At Eureka Street, Michael Kelly’s essay from last week is worth reading. The Australian Royal Commission is gearing into action. If they find a pit similar to the Americans, the Irish, and the Germans, they may well be setting into motion the jailing of a bishop for crimes against the innocent. I hope it doesn’t come to that. I hope Down Under bishops have been more sensible than American cardinals Bevilacqua, Law, Mahony, and George.
Fr Kelly offers a few suggestions. First:
First, from adolescence I have been guided by the advice of an old Jesuit who responded to my description of the pettiness, fear and cowardliness of some members of the Jesuit community I was in at the time. ‘You’re a strange sort of Christian if you are overwhelmed by the scandalous deeds of others,’ he told me.
This is wise. We cannot let the misbehavior of sister and brother believers overwhelm our outlook on and our practice of the faith. Some conservatives go on their merry witch hunts in the Church. It’s already colored some of them as off-balanced crusaders. How does a faithful believer lament others’ actions and feel shame? Then continue to present an attractive Christian life that draws on Christ for sustenance and urges others to do the same?
If you believe in an active devil, consider that discouragement and disgust is an appropriate reaction to scandal. But that we are still called, as difficult as it may be, to forgiveness.
The only reason Christians can look on human depravity and not succumb before it is that their faith is in a crucified Lord.
In a way, I feel that as a confirmed skeptic on human authority, I’m not likely to tailspin into the abyss. I’ve observed unfair and unjust behavior from my teenage days. Misbehaving school teachers, principals, and Scout leaders. In a way I wish I had been more vocal in standing up for sisters and brothers who had been oppressed. I don’t think my consistent criticism of bishops on this site and others have changed me. Conservatives seem to attribute it to some sort of anger. That’s a laugh. It’s really a lament. I feel sorry for these clueless bishops who have no public speck of compassion or contrition. Christ suffered and looked with lament on those who refused the Word. I know I refuse the Word in other ways. And it may be my experience as a parent coloring more my public words on these matters, but I’m not willing to hush up when others are endangered. It’s likely that innocent people around the world are endangered by some of the policies of active clergy, especially bishops. Saint Thomas Aquinas can be our guide here:
To bear with patience wrongs done to oneself is a mark of perfection, but to bear with patience wrongs done to someone else is a mark of imperfection and even of actual sin.
This is the key. A victim may choose to forgive. A bystander is obliged to transcend the behavior of witnesses to the Passion, to cooperate with a transformation of a society stained by sin, yet called to grace.
Wrapping up. Fr Kelly shows that petty gossipmongers weren’t limited to the faculty of my Catholic high school …
Just look at the most outstanding instance of ‘disconnect’ in Church governance in the last year — the sacking of Bill Morris as bishop of Toowoomba. Morris was sacked on evidence that amounted, in the Opinion of a retired Queensland Supreme Court Judge, to ‘hearsay and gossip’. The Australian bishops promised to engage robustly with the relevant Vatican officials about the matter, but found that the officials weren’t open to discussion.
Such parlour games are seen for what they are, and show that incoherence, mismanagement and incompetence are right through the organisation. There won’t be healing of the community of faith until there is systemic change that fixes the culture in which mismanagement thrives and transparency is lacking.
Fr Kelly suggests the Church set up its own investigative commission. That’s hopeful. Maybe vainly hopeful. But lacking it, the bishops’ mishandling of abusers will continue to dog them. Australia’s “top” prelate, Cardinal George Pell, doesn’t see it. He blames the misbehavior of clergy. But most keen observers know it’s a fairly significant portion of bishops. Maybe a majority of prelates trained before Vatican II. Certainly more than the single-digit percentage of abusers within the ranks of the clergy.
Cardinal Pell is concerned with young people, but in this quote, I wonder if we don’t see a bit of psychologicla projection:
No longer is there any instinctive acceptance of moral truths, except perhaps in ecology or social justice.
One has to wonder if the good cardinal hasn’t himself fallen into the abyss of “relativism.” Could we say with likely speculation that in the hierarchy there is no instinctive acceptance of moral truths, except where other people’s morality is concerned. That would be a most unhelpful vector for a believer, let alone a shepherd.