Responding to the Sexual Abuse Crisis

Discussion Time:

Mass attenders’ attitudes to the clergy sexual abuse crisis in Australia

Dr Robert Dixon

News of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church in Australia began to emerge in the early 1990s, when a few isolated cases of abuse by priests became known. The crisis continued to escalate until, in 2013, the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, established a Royal Commission to investigate sexual abuse of children in institutions generally, including the Catholic Church. After five years of inquiry, the Royal Commission delivered its comprehensive report in December 2017. The section of the report dealing with the Catholic Church is close to 800 pages long, and reveals that a total of 1,880 priests and religious were credibly accused of having committed abuse during the period 1950 to 2010. Every five years since 1996, as part of the 1996 Catholic Church Life Survey (CCLS) and then the National Church Life Survey (NCLS) (2001-2016), a national random sample of Mass attenders has been asked questions about the crisis, resulting in five comparable datasets. The questions concern attenders’ attitudes towards Church authorities, their respect for clergy and religious, whether they think the media has been fair to the Church in reporting the crisis, and their assessment of the Church’s response. This paper will investigate how the attitudes of Mass attenders have changed over time as the extent and seriousness of the crisis has grown, and how they vary according to variables such as age, sex, level of education, country of birth and frequency of attendance at Mass.

Who Is This “Light of the World”? Behind the title of Pope Francis’s procedural rules managing the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse crisis: Vos Estis Lux Mundi

Dr Christopher Longhurst

Pope Francis’ new procedural rules addressing the crimes of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church was titled Vos Estis Lux Mundi (“You are the light of the world” [May 2019]). This title was chosen from Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 5 verse 14. The pericope continues: “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds.” (Mt.5:14-16) Reflecting on the meaning behind Pope Francis’ choice of title, an interpretation is given which fosters the idea that those who speak out about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church shine a light for others, performing a very good deed and pathing the way for healing. An interpretation of the significances of the metaphors of lamp, light, and bowl from Mt.5:14-16 are given, along with the corollary of darkness, in relation to the Church’s sexual abuse crisis; the lamp being the voice which speaks out, the light being the truth uncovering the coverups, the bowl being silent Christians, and the darkness being the abuse and it concealment and denial by some church leaders. The final part seeks to explain, in light of Pope Francis’ new procedural rules, why some Church teachings may not apply, in particular, article 2489 of the Catholic Catechism which states that the “good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language.” To the contrary, it is argued that the good and safety of others and the common good are sufficient reasons to speak out against this kind of abuse; and that the crimes of clerical child sexual abuse must be known; and that discreet language on such matters ought to be avoided. Conclusions reached with biblical evidence, support the idea that speaking out is a Christian responsibility, a virtue which brings healing for the Church, and being silent on such matters is a sin of omission for Christians.

Eine neue Kirchensteuer! (A new Church tax)

Dr Brendan Long

The paper has three tasks. The first is to develop a simple theoretical economic model of the fiscal dynamics of the Catholic Church in Australia which outlines a scenario of emerging fiscal deficits being transformed into persistent unsustainable budget deficits that threatens to fundamentally compromise the future financial viability of the Catholic Church in Australia. The fiscal shock that is supposed to move the Church from a stable if precarious fiscal position to a downward spiral of fiscal unsustainability is the costs associated with dealing with response to the sexual abuse crisis. The paper calls for data to be made available to empirically invalidate or validate the model. The second task is to evaluate what should be the theological response to this theoretical projection if it were to be validated by the fiscal data. Here the paper turns to Pope Francis’ approach to economics and in particular his notion of economic asceticism embodied in the apostolic exhortation of Evangelii Gaudium and the encyclical Laudato Si’. A theological framework is outlined that calls for the Catholic Church in Australia to respond to these economic dynamics through a positive response of all Catholics to embrace an economic asceticism that takes seriously his exhortation that ‘less is more’ when talking of material wealth. The third task is to apply this conceptual framework to the practical fiscal problem hypothesised in the first problem posed. What is proposed is to engage with the notion that the Catholic Church in Australia constitutes, by accepted economic definitions, an economy in its own right. As all economies, its streams of annual wealth creation from delivery of services operations constitute a viable taxation base. What is proposed is that the Church’s service delivery operations can be made the subject of a tax the Church imposes on itself. Such a measure aligns with the theological framework present in Francis’ still emerging theology of economics. We can approach the spiritual, ascetical option he calls for in economic concerns by taxing economic activity of the local Church and then choosing to give the associated revenue away. Rather than spending it on Church infrastructure we could dispose of these many millions for the sake of those who are its victims, the victims of sexual abuse by our Church. Strangely, but maybe providentially, the response of the third task in the paper, which responds to the theological framework of the second task, could potentially solve the fiscal problem hypothesised in the first task.