I am writing this the morning after Cardinal Pell’s conviction for child sexual abuse became public knowledge. I will admit to not following Cardinal Pell’s case all that closely but I expect that the courts will deal with him in accordance with the rule of law. I also admit that it is always wise to pull the log out of my own eye before trying it on someone else.
As an outside observer who is not a Roman Catholic it might be argued that I should say nothing. But saying nothing about an issue that impacts the faith of many would be remiss of me and perhaps irresponsible, especially in a column entitled “Faith Matters”. It would leave a church leader like myself open to the charge of hiding from the truth, or worse, being complicit, by my silence, in covering up such issues.
A little history might help before I address my concerns. My wife and I for thirty years have had numerous occasions where we have been required to deal with child abuse in all its shocking array. We have read and studied the Bible most of our lives and consider it a complete mystery why anyone would think that the harm of children, the covering up of harm to children or the protection of the perpetrator, is appropriate. So terrible are the abuses before the court that it defies people’s imagination that any person, let alone a church leader, could act in such a way.
In one sense it is sad that I have to begin this way before offering other comments. If I don’t, I am left open to a world of unhelpful accusations which may come anyway and further add to my personal grief.
In a community, the actions of one person does not, and must not, destroy the credibility of the whole community. Today a community of right-minded Roman Catholics are as shocked and angry at the news as anyone else. Perhaps more so. They will own the shame denominationally, while not personally guilty of it. Some will reconsider their church attendance but I would urge any reconsideration to begin at the Cross with the crucified saviour, Jesus Christ, who rises from the dead and who will exact his perfect justice in all eternity. It is worth the victims of sin knowing that. No one gets away with sin.
I watched 7’s news and as a voice yelled from the crowd, “Go to hell, Pell”, I understood the anger behind the voice, but for me the real emotion was simply grief. Anger and grief are to be expected in the face of the sin of child abuse. Anger has been no stranger to me when dealing with abuse but when my anger subsides the grief remains. We grieve for the victims of abuse. We grieve over the breach of trust by individuals and in institutions we once thought worthy of our trust. We grieve the stolen naiveté of childhood and the suffering which lingers for years, often hidden behind a mask of survival. And as tough as it may sound, I grieve to hear anyone wanting another person in hell. Only God is worthy to make that judgement and he will make it of all of us.
I write to you in this article and encourage the angry and grieving to consider carefully with me our responses. Let’s not confuse the institution that needs critique with the community of individuals who gather as its community.
You and I may not be Roman Catholics but they represent a large community within our wider community. Far from a shallow, thoughtless and general condemnation of the Roman Catholic Church we need to respond wisely and lovingly. Many of our friends, neighbours, priests and even Bishops are grieving, hurting Roman Catholics, bewildered by breaches of trust. Children attend Catholic schools and great care needs to be taken for their welfare when comments are made. Careless responses can be crushing for this community within our community. Considering how we might respond in love is the best consideration for us all.