Sexual abuse within the Catholic Church has been nothing short of an epidemic of catastrophic proportions. The devastation of victims, the ruination of priests and religious, the damage to a major world religion and its faithful are horrendous and incalculable.
I have sat and listened to many stories of horrific sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, stories that made me ashamed to be a priest and a Catholic.
I have listened to people whose lives have been ruined and I have felt a sadness and horror I cannot put into words. I have spent time with people close to suicide and I have watched the moving struggle of others trying to put their lives together again.
As a young teenager I was abused myself and I hope this makes me more sensitive. What’s happened within our Church has been nothing short of a catastrophe. Only the annihilation of the causes of this abuse will do, so that this can never happen again.
And there’s a real chance right now that we can begin this process. Media attention is focused more than ever before on getting answers. A Royal Commission is under way. And the new Pope has promised to listen more.
Almost two decades ago I helped set up some of the Church’s first responses to this issue - and I knew then and know now that this was only the beginning.
I have felt the disapproval of authorities in the Church when I tried speaking out. I still believe in the great beauty of the Church. It’s sustained me through the worst of this ugliness. Now I have hope that we can truly confront the horror of this abuse and ensure it never happens again.
We (fellow Bishops Bill Morris and Pat Power) call on the new Pope to seize the opportunity of his appointment to not only sweep the Church clean but to put His /God’s house in order for all time.
There are three major tasks to be performed in eradicating sexual abuse from the Church:
1. identifying and removing all offenders;
2. reaching out to, and assisting, all victims and survivors; and
3. identifying and overcoming the causes of both abuse and the poor response to abuse by the Church’s hierarchy.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is investigating the first two of these tasks, however it does not have the scope or power to make the changes necessary to ensure that systemic sexual abuse NEVER happens again in the Catholic Church.
We firmly believe there is a desperate need to address the third element: preventing abuse from happening in the first place ... for good! We are calling for nothing less than a Council of the whole Church, inclusive of the laity, to confront the issues that contribute to the causes of systemic sexual abuse.
There are many people and many groups around the world seeking change in the Catholic Church. Though they may have slightly different emphases, there are a number of changes, common to all groups. These groups are calling out for:-
1) Greater inclusiveness – a Church that is as much for women as for men, for laypeople as for clergy, for the marginalised as for those in the mainstream.
2) Greater openness – if there are scandals, it is better to bring them into the light and confront them rather than seek to conceal them.
3) Greater participation – not taking away the power of the Pope, but asking for greater participation and consultation, so that the whole Church may have a more active role in the mission of the Church.
4) Greater sense of mission – a greater concentration on the person and mission of Jesus Christ rather than on authority, laws, obedience and theological conformity.
It’s time to unite as one voice that the Vatican can no longer ignore. It’s time for action.
That’s why I’ve started a petition at www.change.org calling on Pope Francis to convene a full council of the church on this issue - and finally begin an open, transparent process to identify and remove the causes of this abuse.
This global petition will give Catholics a collective voice. It will let the new Pope know the intensity and solidarity we feel in relation to the sexual abuse issue. It will show him that the whole Church wants to help him, to work with him on this issue of paramount importance. We want the new Pope to lead the Church into a future he and all Catholics yearn for - and the world needs.
Geoffrey Robinson is auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Sydney. www.bishopgeoffrobinson.org/
More than 75,000 people have so far signed the petition, at: www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/pope-francis-the-vatican-for-christ-s-sake-stop-sexual-abuse-for-good