Francis Sullivan, the chief executive of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council that was set up to coordinate the Catholic Church’s response to the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, has said the Church “has scandalised the faithful and those who rely on it as a moral compass and prudent guide”.
He made the statement in his regular blog, after speaking to the Australian bishops' plenary meeting in Sydney last week. The Royal Commission’s final report, to be delivered on 15 December, will make recommendations that aim to support and inform the Australian government, institutions and the general public in preventing and responding to child sexual abuse in institutional contexts.
In the blog Mr Sullivan said the Council was charged to operate for the "life of the Royal Commission". "That time is rapidly running out,” he said. “As part of our advisory role we will provide the church leadership with our own take on what these last five years have revealed and what the implications for the Church are contained within the Commission’s findings and recommendations.”
However, before the report is released he had a harsh message for bishops and religious leaders. They must commit he said to a future that is not characterised by a “business as usual” mentality. “They cannot fall prey to those reactionary interests within and without the Church who jump at any shadow and too quickly cast any public criticism of the Church as yet another shot across the bow of religious freedom,” he warned.
“The damaged credibility of the Church because of the abuse scandal affects all Catholics,” he continued, before charting the different responses Catholics have made. “Some have remained resolutely loyal and passionately observant,” he said. “Others have wavered and wondered about what the scandal means and how the Church will ever recover. Others have drifted away, silently, with regret, even sadness. Still others live in hope that this scandal will enliven the Spirit within the Church to engender reforms and transformation akin to the times of the Second Vatican Council.”
“Put bluntly,” he said, “the Church has been revealed for all its hypocrisy and self-interest. It has let not only those abused within its ranks down but it has scandalised the faithful and those who rely on it as a moral compass and prudent guide. It has brought itself to a point where serious discernment and spiritual renewal are essential. Episcopal authority must lead this ... Let’s hope that the bishops come out of their Sydney meetings setting a course that will deeply resonate with all of us who still hold out hope that being Church in this post-modern time is not only a relevant option but also enlivening one.”
The many volumes of the Final report will cover areas including understanding the nature, cause and impact of child sexual abuse in institutional contexts; what was learnt from private sessions; and findings about institutions. As the Commission entered its final two weeks, it said that in the past five years, it had handled 41,770 calls, received 25,774 letters and emails, the six Commissioners had held 8013 private sessions with survivors of child sexual abuse and had made 2559 referrals to authorities, including police.
PICTURE: Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, is greeted by Francis Sullivan, CEO of the Catholic Church's Truth, Justice and Healing Council (right) as he arrives to give evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, in Sydney, 24 August, 2015