The Church must bring healing and rebuild trust

Much work must be done in the wake of the Royal Commission to rebuild lives and trust, says retired Bishop Peter Danaher.

By Peter Danaher

February 23 2017Abusers and those who concealed their grave crimes have devastated the lives of victims and tarnished the reputations of organisations working with children across the country, says recently retired bishop and former vicar of All Saints’ Geelong, Peter Danaher. Much work will need to be done in the wake of the Royal Commission to rebuild lives and trust.    

What a mess, what a disgrace, how hideously sinful.

As the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse the extent and shameful behaviour of members of the clergy and lay religious leaders has been made public.

Some 2,000 members of the Catholic clergy have been named as part of the 4,400 alleged acts of sexual abuse.

What has happened to the Church? How did the Church ever believe what it was doing was right in any stretch of the imagination?

The lack of honesty and the untruths that became part of the cover up are now being made known.

It would seem that many, if not all the leaders, including, and perhaps especially the Bishops knew or had a good idea of what was going on.

As I write this I am reminded that the vast majority of priests, brothers and sisters are honest and caring and have served the church well over many many years  

There are many who live their lives obedient to the vows they made at the time of their ordination and commissioning.

The loyal and caring clergy are now not trusted, feel shattered and ashamed of their colleagues.

There is absolutely no way that any of these crimes can be excused or ignored. What has happened is grossly sinful and brings shame on all involved. Those who have been abused carry the greatest burden. They have been ignored for far too long. Now at last they are being heard and the Royal Commission is now making clear the facts. It will emphasise the need for care and understanding and it will out the criminals who have betrayed themselves, their Church and the wider community.

I live in Geelong, and much of what is now being reported at the Commission began in Geelong with the courage of one or two people especially Chris Pianto. My parents were friends of Chris’ parents and I thank God for his courage.

I want to reflect on the wider implications of the work of the Royal Commission.

For every evil committed and reported there are countless people whose lives are changed for ever.

It is the victims we care for, the young boys and girls, the vulnerable and others who have the courage to come forward. Who in many situations have sought care and justice and who have been fobbed off, who have been reabused by the process and by the ones who “get away” with their sinful lives.

But it is not just the abused person, it is the families and friends. It is the brothers and sisters, it is the good honest Priest and Brother and Nun.

We know too that it is not solely the Roman Catholic Church; it is also members of other Churches, including Anglican, Uniting, Salvos and those who engage with young people. Surf Life Savers, Scouts, Sporting clubs indeed it would seem everyone who cares for the wellbeing of young people.

It is, then, these people, the collateral victims, who suffer being suspected or doubted. It is the innocent teacher, group leader and church worker. It is the clergy who rarely wear any distinguishing cross or collar, they are often so ashamed of what their Church has done.

Pain is difficult to bear, evil is hard to combat and change is often very difficult to accept. We must however change and change deeply.

It is good that people working with children and young people must now have a police check and must carry their Working With Children Check (WWCC) card with them all the time. A small matter and one that can be abused, never the less it is beginning to take seriously, as never before.

We must now become a more caring society, we must never accept this abuse and we must re-learn what it is to be honest and trustworthy.

We must give our children and young people respect and the joy and dignity of living and growing up in a safe community.

We must also never lose sight of those who have been so grievously harmed and we must make generous reparation.

How the Church will survive we are yet to see, but we can be sure that the Church leaders must respond and seek to lead a healing community.

Peter Danaher is a retired bishop and former Vicar at All Saints' Geelong.