The Church should accept its humiliation


Dark Clouds

Last week we received a fine article on the child sexual abuse Royal Commission from a writer who had worked for a Catholic Church agency that deals with children. 

He told of how he’d been at a consultation that included presentations from the Church and from advocates representing victims of church-related sexual abuse. Afterwards he accidentally struck up what he called a ‘warm and constructive friendship’ with a victims’ rights advocate that led to some significant cooperation.

A few hours after sending the article, the writer wrote again to withdraw it. I was disappointed, but pleased that he subsequently gave me permission to quote from his email, in which he explained his decision:

I've been trying to figure my discomfort...
and it is something like this:
that any words we write at this time run the risk
of justifying ourselves as church people,
instead of undertaking our real task
which is to sit in silence and shame and confusion....
and repent

I believe that our writer made the correct call. It is, as he suggests, time to let the dignity of victims shine, and for the Church to set its dignity aside, without question, and accept the humiliation that has come its way. In other words, the Church needs to take its own advice about imitating the humility of Christ. It often preaches this using the text from St Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

‘In humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.’

The consensus is that Cardinal Pell failed in that regard during his media conference on church sexual abuse last Tuesday, particularly with assertions such as this: ‘We object to it being exaggerated, we object to being described as the “only cab on the rank”.’

I also failed last Monday when I argued in Eureka Street that the mistakes the BBC made in its mistaken identification of a former government official as a pedophile should cause us to apply ‘a degree of skepticism’ to all investigative reporting, including that of church sexual abuse.

Any hope that the Church has of being a credible witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ depends upon its ability to accept its current humiliation and give glory instead to the sexual abuse victims whom it has humiliated.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, George Pell, sexual abuse, humiliation, Royal Commission



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Existing comments

WOW.....that just about says it all Thank you Michael for pointing to the bottom line in this debacle
GAJ | 19 November 2012

Well said Michael - Thank you!
Murray J Greene | 19 November 2012

Perhaps we could devote Lent 2013 to penance for the abuse. It's not new. See the experience of St Joseph Calasanz centuries ago with his men, among so many others. And the abuse of children in Japanese Buddhist monasteries St Francis Xavier witnessed in the sixteenth century. Centuries of shame across religions. Next year, no carefully constructed Lenten spiritual programs printed on nice glossy paper for discussion groups; just spiritual sackcloth and ashes, and learning the penitential psalms by heart for use on Sundays especially, when we mourn our sinfulness together. And face the greatest level of child abuse in our local communities - in families. Some real tears please. Chris
Christopher Clancy | 19 November 2012

Well written, Michael. Philippians 2 is always challenging - the apostle Paul, the wise and humble teacher. I've looked at this particular passage a number of times recently and it's a great reminder of what our true status should be. This is a time for the Catholic (and other) churches to focus on victims and their families. The suffering has been immense. A number of correspondents last week mentioned sexual abuse in other contexts e.g. in the family. This is sadly a significant problem in society, but the church must lead the way, in humility, in acknowledging the responsibility it has to be a beacon of hope, and example, for society.
Pam | 19 November 2012

An excellent assessment Michael. I am not sure whether the hierarchs will take notice! The letter of the Bishops Conference at the weekend proves my point. Pure humility is a wonderful virtue, especially during this year of Grace and Faith.
Peter M | 19 November 2012

Michael, thank you for this call to humility and your acknowledgement of the need for the churches to be 'lesser' and the victims of abuse to be 'greater'. Christ's peace, which passes understanding, lies in surrender to the truth and the ongoing practising of repentance. The use of children for sexual gratification is an open wound in our world, and the churches - all the churches - will do well to admit culpability where and when it is due, and to continue to offer sincere apologies, compensation and payment for professional counselling. Belligerent defence, 'lawyering up', finger pointing at other institutions (that also failed children) and rationalisations will not aid either the victims of abuse nor the churches.
Barry G | 19 November 2012

Very well said, Michael - whenever we open our mouths as Church now, our first words need to be of apology. It is with good reason, I think, that the Penitential Rite comes where it does in our celebration of Eucharist. Perhaps we would use that moment to acknowledge our failings as Church, whether or not we feel we are 'personally responsible' - corporately we must "sit in silence and shame and confusion... and repent." It will indeed be humiliating. That is part of the deal, as St Paul seems to have known all too well. I am disappointed not to be able to read the article you received last week, but heartened that its withdrawal has provided this opportunity of reflective humility. Thank you too that you name your own failure in your piece last Monday. I hadn't read it like that, at the time; I see what you mean now. Per se there seems to me to have been nothing wrong with it. And that's the trap, isn't it? Our tendency towards self-justification is so entrenched. We have to be ever vigilant in noticing our attempts to pull ourselves up by our own bootlaces; and instead, undertake our real task, "which is to sit in silence and shame and confusion.... and repent."
Richard | 19 November 2012

The voice of wisdom. Thank you Michael Mullins.
Frank Golding | 19 November 2012

Oh yes, that's right, 'best to remain silent', which is how the Church has got itself into this trouble, I'd have said. What utter tripe! As for 'letting the dignity of the victims to shine', words fail me here. It's almost a case of 'blame the victim' because the chances are there may well not be much dignity on display once these people start to hand their stories over to the Royal Commission, mainly because there was clearly no notion of 'dignity' on display, for decades, from the Church. 'Remain silent', what, in the hope no will will notice? Today we heard of moves to strip the Catholic Church of its 'special status', to remove it from the legal fiction that it simply does not exist, so it can protect its ill-gotten tax plunder and obscene wealth. About time, and time to end the-across-the-board tax exemption all religions get in this country, so they can take their place, at last, as 'responsible corporate citizens' (not that there are too many of them) and start to pay their way for the untold damage they wreak that costs we taxpayers an absolute fortune, straight out of our back pockets.
janice wallace | 19 November 2012

It is not easy being catholic, being a member of a hierarchical structure, where the hierarchs take it upon themselves to speak for what is in effect not a legal entity. Jesus, innocence personified,before Pilate, civil power personified,can serve as a model and an inspiration to us, even though we are far from innocent and our general community of christians self-admitted sinners. "Pilate entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, 'Where are you from?' But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, "Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have the power to release you and the power to crucify you?" Jesus answered him, "You would have no power over me unless it had come from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin." It is not easy being a follower of Christ. It is not always easy to know what is the right thing to say or do in certain circumstance. But there is always time to give no answer - immediately. There is always time to reflect and pray to the Father for guidance and humility. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam!
Uncle Pat | 19 November 2012

Spot on, Michael: thank you.
Peter Day | 19 November 2012

With respect I disagree with the basic message of your article Michael. Christ spoke out against injustice. There is injustice in the wilfully blind irrationality of anti-Catholic prejudice/sentiment. I see the Cardinal's call for a balanced and fact-based commentary from the media as a call for justice. Furthermore, the Church would not be doing justice to victims if it remained completely silent and encouraged the 'mythology of victimhood' one sees in some quarters (cf that expression used in Peter Craven's superb article in The Australian this weekend).
Elizabeth | 19 November 2012

Oh how true this is. And we need the right spokesperson to speak for the church so this is apparent to all.Geoffrey Robinson's article (Advice to Bishops on Royal Commission ) says it so eloquently.
Trevor | 19 November 2012

Michael, the penny starts to drop when you realise that your piece is based on a false dichotomy. There are not two groups - the Church and victims of abuse. Most of the victims are or were members of the Church. They were the most victimised members of the Church with little or no voice to be heard. They are the shamed and humilated face of Christ which the powerful in the Church have often not recognised as such. Their shame and humiliation is the shame and humiliation of the body of Christ. Conversion, repentance and reparation at all levels of the Church's life are the only way forward. Our church communities need to become places where survivors of abuse feel safe, not just tolerated or pitied, or worse still made to feel excluded by the silence.
Neil Ormerod | 19 November 2012

Thankyou Michael! Yes! Yes! A thousand times Yes!
KAM | 19 November 2012

Thank you Michael. You've put your neck on the block this time, and I appreciate it. There have been so many prevaricating times when you have made me crazy, but this piece has made up for all of it.
Kate Ahearne | 19 November 2012

A humble article. I would just have used one different word at the end. Change glory to dignity with reference to victims.
Jennifer Herrick | 19 November 2012

If only the members of the Bishops' Conference could adopt this attitude at its forthcoming meeting....AND gag Cardinal Pell!
Peter Watson,Obl.OSB | 19 November 2012

You are not without a powerful support from the earliest Christian tradition, Michael. Embedded within it is a history of very embarrassing facts which made the preaching of the Church's message a very difficult, almost impossible, enterprise. The greatest obstacle to the acceptance of the Gospel was its proposition that the hero was not just a failure, rejected by his own people but was condemned as a common criminal and publicly executed in the most humiliating way. Also embedded in the early Christian memory was the fact that the closest followers of Jesus were buffoons, cowards, and traitors. Their leader, Peter, turned out to be all of the above but capped it off as an apostate. The miracle in all of this is that these embarrassments were not entirely expunged from the tradition. They remain fixed and a constant reminder to the Church that perfection is in fact a fiction. The Church is at its best when it faces the worst about itself, names it and corrects it. It's time now, especially for the leadership of the Catholic Church to listen to its historical record and relearn the truth about itself. Denialism is easy; facing the embarrassments is tough indeed.
David Timbs | 19 November 2012

Thank you Michael for moving article. Maybe the Year of Faith could be followed by a Year of Service as a way for the Church to say sorry to the wider community. See:
John Wotherspoon | 19 November 2012

Congratulations Michael, I agree we must as a Church accept the humiliation (rightly deserved) in silence. No "buts". Cheryl Sullivan
Cheryl Sullivan | 19 November 2012

Michael you could be said to be implying that the various forms of institutionalized silence or denial embraces many Catholics. When a NSW Judge was asked if he could attest to the statements of a 'victim' of a predatory priest at a Sydney Jesuit boarding college when the judge was Captain of the School he said "I told them nothing happened." He was wrong. He could have humbly said, "I do not know". When the same offending priest was denounced to the Rector by a school prefect earlier the prefect was told by the Rector to "forget about it". Since so many Catholics including our parents and others have been collusive in the keeping of silence maybe it is time for an internal dialogue as to how so many Catholics have institutionalized the lack of action, by dishonourable silence where the clergy and religious have been involved. So forget the silence about the victims and start the humble inquiry into why so many of us failed to speak out. It reminds me of the IRA boast, "We lied, we raped, we killed and pillaged;but we kept the faith."
Michael D. Breen | 19 November 2012

Good article Michael. Congratulations. The response of the hierarchy to the exposure of abuse of children by church representatives has been disappointing to say the least. Church leaders and superiors have been aware of this abuse for some time and have done little to address it with only token regard given to the victims. At times like this I can only reflect on the words of Hilaire Belloc when he wrote '..the Church as an Institute is run with such knavish imbecility that if it were not the work of God it would not last a fortnight...'. We deserve better leaders! When is the new Nuncio arriving! He has a lot to a hurry....'.
Jeff Ahern | 19 November 2012

I wonder whether 'glory' was the correct choice of word in your last sentence. As members of the Mystical Body of Christ, we should accept the current humiliation and give unquestioned love and support to sexual abuse victims.
Alison Smith | 19 November 2012

Maybe as a Church we could all engage in community service because it is a crime that involves us all. There were the perpetrators. There were the Mr and Mrs Buckets who were determined to 'keep up appearances at all costs' and 'not to embarrass Father!' There were the manipulators who moved these criminals around and covered up their crimes.There were those who put the blame on the children and shamed and silenced them. did and does happen in the wider society, but we are supposed to be different. We are supposed to be followers of Jesus who recommended death in deep water with the help of a millstone around the neck for anyone who harms a child. Definitely humility is called for. We have done great wrong...much worse than whatever general society dishes out...because we have done it in the name of Jesus.
Bernadette | 19 November 2012

Thank you Michael for these wise words. I feel for the writer of the unpublished article and identify with the words on his email excerpt. Many Catholics I speak with are struggling with which words to use at this time; nothing we say seems to suffice. 'To sit in silence and shame and confusion....and repent' may be the starting point for all.
Lucia | 19 November 2012

Our compassion for the victims should not be restricted only to our own church victims, either, but to all victims of this abuse and crime. One of the main points of the Good Samaritan story is that he shows compassion for a victim who is not part of his own group, risking serious social repercussions in the process. Remember in that story that it is the priest who walks by on the other side. We also have to face up squarely to the teaching about the destroyers of children’s faith, that it were better for them to have a millstone placed around their neck and they be thrown into the sea. No mincing words there, or longwinded newspaper articles on victimhood, or claims it’s a big smear against the synagogue, or talk of plans to move these people into another parish. When he requests a child to come sit in the midst of them all, you and I are that child, we are the ones who could take faith anywhere. That is why he takes the destruction of faith so seriously
YOURS TRULY | 19 November 2012

I agree that our first response can only be to stand speechless in front of this horror. It demands contemplation. However I also agree with Elizabeth; while I welcome the royal commission we need to acknowledge that for the Age and some others the agenda clearly goes well beyond child abuse, and that agenda is gaining traction. Yet the church won’t get a hearing until it first shows that it genuinely understands and is sorry. Christopher's 2013 Lent devoted to penance is a wonderful idea. Including perhaps a day of penance, publicly underlining the preparedness of the institution to change its culture and become accountable, and allowing the great majority of clergy and ordinary Catholics to express their sorrow and solidarity with victims. (A fuller program might even generate some achievable suggestions from parishes regarding restitution for victims, reform of church governance, or practical initiatives to support families in our neighbourhoods, where children are most at risk.) It might also ask the lay faithful to consider their own complicity, in having been reluctant to ask questions, or more fundamentally, in having been effectively disengaged from the church, rather than ‘co-responsible’ with the clergy for its mission.
David Moloney | 19 November 2012

On first read this sounds like a pious respose, yet silence is not moderation. The 2009, Irish Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse found behind these crimes was a continuum of abuse that is best described as utter evil. The scandal in the Catholic Church—one might now safely say the scandal that is the Catholic Church—includes the systematic rape and torture of orphaned and disabled children. many of the children who were desperate or courageous enough to report these crimes were accused of lying and returned to their tormentors to be raped and tortured again. The evidence suggests that the misery of these children was facilitated and concealed by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church at every level, up to and including the prefrontal cortex of the current Pope. In his former capacity as Cardinal Ratzinger, who personally oversaw the Vatican’s response to reports of sexual abuse in the Church. What did he do . Did he immediately alert the police and ensure that the victims would be protected from further torments? No,abuse complaints were set aside, witnesses were pressured into silence, bishops were praised for their defiance of secular authority, and offending priests ..relocated to unsuspecting parishes. For decades (centuries?) the Vatican has met the formal definition of a criminal organization. (read, Sam Harris:bringing the Vatican to justice), The game is up. No more silence.
rosemary | 19 November 2012

Thank you Michael. Your article has given substance to poorly formed thoughts that I had been struggling to express.
Tomos | 19 November 2012

The work of the Royal Commission and the "position" taken by the Church through it leaders may benefit from politicians and Church leaders considering the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. Cardinal Pell labours from his love of Mother Church and his desire to protect. Politicians must be concerned about legal issues as well as the welfare of those assaulted and raped. The South African model required the transgressors, sometimes murderers, to come forward to recount the facts and their involvement and seek forgiveness. It was only when the difficult legislative regime was fulfilled that relief from criminal prosecution was provided by the Commission. Those involved in criminal acts of assault and abuse against the vulnerable in their charge and care should not expect from or have held out to them by the Royal Commission in Australia the prospect of forgiveness from civil or criminal consequences unless and until a complete and true statement of guilt is made and forgiveness sought. I agree with Michael Mullins that the Church must accept its current humiliation. It must also, in my view, also accept its guilt.
Tony Macklin | 19 November 2012

It was helpful to read this. I came away from the church I regularly attend this Sunday (St Patricks in the city) absolutely ashamed of the lack of response to the weeks events - no mention in the homily or the prayers of the faithful of the church's need to repent and seek healing and forgiveness. At the end of Mass we were told that the Cardinal's Statement was available on the Notice Board. To me this seems symptomatic of a failure to respond adequately, a huge lack of courage and sensibility - and what message did it give to the congregation? We certainly know where not to turn to in future for leadership or integrity.
Di Mackenzie | 19 November 2012

Neil makes a significant point, although I wonder how many survivors consider themselves to be part of the Church once they recognise what occurred? True some can stay, some return, but many leave and stay left. Hence the manner in which Mullins writes his article. To the extent that survivors are no longer part of the practising institutional church perhaps there are now in fact two groups, those who can still practice and those who cannot.
Jennifer Herrick | 19 November 2012

Thank you Michael I agree with you. We are all fallable but I really feel many in our church have dealt with these matters inadequately and many serious crimes have been managed in house. There have been many examples of this over recent years, this whole tragic situation is causing many of us Catholics to waiver in our faith in our own church. This has been a most traumatic time for all of us and will continue to be for many years to come. I hope & pray that this Royal Commission will help further heal victims and also help all the People of God to trust again. Our church culture & Canon Law needs to be carefully re-examined and emperical research done on what may have contributed to the Catholic Church having such large numbers of priests and Religious world wide offending in these criminal ways. This is owed to not only the victims but to the priests & Brothers who have laboured so faithfully.
Margaret M.Coffey | 19 November 2012

A propos of my previous email, perhaps the dichotomy presented by Mullins is seen not to be false when viewed through the lens of those who can practise within Church understood only as Institution over against those who cannot practise within Church understood only as Institution. This can only be resolved by understanding Church as Community where those whose faith is still aligned with Catholic Tradition can practise in some form. However the persistent model of Church as Institution represents the very problematic underlying the abuse and exploitation of vulnerable Church members - clericalism. This is the problem for those survivors who can no longer practice within Church operating as Institution.
Jennifer Herrick | 19 November 2012

Onya Neil!You speak legitimately for that rare group - the survivors who remain practising.
Anne Norman | 19 November 2012

Actually Anne, Neil mentions the word 'were' as well 'as' are with respect to victims being members of the Church. He does not refer to them in terms of being practising or otherwise. He refers to them as members. Members may or may not be practising.
Jennifer Herrick | 19 November 2012

The Provincial of the Jesuits, Mark Roper, several years ago once spoke out on The 7.30 Report in a similar vein. It was a moment I will never forget. Sadly, it is unforgettable not only because it was a moment of profound and sincere humility and apology, but because it is completely abnormal and rare. Please can we have more of those in the Church who are prepared to speak the truth, regardless of legal or other consequences? Closing ranks, blaming the victim, claiming exaggeration, and the multitude of ways in which the Church involves itself in denial, scapegoating and blame, completely misses the point of the gospel and makes a tragic situation even more abhorrent. Yes, Michael Mullins you have not missed the point, in this article.
margie | 19 November 2012

And of course Dr Ormerod the term "Church” needs heavy nuancing as there are 1.1 billion Catholics most of whom have zilch to do with abuse!
EG USA Catholic communities would be equally concerned with 4.5 million non catholics abused in U.S. Public Schools
It is crucial not to misuse the term “Church” and “communities” and such vis a vis abuse since most catholics have never condoned let alone committed child sex abuse let alone ostracised etc[nor have most Roman Catholic clergy]

father john george | 19 November 2012

A public display of sorrow and shame at the abuse of ''all'' victims is necessary.
A gathering of all ''priests'' in a Liturgy of remorse, and acknowledgement of the evil committed.
A very public place like St .Mary's Cathedral would be essential.

''We must act'', and show those abused how much we care for them. We must tell them how we are shamed at the actions that have caused them such pain. We must ask them, what else they need from us, to help them to be able to live again with pride and dignity.
We must ask for the Grace!!

Then a Sunday, the same date, Australia wide, all Catholics and others gather in their Parish Church in another Liturgy of sorrow.
All those abused need to be encouraged to attend in order to show them our love and support.
bernie introna | 19 November 2012

colleen 19 Nov 2012 The only comment worth reading is from Father John George, truth in facts and figures! Give Cardinal Pell a little support,he is doing an excellent job.
colleen powers | 19 November 2012

Yes Michael - you get it now. Thank you.
Frank S | 19 November 2012

I wish to apologize. When I said, on this site,"When a NSW Judge was asked if he could attest to the statements of a 'victim' of a predatory priest at a Sydney Jesuit boarding college when the judge was Captain of the School he said "I told them nothing happened."' I was wrong. What I discover he actually said was that "he did not know" of any such acts by the offending priest. I am sorry for my misquotation.
Michael D. Breen | 19 November 2012

I just want to say in reference to Margie 19th Nov. above, I also Remember the 7 :30 Report ABC some years ago when Father Mark Raper SJ then Provincial of the Jesuits spoke on television in the most transparent way with deep humility and compassion to a Mother and her son. Her son had been abused at a Jesuit College by a male lay teacher many years before,it was one of the most moving statements I have ever heard, it moved me to tears. I also remember his reference to Lawyers and certain advice, he remarked that he was not heeding any advice other than to console this mother and son and see that they were assisted in every way. I wrote to this priest to say he showed the face of Jesus to these traumatised victims. If only this was always the case. Margaret M.Coffey
Margaret M.Coffey | 19 November 2012

Michael, Wow, Well said. Pius XII motto was pax opus justitae, peace and healing is the work of justice. While Paul’s injunction is valid as is Jesus 'turning the other cheek’, many victims will not be healed till there is restorative justice. And while George says the church is not the only cab on the rank, it is the only cab driven by those who must promise or vow celibacy as a condition of ministry and so are in a unique cluster. .
Mike Parer | 19 November 2012

Michael, Your editorial has touched a nerve. Well done. May I direct readers to an apology to the victims/survivors, the innocent of clergy sexual abuse:
Mike Parer | 19 November 2012

I add to the huzzah. How refreshing, how honest, how blunt, how necessary, how right you are. No greater sins could have been committed in the very heart of the organization that claims to stand against sins and for love. How shameful, how humiliating, what awful proof that we are a clan of flawed beings in search of our best selves. Michael's piece is the best single thing I have read about this in the 11 years since the first horrors came to light in Boston. Thank you for being blunt.
brian doyle | 20 November 2012

A good article Michael, and I also share your sentiments.
John Whitehead | 20 November 2012

Cardinal Pell expressed the Church's shame. This appears to have been forgotten. All complaints need to be properly assessed and the Church's response needs to be truthful and accurate. I cannot see that Michael said anything more than this.
Peter | 20 November 2012

It is time that the institutional Church, as part of the Mystical Body lay down it's pride, power, wealth and begins to live the story and love of Christ's physical body. As His hands and feet we must bend low to wash the feet of the world, we must turn from all this world values and ultimately we must suffer, we must be humiliated and not seek to defend ourselves, be reviled and insulted and respond only with love, we must take up the cross and be crucified upon it, that the Mystical Body may be one with the Physical and rise again glorified. To put it simply we must live as the Body each part of the Body’s journey and cling not to what it spurned. We must turn from the exaltation that Christ rejected and instead find our place alongside him in the gutters and eating with the sinner. Christ is strength in weakness, we must be weak. Christ is wealth in poverty, we must be poor. Christ has glory by humility, we must be humble. Christ spoke of exalting the lowly, we must be lowly. Christ shows us what it is to suffer for love, we must suffer.
L. O'Brien | 20 November 2012

Sorry, Michael, but with respect, I think you’ve missed the point again, and, again, I think that Janice has highlighted your problem. All of us, believers or otherwise, could benefit from a little ‘humility’, the modest sense of one’s own significance, but ‘humiliation’, the act of making someone feel ashamed or foolish by injuring their dignity and self-respect, is another matter. You may feel that you and the Church generally have been humiliated by others, and you may feel humiliated yourselves, but prostrating yourselves in sack-cloth and ashes, remaining silent, ‘giving glory’ (whatever that might mean) to your ‘victims’, and masochistically wallowing in your humiliation, while it might make you all feel terribly guilty, will be about as much help as one man short. Indeed, as Janice said that’s how the Church got itself into this trouble in the first place. Believe it or not, the first priority of most of your critics is not to humiliate you but rather to get you to change, and the progressive ratcheting-up of the criticism directed at the Church has been a frustrated response to the failure (some would say refusal) of the Church to really address the problem - including its systemic and structural causes - honestly, expeditiously, and effectively. Few people now believe that your hierarchy can solve the problem; their credibility (rightly or wrongly) is completely shot through and they and the power structures that keep them in place are seen as a significant part of the problem if the the primary cause. Those who ring their hands in (hopeless) hope or advocate ‘prayer to the Father for guidance and humility’, but who are then content to sit on their hands and do nothing practical at the parish and diocesan level to break-down the power monopoly and hold the hierarchy accountable are, frankly, pissing into the wind.
Ginger Meggs | 20 November 2012

I was pleased you withdrew your 'degree of skepticism' re investigative reporting. The lapses of this journalism are far outweighed by its many successes. Witness the work of Graham Perkin, editor of the Age in the 'seventies; the incomparable work of Harold Evans at the Sunday Times - and didn't we need those investigative journalists during the Kennett era in Victoria and the Howard years in Canberra. When I read the moralizing of so-called senior journalists in newspapers such as The Age I want to ask them: Where were you during those Howard years when it was shameful to be Australian? And little has changed.
John Nicholson | 20 November 2012

"Any hope that the Church has of being a credible witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ depends upon its ability to accept its current humiliation and give glory instead to the sexual abuse victims whom it has humiliated." Our Holy Mother, The Church is sinless. It is those who have perpetrated these heinous sins that are to blame. And the hierarchy who have allowed this to happen also share the blame. To blame the Church founded by Our Lord, Jesus Christ upon the Rock of Peter is blasphemey. Put the blame on all those who have committed these gross acts and those who have sought to protect and cover up them, however high up it may go. They should all be laicised and excommunicated. Above all we need to pray and do penance.
Trent | 20 November 2012

Worthy sentiments Trent, but who is going to 'laicise and excommunicate them', and what tangible outcome do you expect to come from 'praying and doing penance'? Why don't you emulate Jesus in cleaning out the temple? (John 2:15-16)
Ginger Meggs | 20 November 2012

Now the question arises, in regards to The Third Secret of Fatima, which no one has mentioned thus far : Who is identified in the Third Secret as being responsible for the undermining of the Faith through heterodoxy, heteropraxis and the moral corruption and fall of consecrated souls? First of all, it is members of the Vatican apparatus itself. We note, the revelation of Cardinal Ciappi, Pope John Paul II's official papal theologian, that “In the Third Secret it is foretold, among other things, that the great apostasy in the Church will begin at the top.” ( Wiki )
Mark | 20 November 2012

An excellent article, Michael, and, judging by the 55 comments to date, something on which many feel they need to make a point, or points, as well. This paedophilia issue has been a recurrent theme in Australian Church, not just Catholic, circles. The resignation of a former Governor-General, Peter Hollingworth, was directly attributed to his inability to properly deal with the issue whilst he was Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane. The cleaning of the Augean Stables in that Anglican archdiocese was due to his successor, Phillip Aspinall, whose approach to the matter could provide an excellent example to the likes of Cardinal Pell. This is a profoundly disturbing and human problem. Catholics should not feel alone or special in this regard. Seeing it as a human and potentially recurring problem and taking the necessary steps to, as much as possible, prevent its recurrence is probably better than all the hand wringing and mental self-flagellation.
Edward F | 21 November 2012

So Trent, if the church isn't its members (including the hierarchy) then what is it? The bricks and mortar?
AURELIUS | 21 November 2012

Thank you Michael for this wonderful 'wake-up' call. I was happy last weekend when our parish priest spoke movingly of his distress. I have the hope that this shame and distress can come through regularly in our Prayers of the Faithful. One of the previous comments spoke of the possibility of a Year of Service following on the Year of Grace. There is certainly much to be done apart from praying for all those who will be contributing to the Royal Commission.
Mary Maraz | 21 November 2012

Terrific summary - thanks for this.
helen m donnellan | 22 November 2012

From the bottom of my heart here is the 2020 headline: "Michael Mullins next Archbishop of Melbourne".
M Bowen | 23 November 2012

I agree that victims should be listened to and their accusations taken seriously, and that the Royal Commission will provide a much needed opportunity for this to happen. But I'm worried about the possibility of this turning into an anti-Catholic witch-hunt. I'm worried about men and women being named who then have to essentially prove themselves innocent (about things that in many cases are said to have taken place decades ago). I think that "a degree of skepticism" should always be maintained, as far as allegations go. And I hope that the Church continues to emphasise that people are innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.
Craig | 23 November 2012

Yes! Any organisation that does not expect of itself what it preaches to others is hypocritical. Corporate ego-centricity is as odious as personal ego-centricty.
hilary | 23 November 2012


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