Like many of the 750,000 living veterans in Australia, more than 120,000 of them in the Archdiocese of Brisbane, I have spent the past few days struggling with a diverse range of emotions, from shock to disgust, to anger and grief, as we have become more aware of criminal behaviour by rogue operators within the Special Air Service Regiment and an apparent culture of silence and misplaced loyalty that perpetuated this.
As I have prayerfully reflected on an appropriate response I had an image reminiscent of the disciples of Jesus standing before the crucifixion in bewilderment.
How could this have possibly happened, and where do we go from here?
Fascinatingly, I have reflected and imagined the emotions that so many of our good priests must have gone through, as they became aware of the criminal behaviour of some of their brothers in the clerical abuse scandal.
This sad and sorry story has a long way to play out, yet I would just hope that our wider community can understand that for us veterans this alleged behaviour is so utterly reprehensible, so inconsistent with our values and indeed incomprehensible.
We have been formed, and served, as peacemakers, with great compassion and involving significant sacrifice, suffering and loss.
In faith, we can only be consoled that like Jesus, we will rise again, but in the meantime, there will be justice needed for perpetrators, and consolation and support needed for many innocent and not so innocent victims of what is truly an evil turn of events.
With my younger son Paul still serving, I take some consolation that the broader culture of our military is manifestly good and sound, with solid professional development, great transparency, and highly visible accountability.
There clearly was a weakness in that a small section of our community was trusted to be able to operate independently, secretly and with limited accountability.
Even before legal proceedings have started, the military system has moved to ensure that this will not happen again.
There are some lessons here for our Church leaders.
The men who are alleged to have perpetrated these crimes and those that didn’t speak up until well after the event had been considered by selectors to be among our best people.
No doubt some of them will be identified as having shown great physical bravery in other actions.
But under sustained stress without close supervision and accountability, without ongoing professional development due to the ongoing unrelenting operational needs, and without a clear hope and vision for how this mission could be completed, they crossed a line of morally acceptable behaviour to take the law into their own hands.
Despite a royal commission, we in the Church still haven’t got in place the governance, transparency, accountability and professional development framework that will help us ensure that our own Church leaders don’t cross other behaviour lines.
The military, from top to bottom, are addressing their shortcomings with immediate surgical precision. So must we.
Meanwhile, the veteran community will be doing our best to tend to the wounded, ill and injured that have resulted from our military having been on continuous sustained operations for the past 20 years, but we can’t do it on our own.
Eight veterans have taken their lives in recent weeks.
Sadly more will no doubt succumb to shame and guilt over the coming months.
We need the whole community to support us in this journey, and your understanding and compassion will help.
Justice, forgiveness and reconciliation will also help facilitate this.
Like the Church still needs at this time, lessons need to be acknowledged, governance improved and corrective action thoroughly implemented.
Our country is still served by many good and Godly servicemen and women as well as good and Godly clergy.
Like Jesus we have experienced betrayal, we will need time to process our emotions, but we will rise again.
Deacon Gary Stone is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Brisbane. He served for decades in the army as chaplain and founded the Veterans Care Association.
Reproduced with permission from The Catholic Leader, the news publication for the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.