Light From Southern Cross
Title: New Australian report may help church find its way out of abuse crisis
Author: Massimo Faggioli
There are signs that the Catholic Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis is now getting at deeper, institutional questions. In particular, how local churches — parishes and dioceses — are governed.
In the last few years, a unique example that could bring encouraging news has come from the Australian church.
Since 2017-18, the abuse crisis has taken on a new dimension, thanks to the unveiling of cases (such as disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick) and of extensive cover-ups identified and published in the reports of nationwide and regional investigations (such as in Australia, Chile and Pennsylvania).
The new phase of the crisis has focused on the direct involvement of bishops, cardinals and the Vatican. It has also identified that the crisis is not restricted to children and also involves women religious and other vulnerable persons — and has become a global crisis with huge repercussions on the relations between church and state in various countries.
The new phase in the abuse crisis has also shown much complexity: It is not just a legal and ethical crisis, but also a theological one and a crisis of models of church governance.
Pope Francis has reframed the scandal as something that must move the church to conversion. We must consider all the different levels that this conversion must reach: It is a pastoral and theological conversion as well as a conversion of ecclesial structures.
The Australian church plays a particular and unique role in this conversion, for several reasons.
The Australian government’s Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2013-17) undertook an in-depth, wide-ranging investigation into many organizations. This investigative process produced a damning exposé of abuse, not just in Catholic institutions, but across Australian society.
The findings of the commission regarding the Catholic Church highlighted major failures of ecclesial governance and leadership. In their August 2018 response to the commission’s final report, the Australian bishops and the country’s religious orders accepted the commission’s recommendation that there be a review of the governance and management of the nation’s dioceses and parishes.