After Pell: what the Catholics are saying

Labor senator Kristina Keneally has blasted the Catholic church for its lack of contrition over the child sexual abuse scandal.

The former NSW Premier and theologically trained Catholic said on the ABC Television’s Q&A program last night that the Catholic church had violated the teachings of Jesus.

“When you’re going to an institution that is supposed to mediate God’s grace and love, that says to you by our sacraments you will experience God and through our priests you can experience God’s mercy and love and then that very same institution does exactly the opposite of what Jesus said,” she said.

“Jesus said ‘let the little children come to me and you must be like a little child to enter the kingdom of God’, but when that very same institution and those very same clerical class so violates what they preach you have to ask ‘where is God’s mercy, where is God’s love?’ And when that very same institution which teaches people like me, and all of us who’ve bene through catholic school, what the act of contrition means, it supposedly means you confess your sins and you make a resolution to act differently, where is the church’s act of contrition, where have they made a resolution to act differently?”

Keneally committed a future Labor government to push for compensation to victims of sexual abuse to be lifted to $200,000 as recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Alongside the agonised responses by survivors, who are often re-traumatised by high-profile cases, and the long-time friends of Cardinal George Pell who focus on the legal case, Keneally was one of many Australian Catholics who have been reflecting on their changed reality after the first shockwave of responses to the Pell verdict.

“Where is the church’s act of contrition?” – Kristina Keneally

Keneally was speaking in response to a question by Chrissie Foster – whose two daughters were raped by Father Kevin O’Donnell.

Keneally urged people to put pressure on churches and other institutions to sign up to the National Redress Scheme.

Francis Sullivan, former CEO of the Catholic Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council was another to speak up on Q&A last night.

“We should not put the victim on trial,” he said. Speaking of criticism of the court case, Sullivan concluded: “everyone should just shut up.”

The victims must be first in any discussion of Pell, agrees Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen of Parramatta.

“Even among Catholics, there is a sense of shame and anger at the betrayal that the clerical sex abuse crimes represent, and the hypocrisy they reveal. It is wider than simply the case of Cardinal Pell. We must respect the processes of the law and await the outcome of the appeal.

It is shameful for us to have to stand before the constant analysis, the critique, and the commentary about our Church, and the declarations of its failures and inadequacies. It forces us to address the question, “Why would we wish to be identified with an institution condemned with such widespread disdain?” We cannot avoid this question. This is the crossroad to which moments such as this bring us. — David Ranson

“In the meantime, our primary concern must continue to be the care of the victims of sexual abuse.”

Catholics are standing at a fork in the road, and with their credibility largely gone, according to David Ranson, Administrator of the Broken Bay diocese (region) North of Sydney.

“We cannot ignore or underestimate the community’s response to the verdict that has been given, and which further adds to our distress. In different ways, the energy of this social response highlights the remarkable collapse of the credibility of the institution with which we are identified – whether by our belonging to our local Catholic parish, or by our association with our Catholic schools or agencies. It places our affiliation under extraordinary stress. It is shameful for us to have to stand before the constant analysis, the critique, and the commentary about our Church, and the declarations of its failures and inadequacies. It forces us to address the question, “Why would we wish to be identified with an institution condemned with such widespread disdain?” We cannot avoid this question. This is the crossroad to which moments such as this bring us.”

Most of the official church responses we have seen steer clear of casting doubt on the verdict. But some individual responses have focused on the court case. It’s fair to say that Jesuit priest Frank Brennan stands at the opposite end of Australia’s Catholic spectrum to George Pell. While acknowledging that the most crucial evidence in the court case – the complainant’s testimony- was given to a closed court, Brennan reveals his severe doubts about the case.

The most striking part of his review of the evidence for The Australian is about clergy clothing.

“Witnesses familiar with liturgical vestments were called. They gave compelling evidence it was impossible to produce an erect penis through a seamless alb. An alb is a long robe, worn under a heavier chasuble. It is secured and set in place by a cincture, which is like a tightly drawn belt. An alb cannot be unbuttoned or unzipped, the only openings being small slits on the side to allow access to trouser pockets.”

“Australia is now on trial” is one headline from a Pell supporter. First Things, a Catholic monthly normally responsible for measured commentary published a fiery piece by George Weigel who has a fifty-year-old friendship with Pell.

“Pell holds a Vatican diplomatic passport and citizenship of Vatican City State. Were he guilty, he could have stayed put in the extraterritorial safety of the Vatican enclave, untouchable by the Australian authorities. But because Cardinal Pell knows he is innocent, he was determined to go home to defend his honor.”

We have mentioned it an earlier report but perhaps the most considered response from any Catholic worldwide comes from an Australian.

Brisbane’s Mark Coleridge (president of the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference) had a chance to give the Catholic Church a message about sexual abuse when he delivered the homily at the Mass for the Vatican summit on the protection of minors in the Church. Pope Francis celebrated the Mass, which was held in the Sala Regia, Apostolic Palace on Sunday, 24 February, 2019. Coleridge did not fail to call the whole church to repentance, in fact to be converted:

“The Lord urges us to ‘be merciful as your Father is merciful’. Yet, for all that we desire a truly safe Church and for all that we have done to ensure it, we have not always chosen the mercy of the man of heaven. We have, at times, preferred instead the indifference of the man of earth and the desire to protect the Church’s reputation and even our own. We have shown too little mercy, and therefore we will receive the same, because the measure we give will be the measure we receive in return. We will not go unpunished, as David says, and we have already known punishment.

“The man of earth must die so that the man of heaven can be born; the old Adam must give way to the new Adam. This will require a true conversion, without which we will remain on the level of “mere administration” – as the Holy Father writes in Evangelii Gaudium – “mere administration” which leaves untouched the heart of the abuse crisis.

“This conversion alone will enable us to see that the wounds of those who have been abused are our wounds, that their fate is our fate, that they are not our enemies but bone of our bones, flesh of our flesh (see Gen 2:23). They are us, and we are them.

“This conversion is in fact a Copernican revolution. Copernicus proved that the sun does not revolve around the earth but the earth around the sun. For us, the Copernican revolution is the discovery that those who have been abused do not revolve around the Church but the Church around them. In discovering this, we can begin to see with their eyes and to hear with their ears; and once we do that, the world and the Church begin to look very different. This is the necessary conversion, the true revolution and the great grace which can open for the Church a new season of mission.

“Lord, when did we see you abused and did not come to help you? But he will reply: In truth I say to you, as often as you failed to do this to one of these the least of my brothers and sisters, you failed to do it to me (see Matt 25:44-45).”