Pell, the patient, pious and above all professional priest has now become the public face of what is wrong with his church, primarily because he contends that there is nothing wrong with his church. For some background reading on this I recommend Forgotten Australians: A report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children availablehere: http://www.naa.gov.au/Images/check-up-minimum-requirements-opt_tcm16-82788.pdf
There have been other inquiries and reports but this one I have read and this one gives a good historical/cultural background to what Pell is talking about. It is not a report on the church as such but on institutions of which the Roman Church was a very important one. It is not light reading. You may need a therapist afterwards.
In this context there is one statement and only one statement that Pell or any other high ranking Catholic could make that has integrity. It goes like this:
“Dear victims, families, laity, clergy and the broader community, greeting. On behalf of the Roman Catholic Church I confess to the following: for at least half a century our church has enacted an unwritten global policy of protecting recidivist pedophiles and rapists. In conducting this policy we committed the following sins systematically and with ‘malice aforethought’:
· refused to accept, investigate or act on accusations against clergy
· when this become untenable we moved clergy to different parishes, roles, or countries
· at times we did this to frustrate investigation by the civil authorities
· we refused to cooperate meaningfully with the civil authorities
· when victims went to the civil authorities we bought their silence with miserly sums of money and bound them with non-disclosure clauses
· we thus took advantage of our relative wealth and power to use the legal system to bully our victims
· we continued to allow offending clergy unsupervised access to children and in some institutional settings allowed them effective ownership of children
· we then denied to various Parliaments, the press, our own congregations, and the broader community, that there was a problem
These were legal and moral crimes which, according to our theology are worthy of eternal damnation and torment in hell. For these we apologise and for these we ask forgiveness. As an act of repentance we have decided to sell some of the treasures in the Vatican museum to fund a multimillion dollar international fund to compensate and assist victims. We do so voluntarily and without coercion.
We instruct all members of our church who learn of any offending to immediately contact the civil authorities. We will make our records available to the civil authorities. Confessions heard in relation to child abuse are no longer sacrosanct and must be reported to the civil authorities. Failure to do so on the part of clergy will cause them to be defrocked. Since it is almost certain that some of highest ranking members of our organisation are recidivist criminals we acknowledge that we are fallible and need external help. To that end we will seek secular and external review of our recruitment and training processes that have allowed perhaps five to ten percent of our priests to have unnatural attractions.
We also apologise to the great majority of our clergy whose reputations are now tarnished by association with our organisation. You have kept your vows and faithfully served your community. We ask your help in rehabilitating our church and our reputation. Sincerely…..”
But it can be done. The Anglican Church in Tasmania is not a wealthy or powerful organisation but squarely addressed the issue of abuse under the leadership of then Bishop John Harrower. The Bishop met with victims, told them he believed them, and set about reviewing the church’s internal processes including mandatory safety training for anyone working with children. The church is short of cash but had an old historic mansion traditionally the home of the Tasmanian Bishop. This was voluntarily sold and the proceeds used as a fund to assist victims. In many ways this set the benchmark for any organisation whose paid staff have abused children. So why can’t the Roman Church do it?
The answer is because, in their attitude to sex and authority, the laity (those are the people in the pews) are Christians but the clergy (the ones with the frocks) are gnostics. Let me explain.
Christianity is a first century Jewish sect. The first question Jesus’ remaining disciples had to answer was whether it was open to non-Jews. The Jewish attitude to sex at the time was pretty simple – marry young, do it a lot, have many children. The Roman Church has continued with this attitude for its lay membership.
In the first century church only married people with children were allowed positions of leadership. The notion of a celibate priesthood is an inversion of scripture on many levels. Gnosticism emerged as an early heresy. It taught that the physical, earthly, corporeal realm was evil and the soul’s task was to escape from it (Buddhism anyone?) Sex and sexuality was something that tied the soul to this realm. For that reason those seeking true Godliness should be celibate. The gnostics claimed esoteric knowledge which could only be obtained by initiation from an emerging class of people who claimed enlightenment and who were thus closer to Divinity. Gnosticism became a popular and highly organized religion known as Catharism that rivaled the Roman Church. This was not to be tolerated and after the inquisition perhaps a quarter of a million Cathars were dead or had converted. Catharism ceased to exist but was in effect adopted by the Roman Hierarchy. The flesh was sinful. The celibate clergy were the ones close to Divinity by process of initiation. They and only they could dispense grace to the sinful laity. Later this hierarchy claimed actual infallibility. Technically this only applies to the Pope in matters of doctrine, but culturally the higher echelons of the church consider themselves to be above the sinful secular world. As the great incorporator of many traditions the Roman Church now has the Jewish attitude to sex for its laity and the gnostic attitude for its clergy. As regards their attitude to sex and Divinity they are Cathars not Christians.
…and that is why Pell can’t apologise. Because if his class are fallible, if they are not the enlightened ones who are closer to Divinity than everyone else, then the Vatican has no reason to exist in its current form. The house of cards crumbles. The Pope is not the “Vicar of Christ” being God’s ultimate representative on earth. The Roman Church is not the ‘corpus Christi” or body of Christ. The Vatican can make no legitimate claim to be a sovereign State. In fact, the Roman Church would have to become a normal church like every other Christian denomination. It would still be hierarchical but no longer infallible. It could then direct its energies outwards to do good, rather than inwards to maintaining position. It could complete the good work begun with Vatican II.
This would undoubtedly be a positive outcome for the Church and for the broader community. And this is precisely the outcome that Pell, those who promoted him, and those who elected the current and former Pope, have spent their professional lives working to prevent. It is not that Pell doesn’t care about abuse…but he is not going to let the house of cards fall. After all this has been a 600 year campaign.
For a further historic perspective consider John Wycliffe. Wycliffe was the first person to translate the Bible into English and give it to the people (those that could read anyway). The Roman Church was concerned that if people could read the Bible for themselves things might get out of hand and so they burned Wycliffe’s followers alive. They were right to be concerned. Once word got out that the medieval feudal system was not in-fact ordained by God the peasants rose up in the world’s first documented violent socialist revolution in 1382. It is known today as the ‘Peasant’s Revolt’. The revolution was betrayed but Wycliffe was too well connected to be killed and died of natural causes. The Pope meanwhile condemned his as a heretic (Wycliffe had become anti-clerical). Since a heretic could not rest on sacred soil Wycliffe’s body was exhumed, burned, and the ashes thrown into the local river in 1415. It’s been 600 years now and no one is apologising.
The Vatican will always and by whatever means necessary defend its claim to absolute power. Pell has this historical perspective…and that’s why he will express regret, and perhaps feel it, but the fictional apology given above will never happen; not unless a pope decides to break with 600 years of tradition. If they did, and if they were not assassinated, people like Pell would devote their lives to reversing such a legacy.