Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Address to the National Council of Priests, Canberra, Australia, 11 September 2018
Address to the National Assembly of Diocesan Priests, Christchurch, New Zealand, 13 September 2018
“Being a priest in an unprecedented time of change”
PART 1: INTRODUCTION
Tena Koutou Katoa!
It is a privilege for me to join you in this National Assembly of Diocesan Priests here in beautiful Christchurch, New Zealand. I thank you for the honour of being able to share with you my reflection on the priesthood in this time of great turmoil and upheaval in the Catholic Church worldwide.
In Australia, we have recently completed a five-year-long Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse. It was the most comprehensive inquiry of its kind in the world and it shone a spotlight on not just individual perpetrators but also the dysfunctional and corrosive culture of the Church, which has promoted and protected the interests of the institution over against the welfare of victims/survivors.
We have had an Australian Archbishop convicted of a historic child sex abuse cover up. We even have an Australian Cardinal on trial for child sex abuse allegations.
The crisis we face in the Church is deep-seated, perhaps not unlike the financial institutions whose culture of corruption and self-interest has been exposed in a fresh Royal Commission. Indeed, to many people, Catholics included, it is not only the case of a few bad apples. It is more like the apple that is rotten at its core.
This does not seem like an overstatement in the light of continuing revelations of clerical sexual abuse right across the globe. Recently, the Chilean bishops after a period of discernment in the Vatican tendered their resignation en masse. The Pope has accepted five of them, including Bishop Juan Barros who was appointed in controversial circumstances.
Likewise, in America following the grand jury report, there have been calls for the bishops there to do the same. Then of course, just a couple of weeks ago, the dirt hit the fan in the Vatican itself.
While Pope Francis was in Ireland for the World Meeting of Families, the former nuncio to the USA decided to spoil the party. He released a long letter accusing Pope Francis of covering up the McCarrick affair and demanding that the Pope resign. Who needs enemies with friends like that? This open opposition and hostility against a reigning pontiff was totally unprecedented.
The sexual abuse crisis is inundating the whole Church like a tsunami and it has the potential to cause long-term damage, chaos and even schism. (Mind you, there is already a silent schism in that the majority of Catholics in many parts of the world have simply walked away from the practice of the faith.) It is the biggest crisis since the Reformation and it exposes the ideological conflicts that run more deeply than the New Zealand fault lines through the length and breadth of the universal Church.
The anti-Pope Francis forces have accelerated their frontal attacks against him in a coordinated and virulent manner. The gloves are clearly off and they have seized this moment of turmoil as an opportunity to undermine his papacy and derail his reform agenda. What is interesting, too, is the number of prominent clergy and laity who have chosen to sympathise with these forces and therefore shown their not so subtle disapproval of the way the Pope is leading the Church.
Clearly, Captain Francis will have to weather both the storm and the mutiny onboard. I just hope and pray that he stay the course because nothing less than a deep and comprehensive reform will restore confidence and trust in the Church.
Pope Francis has unleashed a new energy, he has poured a new wine which cannot be contained in old wineskins. He has challenged us to move in concert with him and bring about the rebirth of the Church. I am endeavouring to follow the pope’s lead. I have forfeited my Oneworld club membership and now fly with no-frills budget airlines regularly – on a wing and a prayer. But that’s the easy part.
The harder part is to do what most of you do, which is to labour at the coalface of the Church.
It is have the smell of the sheep, to accompany our people in their joys and griefs, hopes and struggles. Transition times call for deep discernment, courageous imagination and prophetic action.
Like Noah before the flood, we must be able to prepare for what is around the bend. Like the prophets who accompanied their people into exile, who interpreted the signs of the times and led them in the direction of the Kingdom, we must do the same for our people in the context of this new millennium.
Like Ezekiel who dream and enact the dream of the New Temple, we must embody the vision of the Church made anew and the priesthood made anew from the ashes of the old clericalist model. We must learn to re-incarnate the spirit of Jesus, faithful to the past but also creative to the present and courageous to the future.
Part 2 will be published tomorrow.