Shining a Light on Child Sexual Abuse
Within hours of putting our Quick Poll in the field, the Federal Government announced a wide reaching independent Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in all institutions, not just the Catholic Church. So – what were our poll results? And what does the church’s response say about … the church?
Quick Poll Results:
The poll results were not at all surprising – they clearly reflect the opinions of the wider community. When asked whether the Federal Government should announce a Royal Commission style investigation into the sexual abuse of children within the Catcholic Church, here is how you responded:
A number commented – why single out the Catholic Church? Why not investigate all institutions?
It turns out that that’s exactly what the Government has chosen to do. Obviously, the Catholic Church is not the only place where these atrocities may have been committed.
Reaction of the Catholic Church’s Leadership
However given its prominence and the very specific allegations made not only of abuse, but of systemic cover up of that abuse by the Church, the Catholic Church does serve as a powerful case study. And it’s that case study that I would like to examine briefly to see what you and I can learn about church and moral leadership.
There have been widespread allegations of abuse and cover up. One of the people making those allegations is a policeman who spent years investigating sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in NSW. Despite this, the most senior Catholic leader in Australia, Cardinal Pell, resisted calls for an investigation, claiming that the whole thing was being blown out of all proportion.
Once the Royal Commission was announced by the Prime Minister, he shifted his ground. Quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) Cardinal Pell said that the investigation would be:
an opportunity to clear the air, to separate fact from fiction … [but] … We object to being described as the only cab on the rank.
According to the SMH, he went on to ‘castigate the press for smearing and scapegoating the church with exaggerations and generalisations’. The remainder of his press conference was what can best be described as a spirited defense of the church and it’s position. A central tenet of his argument was that the church, in statistical terms was no worse than any other segment of society.
A Case Study in Church Leadership
The defensiveness of the leadership of the Catholic Church at best, makes it appear to be a moribund organisation in the public eye. At worst, an evil one. Or perhaps the answer, in terms of public perceptions, lies somewhere in between. Whatever the answer, brand “Catholicism” has been trashed, and by association (whether we like it or not) brand “Christianity” and … most importantly brand “Jesus” have been tarnished. That, to put it bluntly, translates into a roadblock to faith in Jesus, for many.
Any moral authority that the Catholic Church may have had has been flushed down the toilet, despite Cardinal Pell’s assertions that the general public certainly understands we are serious about this.
In the face of a compelling, prima face case of abuse and systemic cover-up, why didn’t the church’s leadership go to the government and request a Royal Commission? Why didn’t the leadership take pre-emptive and proactive action in the interests of its people to bring the truth to light, whatever that truth might be?
Answer: because it was apparently more concerned about protecting the organisation and in so doing has greatly diminished that which it seems to value above all other things – it’s reputation.
Here is the biblical principle that the church leaders have ignored:
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them. For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. (Ephesians 5:6-14)
It seems to me that the role of a church leader is to shine the light on deeds of darkness and to expose them. Instead – at least as far as public perception is concerned – the church seems to have been intent on the exact opposite, justifying their actions by saying, in effect, “well, we’re no different to the rest of the world in this area”.
We – the church – should be different. Very different. We’re in the light business after all, aren’t we?
No, none of us is perfect. But we should expect far, far more from our church leadership, whatever brand or denomination. And if that sounds a little harsh, here’s why I’ve said what I’ve said.
Sometimes … we need to call a spade a spade. Sometimes we just need to speak the truth in love.
A Final Word
If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes! – Jesus (Matt 18:6,7)