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Sexual abuse summit: naive no more



When I was growing up in the 1960s in a small NSW town, I didn't know there were adults who gained sexual gratification from abusing children. As a young secondary school teacher in the 1980s, I suspect I was almost as ignorant.

John Boyne's A History of LonelinessI realised early in the piece that not every child had the stable, loving childhood I had enjoyed. Some of the children I taught came from families who struggled because of poverty, addiction, relationship difficulties (the awful term 'broken home' was in use) or chronic illness.

However, as I learned some 30 years later, there were children attending that school — children whose upbringing resembled mine — who were victims of the heinous crime of sexual abuse. Even more horrifying is the fact that their abuser was a local Catholic priest.

Someone said to me, after that priest was convicted, 'If you had looked out of the classroom window and seen a student getting into a car driven by a priest, wouldn't you be suspicious?' My reply was, 'On the contrary, I would have thought that the student must have a good relationship with his parish priest.' As a billboard I often see while driving proclaims, 'Unsee this.' You can't.

I can't forget the lurid details I heard while attending the trial of that priest, working in a different role. Naïve no more, those weeks were a turning point in my journey of faith — a journey that, until then, had been a relatively straight line.

I can hardly count the number of cases of abuse by clergy and church personnel in my diocese. Many of the perpetrators and many of the survivors are personally known to me — and of course, not all victims are survivors. Many have taken their own lives, unable to go on because they are unable to forget.

For a long time, I have believed that abuse in institutions (abuse in the home is a different, more insidious story) was declining, not because adults in positions of power were any more honourable, but only because children and young people are less naïve. While Pope Francis' 'sexual abuse summit' in Rome can only be a good thing, the risk is that it's too little, too late.


"This crisis didn't begin to emerge last year or last decade, but last century. If appropriate official responses have yet to be discerned, perhaps it's time to widen the net."


I question the fact that only presidents of bishops' conferences and representatives of religious congregations are included. While, as individuals, they may be above reproach, aren't they drawn precisely from the groups whose members offended?This crisis didn't begin to emerge last year or last decade, but last century. If appropriate official responses have yet to be discerned, perhaps it's time to widen the net.

Would it not have been salutary to invite, for example, committed People of God whose professions require them to impose on their subordinates strict codes of conduct and lines of accountability? I don't know if there is a Francis Sullivan in the United States or in Ireland, but I do know that Sullivan or a counterpart would have wisdom to offer the assembly, after being CEO of the Australian Church's Truth, Justice and Healing Council.

I'm sure, sadly, there are people like Chrissie Foster in other countries — people whose lives have been shattered because their children have suffered at the hands of those whose vows, made before a bishop or a congregational superior, meant nothing. I do know that Foster or a counterpart would have wisdom to offer the assembly.

Irishman John Boyne, author of the novel A History of Loneliness, about sexual abuse in the Church in Ireland, has a story to share and the writerly imagination to do so. Ireland, once arguably the most Catholic of countries, has been beset by sexual abuse by those who preached the gospel and saw no irony. Why not invite Boyne to build the assembly's understanding?      

Andrew Hamilton, in his article 'Shaping the Pope's sexual abuse summit', identifies those who are stakeholders in the gathering in Rome. I'm disappointed they are not represented, because they have a unique insight. It would say a great deal to a watching world if they had been invited — begged — not only to tell their story but to tell the assembly how the Church might respond.

In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (2013), Pope Francis wrote: 'I readily acknowledge that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests ... But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church ... The presence of women must also be guaranteed in the workplace and in the various other settings where important decisions are made, both in the Church and in social structures.'

I can't help wondering how many women will be part of the Vatican summit. Would this not have been a time 'to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence'?

My greatest hope is that the summit will recognise that the hierarchical nature of the institutional church — and its corollary, clericalism − is the biggest stumbling block to making the church not merely a safe place for all, but the welcoming, compassionate, open community it is intended to be. As is the case with the upcoming Plenary Council, it's so easy to be sceptical — and so important to get it right. The world will be watching. What does the church have to lose?



Tracey EdsteinTracey Edstein is a freelance writer and former editor of Aurora, the official magazine of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

Topic tags: Tracey Edstein, Pope Francis, clergy sexual abuse



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Existing comments

Clericalism is an abuse of the church's hierarchical structure rather than a "corollary" of it, Tracey. Vatican II supports ecclesial participation and consultation on a broader basis than the clergy only, but not at the expense of the structure the Council affirms as deriving from Christ and the Apostles.

John | 18 February 2019  

The world is watching, and it is so important to get it right. After all, the church is much more than an institution struggling with an issue that will not go away. It is the place people are called to by God: place being a verb not a noun. Non-believers most especially need this place. I can't think of a greater test of the 'true believer' than to stick with other 'true believers' at this point. Invitations to the 'sexual abuse summit' should follow the pattern of the Kingdom: the lame, the wounded, the blind, the deaf. And those who have no voice.

Pam | 18 February 2019  

With respect John, Tracey has it right. Hierarchy is about power, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Clericalism is an inevitable consequence of the absolute nature of the hierarchical structure. Have you ever wondered why the Chair and CEO of bank resign when the bank is criticised in a Royal Commission but their equivalents in the Church when the Church is criticised just sit pat?

Ginger Meggs | 18 February 2019  

“My greatest hope is that the summit will recognise that the hierarchical nature of the institutional church”………..1 of 2: Merriam-Webster: Clericalism; a policy of maintaining or increasing the ‘power’ of a religious hierarchy; Clericalism is the problem’, as it is the vehicle that carries our Christian enterprise, which has systematically nullified men of integrity. I woke up to the reality of Clericalism over thirty-five years ago , when I was in extreme (on-going) difficulty, in my distress, I was told jovially … “You will get no help from the Church as they (the priesthood/Clerics) are all institutionalized, they cannot even help themselves”…This proved to be correct, stonewalling, self-protection was the name of the game, their sacred world must not be infringed on, even great evil must be protected within the Priesthood, even if it means sacrificing any lamb that has the audacity to cry out in anguish. Given that many priests went straight from school/college into the priesthood I had to concede within my heart that this was true. Is it any wonder that an abandoned flock of lambs has been decimated? I cannot describe the distress I feel in regards to this wanton dereliction of duty by our so called spiritual Clerics, who claim to be experts when it comes to immoral actions otherwise known as SINS” who remained silent while so many lambs (Innocents) were left to be devoured by ravenous wolves, as the leadership were fully AWARE of what was happening in the real world, they protected yourselves by stonewalling and projecting a worldly image of holiness, in silence. The abuse crisis originates from men who serve dark forces, as not all priests are Christian, as I can testify, as I have witnessed many times, over the last thirty-five years, actions…Continue

Kevin Walters | 18 February 2019  

2 of 2; that incorporate intimidation, duplicity, gesture, implied talk, murmurings and symbolism, no (Worldly) lawyer or civil agency or ‘Church Agency’ (in its present state), can expose what these evil men use, while smiling, as they are the tools of the Evil One. The trappings of Clericalism that spider that has caught so many in its web of deceit and arrogance will have to be confront, as in the self-serving nature of clerics, within clericalism, which can only be remedied, when our Sheppard’s are able to act openly with integrity, before a worldly hierarchical Church. Credibility needs to be restored and this will only happen when these words by Jesus Christ are fulfilled…“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth your father, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”…Clericalism simple put put many good men hemmed in well. kevin your brother In Christ

Kevin Walters | 18 February 2019  

I must confess, having gone to a mixture of Catholic and Anglican schools, both in this country and abroad, I have never been molested or in any way felt uncomfortable or sexually threatened by any priest; brother; nun or teacher, male or female. This was in the 1950s and 60s, when some of the worst cases were happening. That does not mean I believe it did not happen and on a massive scale right across the board. It did. I think the forthcoming Sexual Abuse Summit in Rome is an attempt by the Pope to stop the rot. Time will be short and the agenda and timetable fairly rigid. I do not hold out great hopes for this Summit, but I would be delighted to be disabused.

Edward Fido | 18 February 2019  

Ginger, the example - washing their feet - Jesus gave to the Twelve chosen by him at the Last Supper emphasizes a leadership of service, not political or economic power as the secular examples you produce refer to. Clericalism is a distortion of the kind of leadership that should characterise ecclesial leadership which, according to the mind and will of the one who formed the church, is hierarchical.

John | 18 February 2019  

Well said Tracey. This tragedy needs to be addressed fully and effectively for the sake of the children, and for the health of the Church. The system has flaws that can’t be overlooked.

Mary-Anne Johnson | 19 February 2019  

Thank you Tracey for your very good insights. I have just noticed in a photo from the press conference prior to the meeting in Rome there are 6 people behind the table and three of them appear to be lay people and one is a woman. If only this were the case for the membership and voting rights of the people at the meeting, apart from the suggestion of 50% women, rather than window dressing for the media.

Tom Kingston | 19 February 2019  

Jesus may well have demonstrated and promoted a ‘leadership of service’ John but practically from its beginning the hierarchical structure of the institutional Church has been all about exercising political and economic power as well as religious power. Show me an era where it has been otherwise. ‘Clericalism’ is inherent in the nature of an hierarchical beast, commercial, military, political, or religious.

Ginger Meggs | 19 February 2019  

Tracey: thanks for a very insightful article. Naïveté is a foundational problem. Dual allegiance is common, with clergy joining freemason lodges, witchcraft covens, etc., and participating in ceremonies that dishonour Christ and are in some degrees, profane and repugnant. Cannon lawyer Dr Ed Condon has researched dual-faith-allegiance and why faithful Catholics could never be in it (e.g. The Catholic Herald 10.08.2017). Ed says Pope Francis has spoken many times about freemason infiltration of Catholic organisations and even the Roman Curia. He connects the on-going corruption of the Church with several decades of exposure to freemason materialist ideology. In such Christ-demeaning heresies, sin does not matter since everybody is going to be saved. "Do whatever you want" is their 'novel beatitude'. It shouldn't surprise us when clergy preach false doctrine, are grossly immoral, criminal child sexual molesters, and contemptuous of New Testament Apostolic instruction. Dr Condon’s report rang a bell with me. Years ago, new in a Catholic parish, I was approached by a parishioner master-mason, claiming affiliation with our Archbishop. His blandishments failed as I'd already discerned the faith-destroying havoc and spiritually-fatal links between freemasonry and witchcraft. If Pope Francis' abuse summit ignores pervasive occult subversion it'll only treat symptoms.

Dr Marty Rice | 19 February 2019  

The exercise of power is an aspect of the Church, Ginger, but not the totalizing reality you make it out to be: there is more to the Church's identity, presence and leadership in history than the oppression by which you characterise it, including its part in affirming and enhancing the dignity of women in pagan society.

John | 19 February 2019  

Tracy, Like you, I spent much of my working life as a secondary school teacher in a congregational school - I am well and truly retired. I was blissfully unaware that several staff members were offenders . I was shocked and saddened when I found this out just a few years ago . Here is an example of hypocrisy. A female member of staff married one of my male colleagues. When their marriage sadly ended in separation and divorce, the headmaster ( a Brother) sacked her, yet kept on her former partner, even promoted him! She had done no wrong nor caused scandal .I was upset and outraged at the time and I still am when I recall it . I have no doubt that the admin had knowledge of the sexual abuse, but covered it up, until a victim came forward, when the issue finally exploded in the media. I agree with you that expert lay people men and women, should be involved in this Vatican Summit as we are all called through our Baptism to play a role in the Church. The days of the Hierarchy "running the show" are well and truly at an end . I suggest that there are many lay people, as is the case with me, who hold Masters Degrees or higher in Theology, yet who have no say in the faith journey of the Church. The voices of the laity must be heard if the Church is to move on from this terrible scandal.

Gavin O'Brien | 19 February 2019  

Tracey, brilliant! It is exactly what so many of us would like to be able to say. And Gavin, what a sad tale, you must be so frustrated and your experience makes me feel angry! Where did all this come from? Could I suggest something radical: that much of the problem stemmed from Humanae vitae and the process that lay behind it? This was a document by Paul 6 (and which destroyed him) but was heavily influenced but (St) Karol W, whose attitudes to (married) sex were bizarre and not in Catholic tradition; the preceding repudiation the expert commission was scandalous; and the reaction to the outrage under St K was to clamp down, reject the spirit of Vat2 and appoint bishops to be conservative, boring and slaves to the neo-infallability of the Rome line on everything. This was abuse of power and of lay people writ big, and the suppression of anything that could undermine the status quo was top priority.

Eugene | 20 February 2019  

Degrees in theology are man made and are thus of varying quality, Gavin. They will never surpass or alter what Christ has made.

john frawley | 20 February 2019  

This is an excellent and incisive article about one of the major problems facing the Catholic Church at this time. Some of the comments on it by the likes of Pam, Marty Rice and Gavin O'Brien are equally incisive. This Summit is being called by Pope Francis to shake some of the hierarchy into reality. That is why he has people like Cardinal Blase Cupich; Fr Hans Zollner SJ, possibly the Church's leading expert on the subject of clerical child sex abuse and Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Pope's international trouble shooter on the matter, involved in organising the Summit. I suspect that, behind closed doors, there will be no punches pulled by the Pope's representatives. It will operate in the collegial way the Pope wants it to. Policies will be decided on and then it will up to the dioceses and orders to implement. This is where the laity have the chance to bring the hierarchy to account. It is in America that the strongest revulsion to the way this crisis has been handled came and the US Catholic Bishop's Conference has been agitating strongly for change. These are very powerful people speaking and acting on behalf of the powerless.

Edward Fido | 20 February 2019  

Two top action points on the list submitted to the organizers suggested by Marie Collins: 1) Agreeing on a clear definition on sexuall abuse. 2) Agreeing on a clear definition on zero tolerance..."It's important because this is a global meeting, with representatives from all around the world. The problem in the church is that, everybody interpretes things their own way in different countries. And all we have in Canon Law, on child abuse, is that it's an offence against the 6th Commandment. But that can be interpreted in so many different ways and it needs to be more specific." (Marie Collins)The Sixth Commandment regards sexual behaviour. The Sixth Commandment of the Ten Commandments could also refer to: "Thou shalt not kill" under the Philonic division used by Hellenistic Jews, Greek Orthodox and Protestants except Lutherans, or the Talmudic division of the third-century Jewish Talmud. Not only: "Thou shalt not commit adultery" under the Augustinian division used by Roman Catholics and Lutherans)

AO | 22 February 2019  

Well said Edward Fido and everyone! If only Church hierarchs paid attention to the balanced judgment of experienced and informed Catholic laity AND the survivors of clerical abuse and cover-ups . . . I'm so despondent to read: "Peter Isley, victim of clergy sexual abuse and a spokesperson for 'End Clergy Abuse' responded to the Pope's 21 reflection points, calling them “. . not very concrete points. I’ll tell you what the roadmap (of the Pope's summit) in here is, it’s a circle,” he told CNA journalists on Feb. 21. Isley was vocal in his opinion that the ideas presented in the Pope's list of reflection points do not go far enough in implementing “zero tolerance” against priests who have abused minors or bishops who have covered it up. “There is nothing there that wasn’t there yesterday,” he stated. SO, after all the PR and press releases by the Pope, cardinals, and archbishops it looks to me like: "So nice meeting you all; now let's get back to business as usual." I hope and pray not; for this would itself be criminal neglect of this God-given opportunity for making the Church and the world more Christ-like.

Dr Marty Rice | 23 February 2019  

A question has arisen. "What could the Pope and Magisterium do to deal with occult allegiance among clergy?" In discussions with women leaders of the CCR and the ACU, we realized baptism, confirmation, holy Eucharist, holy orders, and the creeds haven't proven sufficient to stop a person taking up dual-allegiances incompatible with Christianity. A simple ‘Personal Affirmation of Faith Allegiance’ could help. This draft ‘PAFA’ is offered for general comment: "I…………………. of…………… solemnly affirm I have no allegiance that conflicts with my Christian spiritual allegiance to the Catholic Church. I affirm that I have no allegiance to pagan or occult or atheistic organisations or freemasonry or witchcraft or their like. I appreciate that this is a solemn affirmation of my personal faith allegiance and that, if proven false, I may be held to account and be liable to legal sanction and resultant fines and legal costs. Signed ………… Dated …………….Witnessed……….. Dated …………. " Maybe this can be developed as an aid to assist the Church in clarifying a protracted, damaging, deeply divisive, and heretofore unapproachable cause of major scandals. It's surely crucially important that delegates to key Church councils/summits should be ready, even eager, to affirm their personal faith allegiance.

Dr Marty Rice | 23 February 2019  

Tracey indeed clericalism is the biggest stumbling block to reform and enduring change within this edifice we call the Catholic church. As for the extent of the abuse, we may have only seen the iceberg's tip. Italy and Argentina, an alleged 14 strong abuse of the deaf led by 83 year old Italian priest Nicola Corradi has come to light. The current Pontiff has had a list of these names since 2015 and allegations first surfaced in 2010. (Washington Post Feb 2019). The schools for the deaf are in Provolo Verona and Lujan in the Andes both run by the same order of priests. However in Italy of the last 144 convictions for sexual abuse by clergy, only one perpetrator in in prison. In Italy the bishops do not have to report abusive priests to the Police as they can still invoke canon law even to the point of choosing not to answer allegations from victims and the Authorities. Pope Francis has his work cut out in both Continents and the now socially aware victims are asking hard questions as to the tardiness of the Vatican response and why it continued for so long after the reports to Rome.

Francis Armstrong | 24 February 2019  

Dr Marty Rice I found your comment interesting in regards to occult allegiances. We all carry our own experiences within us and our views are influenced by them. There is a culture within the church that ‘is is’ difficult to explain if you are an outsider, as I am. I have observed for over thirty five difficult years that there is a war going on within the church, I have referred to it, as in been similar to a Chess Board, next to every black one stands a white one, and that the church is losing this battle, as can be seen in declining congregations. Many of the black ones are/appear to be privileged members within the Church who together colluded with the elite, in in what could be described as a church within a church. From the outside this network appears to be held together by a ..V.. that transforms itself into a Circle of Worldly Power. All circles of worldly power rely on secrecy, this gives an advantage based on deception, and serves the Evil One. He cannot be beaten at his own game, the early Christians used signs and gesture, but these can be duplicated, then we have duplicity and confusion at play; for those on the outside, like myself, friend or foe you no longer know. kevin your brother In Christ

Kevin Walters | 25 February 2019  

Marty Rice is spot on about the dangers of Occultism - often posing under fairly innocuous sounding cover - in this day and age. This is a complex subject and needs people of his intelligence to comment on and deal with. There a number of current Catholic Truth Society pamphlets which can be a very apt danger sign to those who might be interested in this sort of thing. Knowledge of what the Occult is needs to be part of Religious Education in Catholic schools and students need to be warned of the real spiritual and psychological dangers involved. In seminaries it is vital and needs to be taught about in much greater depth. One of the reasons for the rise of Occultism in the contemporary West is the dearth of any real, deep traditional spirituality in the Christian Church. This is why, on assuming office, Pope Francis appealed to the Carmelites, masters of deep, authentic Catholic spirituality, to teach their fellow Church members how to pray. Prayer is not just a matter of words, nor of passively attending Church services, but making a deep and authentic connection with the Almighty which will guide you in your life. I think the current paedophilia crisis has arisen because the abusers either never had, or somehow lost, this connection.

Edward Fido | 28 February 2019  

Oops! Please read 'There are a number of Catholic Truth Society pamphlets' in my previous post of 28 February 2019.

Edward Fido | 28 February 2019  

Many thanks Edward Fido for your kind view; but, I'm qualified (by Christ's mercy) through surviving a plethora of hard knocks - more than by any special intelligence. Also, my library has accumulated quite a few helpful works for growing personal spirituality and overcoming a variety of challenges. Especially recommended is the Anne Field OSB edition of St Leo the Great's "The Binding of the Strong Man". Your comments were really helpful Edward; and we might hope and pray there are more of the faithful like you. In addition to your insightful diagnosis of the Church's malaise, it's probably also true to say that neglect of regular study of The Catechism of the Catholic Church by seminary professors and students, by clergy, by religious, and by laity has opened the door to many un-holy influences. How few appreciate the Catechism's emphasis (following Jesus & the Apostles) on the 10 Commandments. In contemporary format, the 10 establish the personal and public framework of what it is to be growing into a Christian Roman Catholic (please see following post). This reality will not change because it's inherent of God's Eternal Realm. We can only progress by returning to who we really are.

Dr Marty Rice | 28 February 2019  

God's recipe for Catholic authenticity. This adds to a previous comment. The Semitic Ten Commandments reflected cleanness of the right hand (the first five) and uncleanness of the left hand (the second five). Today, could we be true to the original and also comprehend the commandments via a positive, personal, ecumenical, and egalitarian hermeneutics, informed by the New Testament and accessible to 21st Century people? One possibility is offered: HAND ONE, Thumb: With all my heart, mind, body and soul I will worship the one God revealed by Jesus Christ: Father/Son/Holy Spirit; Index Finger: I will have no other god nor any idol; Middle Finger: I will not use God’s name profanely; Ring Finger: I will keep the Sabbath Day holy; Little Finger: I will honour my mum and dad. HAND TWO, Thumb: I will love every person and not hurt or kill anyone, nor think evil of them, nor hate or take revenge; Index Finger: I will maintain sexual purity and faithfulness in thought, word and deed; Middle Finger: I will not steal; Ring Finger: I will not tell lies, nor deceive, nor slander; Little finger: I will not covet for God in Christ has provided all I need.

Dr Marty Rice | 28 February 2019  

I am finding these the most amazing times to live in, Marty Rice. Something is obviously happening on the global scale, of which I believe the worldwide child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church is part of. Let me assure you I have not consulted Madam Zelda's crystal ball, nor do I believe we are approaching Armageddon, which I think is a metaphor anyway, but I think these times are extremely challenging. One of the things I find encouraging is that articles such as this appear in Eureka Street, to be commented on by the likes of yourself; Pam; Gavin O'Brien; John Frawley et al. If ever there was a time the Church needed the laity to be more than passive attendees it is now. That is why, when someone like you openly talks about their spirituality, I feel privileged to hear. My own spirituality has been developed, like many of ours, by seemingly banging my head against a brick wall, only to find that there is no need to do that. Others, over the centuries, have done the same thing and found their way safely back to home port. Near contemporaries, such as Thomas Merton; Anthony Bloom and Michel Quoist have done that in a perfectly orthodox and ultimately safe way. I wish more people knew.

Edward Fido | 02 March 2019  

Hi Edward. Returning to 'who we really are' could heal the current rash of diseases and disasters in the Church. So: let's draw clean water from the pure and loving depths of her long, Christ-obedient heritage. 'The New Testament' is mandatory; Pope Saint John Paul II's 'Catechism of the Catholic Church' next; works such 'The Binding of the Strong Man' by Pope Saint Gregory the Great, Thomas a' Kempis' 'Of The Imitation of Christ', and many others have proved reliable over the centuries; not forgetting many superb works by our separated brothers and sisters in Christ, such as John Bunyan's 'The Pilgrim's Progress'. The works of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman are salutary, e.g. as seen in the article at: www.newoxfordreview.org/documents/newmans-prophetic-challenge-to-clericalism Once we dip deep into the Church's profound spiritual well, we escape the superficial turbulence and pollution of the current in-flow. Let's avoid the pop-psychologist 'theologies' and self-advertised 'new-age' spiritualities that are often old heresies re-hashed. Together in Holy Mass we pray: "God's Realm come" and "God's Will be done" i.e., that people everywhere would love and obey Jesus Christ. We covenant in His Flesh of obedience and His Blood of constant love. True to this we cannot fail.

Dr Marty Rice | 07 March 2019  

What an insightful piece of writing expressing my feelings exactly.

Lorraine Cowling | 19 March 2019  

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