“How does the Catholic welfare sector continue with ‘good works’ post the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse?”
PART 1: INTRODUCTION
I would like to pay my respect and acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which this meeting takes place, and also pay respect to Elders both past and present.
Thank you for the invitation to speak at this forum and to have the opportunity to share the podium with a very distinguished Catholic woman. Two months ago, I was in Rome for a conference on migrants and refugees. It took place at the same time as the Voices of Faith International Women’s Day Conference at which Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland gave a powerful speech on women and the Catholic Church. I was particularly struck by the image she uses to describe the state of the church. She said – practically within the Pope’s earshot – that the exclusion of women from decision-making roles “has left the church flapping about awkwardly on one wing”. And if that wasn’t enough, she went on to say that “the church has long been the primary global carrier of the virus of misogyny.” Whoa! Talk about pulling no punches. I hope Geraldine Doogue is going to be a bit gentler to me than Mary McAleese was to Pope Francis.
THE CHURCH AT THE CROSSROADS:
To say that we the church in Australia are at a critical juncture is probably an understatement. Australian Catholicism is a seriously damaged brand. Francis Sullivan rightly observed that the sexual abuse crisis is a scandal and a hypocrisy unparalleled in the history of the Catholic Church in Australia. It has cut to the very heart of the Church, demoralised its followers and threatens to erode its public voice for generations. So, the obvious question is how can Catholic organisations like the Society of St Vincent de Paul continue to do its works when we are all caught in this storm? How can we model our faith and mission in a structure that has lost the trust and respect of the community? How can we even shake off the label “guilty by association” which is like an albatross around our necks?
These are not easy questions to answer. But I believe that it is time for the church, especially its leaders to listen with great humility and embark upon a journey of radical conversion. The Royal Commission has delivered a shameful indictment not simply on the perpetrators and those who enabled them. It has also brought into light the church’s collective and systemic betrayal of the Gospel. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that the church must be grateful for the work of the Royal Commission. More importantly, we must seize this time of crisis as a catalyst for change and not as a temporary aberration. We cannot simply return to business as usual. We must have the courage to see how far we have drifted from the vision of Jesus, repent of our sins and face up to the task of reclaiming the innocence and powerlessness of the Servant-Leader.
Part 2 will be published tomorrow.