and telling my tale that spans nearly 50 years was an experience for which I am thankful.

I commend the Royal Commission for the way in which it was conducted; with attentiveness, sensitivity and professionalism, and with an ongoing concern for the wellbeing of the interviewee.

During the process, it was mentioned that after the Commission had finished its work, there might be the possibility of making this process available to those who might subsequently want to recount stories of sexual abuse. I think that could be a valuable option, but it set me thinking about the whole process of dealing with this crime, the wounds, and the tragedy.

First I want to say that we are very well served by a judicial system in our democracy which takes seriously the sexual crimes against the most vulnerable. This independent body, which is separate from executive and legislative bodies in our society, is fundamental to protecting the rights of individuals. This system is not available in the Catholic Church, with these three bodies being collapsed into the role of bishop. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the Church has had so much difficulty with dealing with this crime. 

While I do not in any way want to undermine the judicial system, I would like to offer some alternative thinking. The judiciary is, in effect, a hierarchy. A victim can find comfort in that powerful system. Justice can be delivered for crimes committed. But at the end of the proceedings, the victim is still a victim. One's status has not changed. As for the perpetrator, that label will probably remain with them for the rest of their life, and even after death.

While those labels may well describe those involved, I am worried that at some point they become stereotypes. People are categorised by them in perpetuity. In this system, there is no closure for either the victim or the perpetrator. And what is further communicated is that sexual abuse is the sum total of a person's life.

Are there other ways? I think one possibility is that of restorative justice. This approach might be a way for some, not all, and it should not be looked upon as mitigating criminality. But restorative justice might provide an opportunity to recalibrate the experience of sexual abuse. With the facilitation of a skilled mediator, the victim and the perpetrator have the opportunity to evaluate the assault/s and its consequences. In this approach, the mere fact of the 'victim' no longer being in a subordinate position to the 'perpetrator' reconfigures their relationship.

Further, both the 'victim' and the 'perpetrator' are compelled to find within themselves the motivation and ability to deal with what has happened. If this process is carried out skilfully and compassionately, and the two individuals are able and open to the challenge of this encounter, then this surely must contribute to personal development. Prior experiences including memories and images, feeling and thoughts, are reassessed. The previous understanding is now replaced with a new understanding of what has happened.

In effect, there is a possibility that the 'victim' can be re-empowered, which is certainly a contradiction to what happened during the assault/s. Likewise, the 'perpetrator' can reappropriate their crime, dependent on their ability to make some tough decisions. There are no guarantees, but restorative justice has the potential to change one's understanding of self and the meaning of life. For some, that may mean closure. One can move on with one's life, because an empowered (and courageous) individual is more than the sum of a crime.

There is another option that might also be considered, and that is ritual. Ritual, especially religious ritual can be a very powerful experience. Done well, it can touch areas where psychology and law cannot. Is there a ritual where people can be purified from this blot on their life? Can we enter into this liminal space, this wild and challenging place, and, then, transition anew? Ritual does this for so many of life's transitions, surely there are one or more rituals that might be made available.

There is much more thinking to be done on how we as a society might interrupt this crime of sexual abuse. For instance, the way we sexualise identity in religious and society has to be addressed. We are more than the sum of our biology and sexual physicality. We are made for intimate, mutual, wholesome and loving relationships. We are complex individuals. In addressing these crimes, surely it is a goal for which all could aspire, and one to which the Royal Commission brings us a little closer.

Jane Anderson headshotDr Jane Anderson is an anthropologist and Honorary Research Fellow at University of Western Australia. She is currently writing up her research on progressive Catholicism. She is the author of
Priests in Love: Australian Catholic Clergy and Their Intimate Friendships and Souled Out: Power and Protest in a Catholic Parish.

Topic tags: Jane Anderson, Royal Commission, clergy sex abuse



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Existing comments

Jane's description of restorative justice is a compelling one. It certainly seems a way for 'victim' and 'perpetrator' to reach a place of new understanding. In a religious context, though, there may be additional barriers to break through. Far from feeling empowered, many women feel disempowered in a religious setting, due to church teachings about the roles of male and female. I agree with Jane's words about ritual though - ritual can provide comfort, certainty and a reconnection to the spiritual. So important when faced with overwhelming emotions and trauma.

Pam | 09 December 2013  

Thanks to the Royal Commission for helping to expose the truth, validate victims and protect kids today. Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, 636-433-2511, snapjudy@gmail.com Survivors Network of those Abuse by Priests

Judy Jones | 09 December 2013  

We do indeed need a new model and this is very good, if dependent on the skill of the therapist and his/her ability to "turn the corner" with the abuser into feeling, receptive place. There is an account of 10 men, incarcerated because of abusing, who were treated with EFT and reconnected with the abuse they had suffered as children. With an undefended experiencing of what they had undergone, they completely dropped their callousness and were able to empathize with their victims for the first time. I hope every type of therapy that has some success with easing abuse can be explored.

Joen | 10 December 2013  

Many thanks your the article Jane. Being a trainer in Restorative Practices, I am well aware of the power and capacity of the process to promote healing. I am also aware of the challenges faced by facilitators who fall short in their brief and hens cause further pain to people who have been severely harmed. I think there will be a gradual awakening to the way Restorative Justice works in cases of sexual abuse. I recall a circle we conducted where the victim was not able to locate the perpetrator. After thirty years, the family of this young man sat and listened to the voice of their little brother as he spoke of the terror he experienced and the years of secondary abuse the ensued. We will be accompanying this fellow as he addresses the Royal Commission in January. What a journey. Greg Barns in an article in ABC The Drum 14 Nov 1012, mentions the following: UK and Canadian experience shows that these are favoured by victims over formal court hearings. As a Durham University paper published in 2011 noted, empirical research "illustrates high rates of victim satisfaction with restorative justice, showing that the process is considered fair and 'procedurally just' by most participants and also that it can reduce offending. Dealing with this issue is a big event. It is pervasive and entrenched into our culture. Look back into our family trees and we see gaps. The same driver of these gaps is at large in all institutions. My own belief is that the church is being found wanting because an awakening is occurring.

Vic O'Callaghan | 10 December 2013  

Thanks Jane. Peace.

Rex A Hunt | 10 December 2013  

"I want to say that we are very well served by a judicial system in our democracy which takes seriously the sexual crimes against the most vulnerable. This independent body, which is separate from executive and legislative bodies in our society, is fundamental to protecting the rights of individuals. This system is not available in the Catholic Church, with these three bodies being collapsed into the role of bishop. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the Church has had so much difficulty with dealing with this crime." In commenting on some of the issues you raise Jane, especially in the text quoted above, I would first of all like to say that in no way am I wanting to increase your personal suffering, or that of any other victim of clergy or religious sexual crimes. I hear, in text I have quoted from your article, what I perceive to be, in the case of the present Royal Commission and the other State Government inquiries and commissions, a mythology the likes of which will distract society from the real issues of good and evil. The Church sadly allowed itself to be badly distracted and these crimes are the consequence.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew | 10 December 2013  

An incredibly brave, mature and terribly insightful article, Jane. To have come to this stage rather than being a perpetual victim is in itself a miracle. I am unsure how many victims or perpetrators would be psychologically able to come to this potentially renewing place of restorative justice. Regarding ritual I am wondering whether the Catholic (or any other) Church in its current situation would be capable of taking this on board as an institution. Some sort of genuine penitential ceremony in Rome presided over by the Pope asking for institutional forgiveness and grace to move forward might be a beginning. What has happened worldwide has estranged many from the institution and that includes many who were not victims. The tocsin is sounding loud and clear for the institutional Churches from the Royal Commission and other simultaneous inquiries. Judging from the reactions of some clerics, such as Keith Slater, the former Anglican Bishop of Grafton, they have no idea of how to cope with the situation. Slater's incomprehension and inability are mirrored by many Catholic clerics. You are putting forward a suggestion which should be part of the solution. The test for the institutional Church is whether it is.

Edward F | 10 December 2013  

Jane, some more information on the concept of restorative justice please. It seems very individualistic and likely to absolve the system which enabled the crime to be committed. How does the power imbalance change in your scenario? I know some victims/survivors who can't bear the thought of being in the same room as a perpetrator. And in the case of a multiple offender, would the victims line up one after the other for their shot of restorative justice? What do you mean by the perpetrator "re-appropropriating their crime"? As for ritual, what would that amount to in the case of a child who was raped by a priest in a children's Home and who has subsequently vowed never to go near a church ever again?

Frank Golding | 10 December 2013  

I testified in melbourne. I applaud your standing up against crimes against humanity. God thoughts to you

Tony | 10 December 2013  

Thank you Jane for one of best articles I have read on sexual abuse. I really hope that an alternative can be found to support victims and also to engage in research to understand more fully what motivates perpetrators -only then will we be able to really protect children. But thank you for starting a more positive and hopeful conversation which I hope will lead to some creative processes that will bring healing.

B Murphy | 10 December 2013  

Restorative justice is a powerful tool. It takes enormous courage on the part of the abused. It takes humility, contrition and so much more on the part of the abuser. Dr Anderson is so right in saying it needs to be carried out skilfully and compassionately by a skilled mediator. Unfortunately, the Church thus far has failed to exhibit skill or compassion in dealing with those who have suffered at the whim of their abusers. Possibly the Commission can change the Church mindset and open a pathway to restoring power to the victims. May their strength and the love of a true God sustain them.

Barbara Tynan | 10 December 2013  

I am humbled by the responses. Thank you to all who have added their insights, experience and wisdom to the idea and practice of restorative justice. Has anyone stopped to think, why the Royal Commission is happening now? I think one answer may be in a fundamental re-evaluation of who we are and what it means to be human. ... And I think that restorative justice is a response to that transition.

Jane Anderson | 10 December 2013  

I agree with Frank Golding and with respect, I find the solutions rather patronising. There is no such thing as closure, only learning to live with a sadness and deal with it, whatever the sadness is. "The perpetrator can reappropriate their crime" - I don't know what this means. The "Perpetrator" is a criminal and "appropriate" is a word never to be used with a crime. "An empowered individual is more than the sum of a crime" - the antecedent is "the Perpetrator" Of course any criminal is more than their crime history, but the horrendous reality of what they have done seems here to be secondary to an attempt to make everything good, which can only ever be at a superficial level. I apologise if I have misinterpreted this piece, but I find, after your nearly 50 years and nearly 30 years of abuse, these solutions seem to lack understanding. However I am glad so many are thinking about it. I pray for good to come out of crimes and that we learn to have true practical compassion for each other, whatever the circumstances.

Jane Reader | 10 December 2013  

Fr Mick McAndrew, you wrote, “I hear, in text I have quoted from your article, what I perceive to be, in the case of the present Royal Commission and the other State Government inquiries and commissions, a mythology the likes of which will distract society from the real issues of good and evil.” I am puzzling over this sentence and wondering what you mean, especially by the word “mythology”. Would you say more about this?

Janet | 10 December 2013  

Jane, Many thanks for again leading us beyond the traditional theological circle. Your insight that the church in its ‘divine’ confidence thinks the legislature, justice and policing can all be giving to a single male Bishop is patently foolish, yet we see it in Melbourne, in Sydney and indeed in the Vatican. Second, your focus on Restorative justice is an ideal I experienced from the Royal Commissioner Justice Jennifer Coate in my private session in Melbourne and was reinforced by the counselor offered after the session. My submissions highlight the dilemma we priests have in supporting the innocent victims and also the perpetrators’. This is a real conflict for me and for the 19 who were ordained in my time at Werribee. And thirdly Jane as with your study Priests in Love: Australian Catholic Clergy and Their Intimate Friendship you highlight the abuse many priests show to women in these relationships. The church needs to look to so many changes in celibacy, married and women priests. These are pastoral not theological issues but the church and even Francis is locked into this history and power. Mike Parer

Michael Parer | 11 December 2013  

I am uncertain that restorative justice would work in most sexual abuse cases. According to Marie Bashir - sexual abuse is learned behaviour.

Bev Smith | 11 December 2013  

Thank you for your continuing work in the area of sexuality and relationships. The tone of some responses suggest that many people want to see an end to abuse of children and adults. We don't yet have a store of expertise and experience in healing and restoring all who have been wounded. The question remains about how do we ensure that both the violence of abuse and the violence of the cover up do not happen again. After the Royal Commission is over, unless there is significant change in the Catholic Church's theory and practice of leadership its distorted processes will continue to disregard the voices of those who suffer as well as those who can claim some wisdom and skills to help build up the Church. The Royal Commission cannot do the work of restoring and discovering new ways for us to be the People of God. The good news is that there are Catholics worldwide, including the Pope, who want to walk together into integrity. It takes a whole church to bring the People of God into wholeness. Nelson Mandela's example of leadership is a timely and powerful inspiration.

Alex Nelson | 11 December 2013  

Jane, I absolutely love the ideal of restorative justice which has been used predominantly in cases of juvenile offences as a way of offsetting a career in crime. Face to face restorative justice can be very effective in helping the perpetrator to dismantle his or her inner neutralisation processes that they use to deflect or deny responsibility or to negate the recognition of the offended person's pain. It also works particularly well in close knit communities where all know each other. I believe I'm right in saying it is a favoured form of justice within, for example, indigenous communities. Are Catholic communities 'close knit'? But, what happens when the offender is told (by church lawyers) he is not allowed to talk to the offended person. This was the case for someone I know who went through all the Towards Healing process but remained very unsatisfied with the generic apology. When that person decided one day to ring the cleric to talk, the cleric said he was not allowed to talk and hung up. No closure their, for EITHER I might add. It's a wonderous ideal but I think much more thought has to go into whether the outcomes will be the best for the victim/survivor. I somehow think that what the victim/survivor really needs to be able to do is to find inner healing through therapy or the like where they can come to a point where they may not even need restorative justice. If the cleric (who is not allowed to talk to the offended person) gets this themselves or not, well, it's up to them. And what if the offender is dead or uncontactable. The inner dealing with the trauma is most and firstly vital.

Stephen | 11 December 2013  

Thank you, Jane, for being open about your experience. I’ve worked professionally with many victims of child sexual abuse, and I come from that background myself, and I know that healing can be found in a variety of avenues. Restorative Justice is one such avenue and here in NSW the Dept. of Corrective Services Dept has a specialized Restorative section. For those who don’t understand Jane’s phrase, ‘the perpetrator can reappropriate their crime’, it refers to changing the view that is held by most perpetrators that the crime is not really their own responsibility but is somehow the fault of the victim. Phrases such as ‘It’s because you are so pretty that you make me do this’ or ‘I wasn’t planning it but he looks at me with that look in his eyes’, or ‘It’s good for kids to learn about sex from someone who cares about them’, or myriad others. From this minimizing, the perpetrator has to move to a point where he says, ‘It was of my own choosing. I planned it, groomed the child and family, and manipulated the circumstances for it, because sexual power over powerless children excites me.’

Kim Miller | 11 December 2013  

Dear Jane, What a thoughtful and loving article. I am thankful for your grace and for your suggestions and hope they will be taken up.

Jean Sietzema-Dickson | 11 December 2013  

Janet, the "mythology" woven by family members in general is that: "...parents entrust some share in their duty to educate ...[to] others..." (Vat 2, "Declaration on Christian Education", Gratissimum Educationis, 1965, 3. Oliver Clark, Job's Trust, oliver_clark5@telstra.com

Oliver Clark, Job's Trust | 11 December 2013  

Forgiveness is the missing piece in the process described. As a very young child I was subject to abuse. A chance one off experience, I had never seen the person before and never again. I never told anyone of that experience. Over a period of sixty odd years, the experience has resurfaced often clouding what should have been joyful experiences. I found I went through the steps of the grieving process. But was only wheI n I was able to forgive and pray for the man that I ceased to feel I was a victim. A special ritual would be useful. It wouldn’t work for everyone, but nothing ever will. But it would bring comfort to many. There need to be many options to support those who have been abused, and Fr Mick is right. The human face of the Church has, in these cases, allowed evil to continue. I would prefer not to be named for this post.

Margaret McDonald | 11 December 2013  

thanks Jane, I have to say that this sentence "we are very well served by a judicial system in our democracy which takes seriously the sexual crimes against the most vulnerable" does not reflect my experience. As for restorative justice as described in this article, I see it as some kind of ideal, but cannot envisage it in reality. As for ritual, for me it was engaging in ritual that placed me in the "space" of the one who abused his power over me. So, with respect, I have difficulty with these 3 notions. However, I do agree that work needs to be done to make sure the survivors of those who abuse their power is sees themselves as more than the result of that experience. So more awareness raising is a good thing. Thanks for writing the article.

Jennifer Anne Herrick | 11 December 2013  

thanks Jane, I have to say that this sentence "we are very well served by a judicial system in our democracy which takes seriously the sexual crimes against the most vulnerable" does not reflect my experience. As for restorative justice as described in this article, I see it as some kind of ideal, but cannot envisage it in reality. As for ritual, for me it was engaging in ritual that placed me in the "space" of the one who abused his power over me. So, with respect, I have difficulty with these 3 notions. However, I do agree that work needs to be done to make sure the survivors of those who abuse their power is sees themselves as more than the result of that experience. So more awareness raising is a good thing. Thanks for writing the article.

Jennifer Anne Herrick | 11 December 2013  

#Mr Parer, Jane Anderson's case studies, of 50 priests, shouldn't be a carte blanche for other agendas[married priests/priestesses etc;. #case research can provide valuable hypotheses for a more rigorous,scientific, intensive and wider research model on more numerous clergy populations. #Not forgetting, eg Anglican Church etc, even with your reform 'wish list' implemented, has serious abuse issues; [NB Royal Commission Anglican Transcripts and Media reports]

Father John George | 12 December 2013  

Mr Parer may also note the abuse issue in the Anglican Church despite married clergy and priestesses: http://www.jmm.org.au/articles/5475.htm

Father John George | 12 December 2013  

...The church didn’t understand just how much parents care about the safety of their children. Just how much it matters to fathers and mothers, the idea of your five year old, your 10 year old, your 15 year old where are they now are they safe are they okay, are they happy. Are we looking after them properly? That that all over the world has been a central part of nurturing since time began. And if you’re part of a group of people who because they’re celibate and do not have families they seem not to know this. They seem not to understand it. I mean I don’t have any children either but I think I know about it. But it seems that they didn’t, that they put other things such as for example the safety of the church, the reputation of the church ahead of the safety of children. And that is a chasm; there really is a very deep one which means there’s a huge difference now between the church, the official church and people. Colm Toibin

no comment | 12 December 2013  

O really NC[Celibate mums and dads?].
Research shows that up to 80 per cent of all child sexual abuse occurs within a familial relationship. But the Royal Commission into institutional child sex abuse won't be looking at abuse within families. Experts say that's causing great distress for victims who feel they're being ignored, and child protection advocate professor Freda Briggs warns there will have to be another Royal Commission in 10 years' time

Father John George | 13 December 2013  

Jane, brilliant! Thank you. Please broadcast. xP

patricia bouma | 13 December 2013  

Some of these issues are addressed in book just published by Marlene Hickin,It is called The Cry: understanding child sexual abuse in the church. Her experience is with the Anglican church in a number of countries,I have written a review of it for the Anglicans Together Sydney newsletter.

Susan Emeleus | 13 December 2013  

Mr Parer sir, widespread abuse in Orthodox Churches belies mandatory celibacy as corroborated correlate of sex abuse.

Father John George | 13 December 2013  

An innovative program in New Zealand, called Project Restore, is providing a new avenue for victims of sexual assault to confront perpetrators and deal with the devastating impact of offending behaviour, and the associated anxiety that can trail survivors for years. Search for Radio National's Law Report, 26 November 2013.

Martin | 13 December 2013  

Jane and other who might be interested. I found this article which supports you article here (I'm sure you're aware of it and many, many more). I have reflected much on this topic and I hope that one of the possible conclusions of the Royal Commission is to set up avenues where a process using restorative justice may be made available for those wishing to use it. I know from my own case that I specifically wanted my abuser present at the facilitation with Towards Healing or even after some time. But I was assured this wasn't going to happen. So, I don't know how one gets around that. Anyway here is the article: http://epublications.bond.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1485&context=adr

Stephen | 14 December 2013  

'NO Comment' might note the glaring Royal Omission

Father John George | 14 December 2013  

Dear Janet, Thank you for your article. most of my experience of restorative justice is related to its practice in schools. However, that it can be a valuable tool in dealing with the aftermath of sexual abuse is certainly worth pursuing. You mention the need for some form of ritual to bring healing or closure. Last year, and again on the anniversary of announcing the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sex Abuse, we held a Service, in the form of a Eucharist, in our Parish, which was drawn up with the assistance of a sexual abuse victim, which made use of Scripture and Symbol (stones, a potter's clay, and a perfumed oil) reminding respectively of failure, being formed anew, and missioned to go out with a renewed fragrant faith (redolent of the Oil of Chrism). only small numbers attended, but those who did felt empowered again. Others may find the format useful.

Fr. Abel van der Veer | 15 December 2013  

Thank you for such an insightful and thought provoking article based on your experience. The feedback that has followed highlights the need for a range of options to help address the often complex needs of victim and survivors of sexual abuse. The main thing is that those engaged in practices that can assist, such as restorative justice, work together with other specialists and survivors to ensure we have a range of supported processes that can make a difference. Then we may go part way to repairing the harm that has been caused. Thanks Jane.

Peta Blood | 15 December 2013  

The New Zealand Bishops conference issued a telling statement supporting restorative justice several years ago. It's related and worth a look.

John O'D | 16 December 2013  

John O'D and Abel VdV and other - it's encouraging to hear about initiatives within the Church regarding restorative justice, but their practice and aim, is, I believe, hampered by current structures, etc.. Momentary reversal of rituals in terms of power distribution are no longer sufficient for ameliorating problems with how power is currently distributed.

Jane Anderson | 16 December 2013  

Of all crimes of all times 'this crime' of the Catholic Church is the most heinous. And I am afraid, Fr John George, non of your comments will ever make that truth go away. Even so, may the good Lord this Xmas show you mercy, joy and forgiveness. Not 'statistics'.

Bernstein | 16 December 2013  

[BE IT NOTED: presenting opposing views is not thereby trivializing heinous abuse, rather avoiding knee jerk quick fix solutions to complex issues!] "There is some contention as to whether or not restorative justice will work in practice. Some views on this are represented by Levrant, who thinks that the acceptance of restorative justice is based more on “humanistic sentiments” rather than restorative justice’s effectiveness. According to Morris, some of the most common criticisms used against the practicality or realism of restorative justice are: ...restorative justice erodes legal rights; restorative justice results in net-widening; restorative justice trivializes crime (particularly men’s violence against women); restorative justice fails to ‘restore’ victims and offenders; restorative justice fails to effect real change and to prevent recidivism; restorative justice results in discriminatory outcomes; restorative justice extends police powers; restorative justice leaves power imbalances untouched; restorative justice leads to vigilantism; restorative justice lacks legitimacy; and restorative justice fails to provide ‘justice’.[66] Another critique of restorative justice suggests that professionals are often left out of the restorative justice conversation. Albert W. Dzur and Susan M. Olson argue that this sector of justice cannot be successful without professionals. They claim that professionals can aid in avoiding problems that come up with informal justice and propose the theory of democratic professionalism, where professionals are not just agents of the state – as traditional understandings would suggest – but as mediums, promoting community involvement while still protecting individuals’ rights.[67] [Wikipedia]

Father John George | 16 December 2013  

The quality of God’s voice is more a matter of the weight or impact an impression makes on our consciousness. [Its] certain steady and calm force… inclines us toward assent… We sense inwardly the immediate power of God’s voice… the unquestionable authority…It is a spirit of exalted peacefulness and confidence, of joy, of sweet reasonableness and of goodwill. It is, in short, the spirit of Jesus, and by that phrase I refer to the overall tone and internal dynamics of his personal life as a whole… Those who [have] seen Jesus [have] truly seen the Father, who shared the same Spirit. It is this Spirit that marks the voice of God in our hearts. Any word that bears an opposite spirit most surely is not the voice of God. And because his voice bears authority within itself, it does not need to be loud (Hearing God, page 175, 177).

Damaris | 16 December 2013  

Thank you Jane for your courage, clear thinking and positive suggestion.

Marnie Bligh | 17 December 2013  

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