That’s the question I was asking myself when I read through the text of the speech he gave at the launch of his book “Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church” at John Garrett’s last month. What makes this guy tick? Or, rather, what’s ticking him off?
The answers are all there in the text. First, though, I note that this speech was published in the “Theology” section of Eureka Street. A bit of a worry when this is what passes for “theology”. If there is one thing conspicuously lacking in His Lordship’s speech, it is theology.
Here is his text with my comments in [bold].
Confront sexual abuse, don’t manage it
Eureka Street 30-Aug-2007 By Geoffrey Robinson
The Cardinal Secretary of State at the Vatican is usually thought to hold the second highest office in the Catholic Church. [Wrong from the word go. It is the 2nd highest office in the Vatican State. Secretary of State is not an office of the Catholic Church. Note the way in which, throughout this speech, Bishop Robinson confuses the theological and institutional meanings of “The Church”] The present Secretary, Cardinal Bertone, was a personal appointment by the pope. So it was disheartening when, on a recent visit to the United States, he was asked about sexual abuse and first blamed the media, then greedy lawyers, then said that the Church had “faced this trial with great dignity and courage” and hoped that “other institutions and social agencies will face the same problem with their members with an equal degree of courage and realism as the Catholic Church has done.” I believe that most of the Australian bishops had moved beyond this point more than a decade ago, so it is discouraging to hear that it still prevails at the highest levels. It is a typical example of seeking to manage rather than confront a problem.
As long as the Church seeks to manage rather than confront, the devastating effect the scandal has had on the Church will continue and will cripple other activities. Of what use is it to proclaim a “new evangelization” to others if we are not seen to have confronted the suppurating ulcer on our body? [Of what USE??? Good God, the evangelising mission of the Church is its central reason for existence, higher on the agenda than any other issue] In all our preaching to others, we would lack credibility. Cardinal Bertone does not seem to realize just how much credibility the Church has lost over the last twenty years and how seriously we must act in order to regain it.
Over that time most of the blame has been poured onto the bishops [but who can a bishop blame?]. I am not simply seeking to divert this blame, far less to defend every action of every bishop, if I say that it is important to understand that, within the present structures of the Church, the pope alone has the power to confront this problem in its deepest sources. [There’s your answer: the bishop blames the pope. Adam’s old excuse: “It wasn’t my fault. The woman whom you gave me…”]. One must ask, “Where is the papal statement addressed directly to victims, with the word ‘sorry’ proclaimed clearly? Where is the papal promise to investigate every possible source of abuse and ruthlessly to eradicate it? Where is the request to those institutes especially set up to treat offending priests to present their findings on the causes? Where is the request to the bishops to coordinate the studies in their territory and report to Rome? Where is the document placing everything [EVERYTHING? Robinson makes the sex abuse crisis the be all and end all of EVERYTHING! So his suggested “reforms” are not just about how to deal with sex abuse, but with EVERYTHING! I wonder if he asked the folk in the African Church or the Asian Church if sex abuse is on the top of their list of things to do address in the Church? ] on the table for discussion, including such things as obligatory celibacy [this would be an example of “everything” that is up for discussion] and the selection and training of candidates? [Isn’t this the bishop’s responsibility?] With power go responsibilities. The pope has many times claimed the power and must accept the corresponding responsibilities. [When were these “many times” that the pope has claimed “power”? On the contrary, I have seen the popes continually dedicating the use of their God-given authority to responsible SERVICE of the Church. Robinson’s approach–to blame everything on the pope–is a sort of backhanded “centralism”. It gives an importance to the pope’s role in the universal Church that is disproportionate to reality. It is as if Bishop Robinson has never heard of the principle of subsidiarity. Why does there need to have been a directive from Rome telling the bishops to do their job?]
If you go to Italy, you will not be there long before you meet the two phrases “far bella figura” and “far brutta figura”. Literally they mean “to make a beautiful figure” and “to make an ugly figure”, but are better translated as “keeping up appearances”. In other words, when something is badly wrong, you still present a beautiful exterior, a beautiful figure to outsiders. This mentality goes all the way back to ancient Rome, so it is deeply entrenched, and it is small wonder that it has been present in a Church that has its centre in Rome. When one adds to this the rise of papal power in the second millennium, culminating in papal infallibility, with its idea that the pope and the Church he rules can never really be wrong [okay, now I get it: papal infallibility is an “idea”, a distorted and late development of doctrine], one begins to understand why someone like Cardinal Bertone could still speak in the way he did. The response to abuse was at least as great a scandal as the abuse itself. If we are to overcome it, we must be prepared to put up with a temporary and very brutta figura so that we may eventually create a genuine bella figura.
The danger for bishops today is that they can think that they have done everything that is within their personal power and that the rest is up to the pope [that certainly seems the gist of the previous two paragraphs], over whom they have no control, so they can and must just get on with their job. It seems to me that bishops and, indeed, all members of the Church, still have the most unpleasant, most difficult and most unwelcome task of trying to insist that the pope be the rock a pope is supposed to be in holding the Church together [umm. I’m confused. I hadn’t noticed that I had this “most difficult and most unwelcome task”. From what I see, the pope is doing his level best as it is]. They have to use whatever means they can to convince him that there is a scandal that will cripple all the Church’s activities unless and until it is confronted. [This assumes: 1) that the pope isn’t convinced there is a scandal, and two that the gates of hell can prevail against the Church. First, the Pope has publically recognised the scandal of sex abuse in the Church and secondly the Church (perhaps unlike the other victims) cannot and will not be “crippled” by this crisis.]
This has been the first and major basis for the book that is being launched today [right, that’s one ticked off], but as I wrote it I realized that there was a second basis [Here comes the second]. Protestant Churches have always had the weakness that, when controversies arise, there is no authority to hold them together, so they have divided into dozens of Churches and literally thousands of sects [So, he acknowledges that papal authority in the service of unity is a good thing, no?]. Within the Cathol
ic Church, on the other hand, the power [notice how “authority” has morphed into “power” in this sentence] of the rock, the pope, has held the Church together. Its weakness, however, is that all the divisions do not go away, but are contained within the Church [well, that’s an interesting observation. Probably true too]. Outsiders frequently have the idea of a monolithic Church, with everyone meekly obeying the pope [if only!], and they can fail completely to understand just how diverse the Church is, just how motley a group of people Catholics really are, and how fierce are the divisions and the struggles for power within the Church [sad, no? This is the real SCANDAL of the Church–that there are divisions and struggles for power, rather than the unity of faithful discipleship. Vatican II (UR 1) actually identified these divisions, not sex abuse, as the real scandal in the Church. Whatever happend to St Paul’s exhortation in Eph 5: “Submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ].
I believe that the major division is between the proclaimers of certainties and the seekers after truth [I believe it is a division between those faithful to the authority of the magisterium and those who are not. Perhaps that is too simplistic]. Of course we need certainties and of course we need a search for truth, but it is possible to put too heavy an accent on either of these elements [why should these be opposed to one another? Vatican II (Religious Liberty, 2) declared that “It is in accordance with their dignity that all men, because they are persons, that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore bearing personal responsibility, are both impelled by their nature and bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth once they come to know it and direct their whole lives in accordance with the demands of truth.” ]. Today the proclaimers of certainties seem to be in the favoured position and to hold the reins of power [power, power, power. Robinson is obsessed by this word. The magisterium has the repsonsibility that comes with authentic authority to teach what has been revealed by God’s Word and what follows logically from that revelation.] This has left many people feeling a sense of alienation, of being marginalized, of no longer quite belonging to the Church that had given them much of their sense of belonging, meaning and direction throughout their lives [what? because they don’t like what is taught by God’s Word? Yes, I can see how that might make one feel alienated in the Church]. This feeling has strengthened sense of needing to search for truth.
In writing the book I became aware that I was writing a book for these people [those who want to seek for truth, but not find it…], that I was trying to tell them that there is a Church for them and that it is fully in accord with the mind of Jesus [I’m sorry, which “Church” is that exactly?]. I was telling them that there are basic certainties, but there is also abundant room for search, for taking personal responsibility and growing through that process to become all we are capable of being, all God wants us to be [Well, of course there is. The magisterium doesn’t teach everything! It teaches only what can be known with certainty, and that leaves a lot of room for exploration within those boundaries. To explore outside those boundaries, however, means you will have to move outside the Church–but that is no-one’s fault, not even the Romans.]
I became aware that it was important for many people that there should be a bishop saying these things. [Look at me, I’m a bishop! You can trust me, because I am here to teach certainties.] At moments I felt that the needs of these many people were so great that it is perhaps true that I have never been more of a shepherd, I have never been more justified in carrying around a pastoral staff, than I have in this [what sort of shepherd says to his sheep: “Off you go. Be free. Wander where you like. Go out into the big wide world and discover it for yourselves” I thought his job was to protect the sheep from wolves and hirelings]. If the book carries an important message to these people, then I shall be delighted.
Unfortunately, it is not as simple as this, for I feel that the major differences between the proclaimers of certainties and the seekers after truth are not religious or theological, but psychological [ie. you guys out there who go on about the “certainty of Faith” have psychological hangups]. For reasons in their background and upbringing or within their personality, many people need certainties [Vatican II–and Jesus, for that matter–said that all people need to know the Truth to be saved]. In a world in which, as Alvin Toffler [does anyone remember Toffler? He’s a bit outdated now for a futurist…] still teaches us, change is the only constant, this need can be profound. I may argue with a person’s theology, but I cannot argue with their psychological needs [so don’t you try to trump my psychology with your theology–this book is about psychological needs, mine included, and my needs are as valid as your needs].
Surely the answer has to lie in dialogue and mutual respect, and we have a long way to go. We must get away from the idea that the side with which I disagree must do all the changing and come to me, and see instead that both sides need to reach out. I hope that I have given some indications of the lines the dialogue might follow. [I agree with the sentiment, but having just place the criterion for Truth in the area of psychology rather than theology, I don’t know what objective basis there can be for this dialogue.]