20 February 2018
Australia prelates criticise 'relentless' media campaign against Church
The archbishop said some would like the Catholic Church to be 'knocked out of the equation'
Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney and Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen of Parramatta have both criticised as a "relentless" campaign a series of newspaper articles last week by Fairfax, publisher of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, about the Catholic Church, its purported wealth and its response to victims of child sexual abuse by Church personnel.
Archbishop Fisher, in an article in The Sydney Morning Herald on 12 February, wrote that given its many works, it was inevitable that the Church would have lots of "assets", but the works were done as a non-profit organisation. "To compare this with the corporates like Westfield and Wesfarmers, as the SMH and Age did yesterday, is unreal," he wrote. "So is valuing St Mary’s Cathedral as if it were a potential site for a high rise development. Its value is as spiritual and artistic heritage of the Church, city and nation.
"Comparisons with the big corporates fail for another key reason: companies make money for their shareholders, the Church spends its resources on others.
"Unfortunately, the good works of the Church have been tainted of late by the evil actions of some in our ranks and inaction of some leaders. We realise our good works can never excuse or undo the terrible damage done. That has to be addressed directly.
"Which is why the Church was the first to back a national redress scheme, independent of the churches, as recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. And we are committed to paying our share.
"I realise that given our past failings some will believe any evil said of the Church. But to accuse us of lying to the royal commission, hiding our assets from abuse victims, and failing in our obligations to rectify wrongs done is unjust and untrue.
"But no matter how we use our resources and how we report on them, the campaign to strip the Church of its assets and influence is relentless. We should be clear-sighted about where this is leading. If the Church is knocked out of the equation, as some would like, who else will do all the good that ordinary Church workers and volunteers do with those working 'assets'? Who else will serve the millions of the most needy presently assisted?"
Bishop Long said in a message to his western Sydney diocese on 14 February that in light of the extent of the abuse in the Church and its handling by some Church leaders, it was reasonable for people to have lost trust in the Church. The Fairfax articles "appear to be part of a relentless campaign with similar articles likely to be published in the future", he said.
"As the Diocese of Parramatta, we need to rebuild this trust. It is incumbent upon us to rebuild a broken Church.
"Any suggestion that we would not honour financial commitments to a survivor of abuse to 'protect' our financial assets is wrong and misleading.
"What needs to be clear is that 'Church property', usually acquired through the generous donations and volunteer work of generations of Catholics, cannot simply be compared to a normal commercial building. Church property usually belongs to an individual parish or is held in trust. Comparing a commercial building to a Church property is not the same thing and would be like comparing apples to oranges."
Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University and Chairman of Concerned Catholics Canberra-Goulburn, John Warhurst, wrote in The Canberra Times on 15 February that Archbishop Fisher was right to say that to compare the Church's type of wealth to that of Westfield or Wesfarmers was crude and simplistic. "Nevertheless, that wealth, however calculated, stands in stark contrast to the resistance and mean-spiritedness that, it has now been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt, has characterised its leaders' treatment of those who were sexually abused while in the church's care," he wrote.
"This injustice has compounded the crimes that happened on its watch and its criminal cover-ups. Most of the victims were Catholics themselves at the time.
"In the past, Catholics were mainly loyal and hard-working subjects rather than informed and vocal citizens within their own church. Bewilderment and lack of trust is now turning belatedly to activism and demands for renewal of church governance and structures, as well as for the transparency and accountability rightly demanded by the community at large. It remains to be seen whether the church's authorities are really listening."
Emeritus Professor Warhurst wrote that the Church's wealth deserved sophisticated investigation and that Catholics should welcome that.
"Existing publicly available information is unnecessarily partial. Transparency has not been part of its culture.
"The same sophisticated investigation must apply to its power. It still has the resources to be influential, but there is plenty of competition and its lobbying failures currently outweigh its successes."
PICTURE: Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney speaking last year's parliamentary inquiry into human trafficking (AAP Image/Paul Miller).
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