Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Address to the Concerned Catholics of Canberra and Goulburn Forum
11 September 2018
“The Role of the Faithful in a post-Royal Commission Church in Australia”
PART 2: A TIME OF CONVERSION
The failures in the Catholic Church’s response to child sex abuse that the Royal Commission has exposed are largely the failures of leadership, more specifically the failures of a clerical system of leadership. I actually believe that the lay faithful suffer largely from guilt by association. It is worth noting that the Royal Commission does not see the Catholic Church as monolithic. It recommends, for instance, that the clerical governance structures be reviewed, drawing from the modes of governance already implemented in Catholic health, community services and education agencies (which are mostly administered by lay professionals).
The time has come for the hierarchy to not only admit the need for change but to discern with the faithful as to what the process and the agenda for change should look like going forward. In other words, for the Church to be truly synodal and listening, for the Church to go beyond the “business as usual” model, the inclusion of the sensus fidelium in all deliberations and responses is critical.
The Church has been humbled and humiliated. It has been thrown off its high horse because it has been exposed as having failed its mission and betrayed its own ethos. But it is not necessarily a bad thing that we now have to start from a position of weakness and vulnerability in order to regain our trust and indeed our Gospel compass. I am reminded of the story of the Apostle Paul on his way to Damascus.
He fell off his high horse in more ways than one.
The fall from his privileged position and the temporary physical blindness meant he had to be led by the hand. But this complete vulnerability was the catalyst for a whole new way of seeing, acting and relating. Paul was never the same afterwards. He learned to be humble, open and docile to God’s way. His strength no longer came from his status, entitlement, privilege and power.
The Catholic Church has had its Damascus moment in the sexual abuse crisis. It has fallen from the privileged position in society and the power and influence that came with that status. Now, like Paul who was led into a place of vulnerability, we are undergoing a time of uncertainty and darkness until we can learn to see, act and relate in the way of Christ the Humble Servant.
We should not fear this time, which is a kind of a Holy Saturday experience. It is a time of ambiguity, of mourning and yet hoping for Good News; it is a liminal interval, a time in which one stands between the old and the new.
Part 3 will be published tomorrow.
To read Part 1 of Bishop Vincent’s address, click here.