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The Church should accept its humiliation

November 19, 2012 ·  , Michael Mullins, November 18, 2012

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Last week we received a fine article on the child sexual abuse Royal Commission from a writer who had worked for a Catholic Church agency that deals with children.

He told of how he’d been at a consultation that included presentations from the Church and from advocates representing victims of church-related sexual abuse. Afterwards he accidentally struck up what he called a ‘warm and constructive friendship’ with a victims’ rights advocate that led to some significant cooperation.

A few hours after sending the article, the writer wrote again to withdraw it. I was disappointed, but pleased that he subsequently gave me permission to quote from his email, in which he explained his decision:

I’ve been trying to figure my discomfort…
and it is something like this:
that any words we write at this time run the risk
of justifying ourselves as church people,
instead of undertaking our real task
which is to sit in silence and shame and confusion….
and repent

I believe that our writer made the correct call. It is, as he suggests, time to let the dignity of victims shine, and for the Church to set its dignity aside, without question, and accept the humiliation that has come its way. In other words, the Church needs to take its own advice about imitating the humility of Christ. It often preaches this using the text from St Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

‘In humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.’

The consensus is that Cardinal Pell failed in that regard during his media conference on church sexual abuse last Tuesday, particularly with assertions such as this: ‘We object to it being exaggerated, we object to being described as the “only cab on the rank”.’

I also failed last Monday when I argued in Eureka Street that the mistakes the BBC made in its mistaken identification of a former government official as a pedophile should cause us to apply ‘a degree of skepticism’ to all investigative reporting, including that of church sexual abuse.

Any hope that the Church has of being a credible witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ depends upon its ability to accept its current humiliation and give glory instead to the sexual abuse victims whom it has humiliated.

Michael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

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