BY BISHOP KEVIN MANNING
In recent times, principally before and during the papal visit to England and Scotland and then prior to the canonisation of St Mary of the Cross in Rome, sections of the media targeted the Catholic Church, rejoicing in her discomfort as her influence diminished because of the failures of some of her adherents.
The attacks, in the main, were fuelled by the clergy sex abuse scandals. The media message was that sex abuse by clergy and subsequent covering up by some bishops meant that the Church had forfeited her right to comment on any topic of morality or, for that matter, any topic concerning the common good.
Of course, the sexual abuse of minors is a criminal act and it, and other forms of abuse of persons, is rightly abhorred. We know that some bishops and other authorities in the Church have let down victims by their failure to take effective action.
All this has left some lay Catholics, religious, priests, and I’m sure a few bishops, confused and wondering what to do. Should the Church tough it out, or should she refrain from public comment, adopt a low profile and go underground?
I suggest that it is none of those things. It cannot be business as usual because in addition to the pain of the victims, other Catholics feel that their trust has been betrayed and many priests who strive daily to lead lives worthy of their vocation also feel betrayed by priest perpetrators. The Church is shamed and humbled. But a humble Church can preach the Gospel more convincingly than one in whose halls abuse has been overlooked.
Should the Church react to this climate by adopting a lower profile and refraining from comment on matters touching morality? Well, of course, if she is to remain true to herself, she can’t!
The Church is charged with preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that is why she cannot keep silent. She has a duty to teach doctrine to Catholics and to nurture their sacramental and liturgical life. The Gospel does not permit silence in the face of global injustice nor ‘no comment’ in the beginning and end of life issues where the sanctity of human life is under threat.
She must continue to contribute to the ethical framework of a society so that abortion and, now, euthanasia are not treated as purely private matters. As humble servants of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, all Catholics must take courage, speak up and witness to the true message of Jesus.
Above all, the Church has the duty, in love, to serve to the vast majority of Catholics and the vast majority of priests who have not been caught up in the sex abuse scandals and who continue to look to the Church for their spiritual nourishment, welfare and for guidance in setting their moral compass.
And what about the great numbers of adults who are becoming Catholics? In dioceses throughout the world, adults are embracing the Catholic faith. They cannot be dong this in ignorance of the sex abuse scandals.
Our duty is to welcome them into a Church that is humble, yes, but confident in the authenticity and attraction of its message: God so loved the world that He sent us Jesus Who has saved us and through whom eternal life is made available to us.
The gravity of the clerical sex abuse scandals must be humbly acknowledged by the Church; she must learn from them and, with the help of lay people and professional experts, be ever vigilant lest her structures and those responsible for operating them allow such a cancer to thrive again.
But she cannot shrink from her mission: to proclaim the truth of Christ, the One who came to serve and Who guaranteed to be with us until the end of time.
Most Rev. Kevin Manning DD is Bishop Emeritus of Parramatta.
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