Clergy care co-ordinators could help priests come to terms with the child sexual abuse scandal, says Fr Greg Bourke, national director of the Office for Clergy, Life and Ministry, reports The Southern Cross.
Fr Bourke, who addressed the Clergy Healthcare Network Conference in Adelaide last month, said clergy care co-ordinators have an important role to play in helping priests by listening to how they have been affected by the scandal.
He likened the effect of the scandal on priests to a failed marriage, in so far as one partner feels betrayed by the other and can’t believe they didn’t know that the person they were living with was having an affair.
“We often hear clergy say ‘but these men were my friends, we studied together, we holidayed together and I never knew’,” said Fr Bourke.
“All of those affective emotions that a married person would conceivably experience can be conditionally translated to how a clergy person might be affected.”
Fr Bourke said for many members of the clergy the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse had “rubbed our noses in it” and “we don’t like the affect it is having on us emotionally, mentally and spiritually”.
To prevent priests from moving too quickly to “defence mechanisms”, Fr Bourke said clergy care health workers could be positive agents.
“There is no formula for this but only to do what you do, spend time with these men and sometimes the vulnerable window is open to you and you can figuratively step up to the window sill and converse,” he said.
Fr Bourke said many priests were tempted to “shrink, draw down and lose their sense of worth”.
Some reacted by refusing to visit schools or engage with children, even though child safeguards and policies provided them with a framework for appropriate interaction such as having contact with children when there were other adults around.
Fr Bourke said priests needed to understand that the norms and guidelines for working with children could help them to “flourish”.
“In fact it’s better than ever now because we’ve got a structure to help us to be the people that we should be,” he said.
‘Betrayed’ clergy need listeners (The Southern Cross)