BISHOP ROBINSON’S ADDRESS TO AUSTRALIAN CLERGY ABUSE, REPARATION AND PREVENTION CONFERENCE
From Brian Coyne
Let me try and summarise what Bishop Robinson had to say. He is putting forward a check-list of twelve major points that he believes need to be addressed by the institutional church (in his case the Catholic Church but, as he says, some of the points also extend to other institutions in society who have been tainted by similar scandals). His focus is not so much on “saving the Church, or his fellow bishops from further scandal” so much as a three-position focus: (i) on returning victims of abuse to a position of healing and equilibrium where, if possible they can resume their lives without constantly being dragged down by what was done to them. (ii)His focus is in preventing, as far as humanly possible, abuse happening again but, if it does, there are mechanisms in place to respond to the needs of the victims as the first priority. (iii) Running through what he has to say I think one can detect this continuing deep love for Jesus and his message, and a desire to return the institution to the point where it is again an effective agent in the world, from preaching the true “good news” of Jesus Christ.
Here, in summary form, are the twelve areas that Bishop Robinson suggests need to be addressed:
i. The Angry God: This image the institution projects of a God of Wrath and Anger needs to be challenged. It is wrong, and bad theology.
ii. The Male Church: Women have been marginalized and treated as second class by the institution for far too long.
iii. The Culture of Celibacy: Not so much celibacy per se but mandatory celibacy has to take a major part of the blame as a contributing cause of this crisis.
iv. Moral Immaturity: The seminary system and training of priests and religious has not encouraged moral and spiritual maturity. That needs to be changed.
v. Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy: Bishop Robinson argues there has been far too much emphasis on Orthodoxy (right belief) and far too little on Orthopraxy (right action).
vi. Sexual Teaching: He argues there needs to be “a profound change in all of sexual morality” within the institution.
vii. The Mystique of Priesthood: Priests have been placed on a pedestal of perfection for far too long. It’s dangerous to them and it’s dangerous to the people they are meant to be serving. Priests are not God — they struggle with all the challenges that any human beings struggle with in their lives. Often because of their positions on these pedestals they have been placed on, they find it difficult to find support in their lives.
viii. Professionalism: There has been a rise in professional standards across almost all professions — ethical codes, structures that protect and foster professional integrity but the priesthood has largely been excluded. He argues much more needs to be done to lift professional standards of those in ministry with the Church.
ix. A Pope who can’t make mistakes: He argues that the way the pontiff has been placed on a pedestal and immune from criticism has been especially damaging to the institution. Creeping infallibility is a huge problem not only for some at the top who would seem to believe they have divine perfection already but also for many at the lowest rungs of the Church. This culture needs to be changed.
x. The Loyalty of Bishops to the Pope: Their oath of allegiance is to the Pope — not to God, or the Church. He argues significant blame has to be placed at the feet of the late John Paul II for his inadequate responses to the growing sexual abuse crisis.
xi. A Culture of Secrecy: Bishop Robinson argues that the culture of secrecy in the Church has been a major cause of the problems. Bishops need to present themselves in the best light all the time and the culture of secrecy runs with that. It has been deeply damaging to the institution and needs to be changed.
xii. The Sensus Fidelium: He argues the institutional leadership needs to be listening far more to the thinking of the broad body of the faithful not just to the small sectors that crave authority figures and founts of certitude.
The foregoing are my words rather than Bishop Robinson’s seeking to explain in a short space the arguments he will be presenting in the forthcoming book. (His address on Friday, I suspect, was itself a considerable condensation of the text that will appear in the book — particularly as he moved towards the end of his address.)