Comment

Editorial
Save
Print

Catholic Church must reform to regain trust

The recent troubles of the Catholic Church have been well documented and most are of its own making.

A colossal medieval bureaucracy oversees the spiritual lives of millions of people throughout the world. While the modern church may have adopted technology to help sell its message, it continues to maintain a hierarchical structure and practices with roots in the middle ages.

Without pre-empting the findings of the royal commission into child sexual abuse, it's evident from the hearings that the Church's culture enabled horrific practices to flourish, largely unchallenged. A closed male society with its own legal code, working in frequent contact with children, was with obvious hindsight ripe for infiltration by malevolent paedophiles.

The Catholic Church is not the only organisation to have been infiltrated and used. State-run orphanages, other denominations, the scouting movement and schools have also fallen prey to evil men. Arguably however, churches have been slower to weed out the menace.

Until recently, churches have held the trust of most people, a sacred trust of believers. Many cynical atheists and uninterested agnostics in the past would at least acknowledge the good works and sincere beliefs of those with faith.

That trust has been eroded in the tears of abuse victims.

Advertisement

It's also been revealed the Church placed its reputation above the needs of victims. Although this practice has thankfully changed there will be enduring shame for at least a generation.

A sad extension of this shame is that dedicated priests and proud lay Catholics have had their faith tested and, in the eyes of some, unfairly, they are tainted by association. Most priests are selfless, charitable and holy men who devote their lives to the care of others.

The Church is one of the greatest providers of welfare, health and education services in the ACT through CatholicCare, the Society of St Vincent de Paul, Calvary Hospital and other organisations. Nearly a quarter of Canberra children attend Catholic schools.

The Church has an important role to play in society as a moral voice. It's a shame this voice will be diminished for years to come through the tragedies which occurred, but it should still be heard.

The royal commission heard the Church's administration was ill-equipped to deal with miscreant priests. The Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Christopher Prowse, acknowledged this in an interview with The Canberra Times.

While it's hard to reform a monolithic global organisation with ancient traditions, reform must occur.

There have been calls for Archbishop Prowse to resign over his handling of some issues, including recently the placement of retired priests with troubled histories. These calls may be premature, but bishops everywhere should know they are now facing justifiable scrutiny.

Archbishop Prowse has spoken healing words, but his tenure will be judged by the action he takes and the outcomes he achieves in the months and years ahead.