Catholic Church seeks to rebuild after pain and scandal of child sex abuse

Catholic Church seeks to rebuild after pain and scandal of child sex abuse

The leader of nearly 160,000 Catholics in the Canberra region sees light among the darkness of child sexual abuse revelations and hopes to heal and console.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse, who recently appeared before the Royal Commission and last week faced calls to resign, likened himself to biblical figure Job in the ash heap and conceded he had needed emotional support to deal with the unfolding tragedy.

Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Christopher Prowse.

Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Christopher Prowse.Credit:Katherine Griffiths

In a wide-ranging interview with The Canberra Times, Archbishop Prowse said he hoped the church in future would be known more for its good works than the shame of abuse.

"Communities are largely traumatised by it," he said.


"I know many of my priests find it very, very painful. The vast majority of priests are heroic, dedicated and holy men.

"One paedophile priest is one too many, but there have been too many Judases in our midst and it's really affected us all."

Archbishop Prowse said it would be his lenten pilgrimage to engage with victims of abuse and their families.

"It's difficult because so many people touched by abuse don't want to have anything to do with us because of the bushfire, tsunami effect on them and their families," he said.

"However, I have seen green shoots coming out of the bushfire, where people are saying the church wounded me, but the church is now healing me.

"I would like to be part of the healing church. I want to walk alongside victims and re-engage with them and their families if they will allow me to.

"That would mean the victim is no longer on the periphery and perhaps seen as a bit of a nuisance, but is seen at the centre of our pastoral life; it's almost like an ethical conversion that we have to have."

The archbishop said he also needed to console the many Catholics who have been shamed by the revelations.

"There were people spontaneously crying in parishes, in [church] offices, saying they could take no more of this, they had reached a tipping point," he said.

"I myself have come to that too. People forget the bishop is a human being and I myself have received help to cope with this. Fortunately I have some wonderful friends I can turn to.

"I think my role now is to listen carefully and I intend to do that at various places around the diocese, to be there and listen.

"We also need to keep going with the important practical work to make sure, please God, that this doesn't happen again, to make sure there are professional standards."

Archbishop Prowse said there were now eight men training to serve as priests in the diocese.

"Over the last 20 or 30 years there has been a sea change in the way we prepare young men for the priesthood," he said.

"We still need to do a lot more once they are ordained, we need attitudinal and cultural changes.

"In the corporate world, leaders do a lot more than we do on professional training, accountability and recruitment. We're lagging well behind and that's to our detriment.

"It breeds a culture the priest is beyond this, that he's a spiritual father, and doesn't need it [training].

"A lot of the tragedy of the sex abuse is that a culture of clericalism can easily breed in that unsupervised environment, where the spiritual power is no longer used to serve, but to subvert."

Archbishop Prowse said he was encouraged that more lay people were taking leadership roles, "not in a tokenistic way, but in a way that's influential".

He said people were still interested in faith, especially as society had become more materialistic.

Latest statistics show there were 157,830 Catholics out of 607,794 people in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, representing 26 per cent of the population.

At the end of 2015 there were 55 ordained priests, 10 brothers and 115 nuns.

The church celebrated 1743 baptisms, 1572 confirmations, 1173 first communions and 192 marriages in 2015.

"There's a great belief that family life and married life is vital for a healthy society," Archbishop Prowse said.

Last Thursday, the archbishop faced calls to resign over the placement near two primary schools of a priest he'd stood down for inappropriate behaviour.

He told media the priest was under supervision and nearly immobile because of ill health, but would be relocated.

Michael Gorey is a reporter at The Canberra Times

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