BlogWatcher - How can clerics deal with sex abuse?


In his homily at St Joseph’s Newtown yesterday, Sydney priest Peter Maher pointed to the role of the “culture of clericalism” in sexual abuse. Publishing the text on his blog, he said there’s an absence of “any form of dialogue that might privilege the victim’s stories.  Yet this is the first step in healing and reconciliation”.

[It] has left the vulnerable unprotected and unhealed by a leadership too willing to be hoodwinked by the doctrine of a priesthood that places priests above other human beings and what they call “the good of the church”. ...

Church representatives are still trying to address this tragic abuse from a position of power ... I think it’s time to be more real and recognise that it is primarily an institutional failure: a failure to recognise that unfettered clerical power created a climate in which on-going abuse could go on unabated.

At, David Timbs analyses Cardinal Raymond Burke’s exercise of clerical power and his conviction that “external forces of evil have infiltrated and dangerously contaminated ecclesial life”. Timbs’ explanation:

Cardinal Burke’s approach to Law strongly reflects that of the Anglo-Saxon-Celtic mentality. Culturally these peoples have been historically and perversely fascinated with and dominated by the power of laws and regulations.

This contrasts with Cardinal Martini’s attitude to clericalism. dotCommonweal’s Joseph A. Komonchak translates part of a blog of Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli, who recalls Martini’s response when he was asked whether he preferred to be called “Father” or “Pastor”. Martini replied:

I don’t much like these terms ... I personally prefer ... that of John the Baptist, “the friend of the Bridegroom” (Jn 3:29-30): the friend of the Bridegroom rejoices at the voice of the Bridegroom: “He must increase; I must decrease.” 

There’s another expression of Martini’s Latin approach from papal spokesperson Fr Federico Lombardi at Vatican Radio’s website, quoting Cardinal Martini.

Do not think the bishop is able to effectively guide the people entrusted to him with a multitude of regulations and decrees, with prohibitions and negative judgements. Focus instead on interior formation, on a taste for and fascination with Sacred Scripture; show the positive reasons for our actions, inspired by the Gospel. One will gain so much more than one would by a rigid observance of rules and regulations.

Another example of the Ango-Saxon-Celtic thinking is Tablet blogger Liz Dodd’s quote from Westminster Auxiliary Bishop John Arnold. The bishop was responding to academics at a church sexual abuse conference in the UK where leading academics had argued that the Church should model its response to abuse on secular examples of accountability. Dodd paraphrases Bishop Arnold view and gives her own response:

The Church could not be expected to conform to secular models of accountability because '[that] is not how the Church understands itself'. Bishop Arnold said relationships of accountability within the Church must be understood as being like those in a family - where power and authority are exercised in a hierarchical manner in the best interests of the vulnerable.

But the emotive, tight-knit relationships that emerge within a family structure are sometimes tragically conducive to abuse and secrecy, to closing ranks.

Dodd has a final statement on the mutual dependency of clerics and lay people, from Sr Nuala Kenny, who told ordained clergy at the conference:

I have no sacraments without you - but you cannot priest or bishop without me.

Sandro Magister cautions against going too far in diminishing the role of the clergy, and suggests the final interview of Cardinal Martini – in which he said the Church was 200 years behind the times – was set up to do just this.  

In effect, if this interview were truly the quintessence of Martini's legacy for the Church and the world – as those responsible for it want it to be believed – the figure of the deceased cardinal would correspond precisely to that label of "anti-pope" which was applied to him over the years by circles inside and outside of the Church, but which clashes strongly with the lofty and heartfelt attestations of esteem expressed repeatedly toward him by Benedict XVI himself. ...

The almost exclusive memory has been for Martini as archbishop, not for Martini as opinion leader of recent years, exalted by the secularist media as well as by the Catholic proponents of an imaginary Vatican Council III and of a democratised Church.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins, founding editor of CathNews, compiles this 'Blog Watcher' column every week.

Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.

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