The revelations, the disclosures, the rationalizations never end. But they must!!! The scathing conclusions of the Australian Royal Commission investigating decades of sexual abuse in Catholic institutions principally, but not exclusively, by religious and clerics have had a devastating effect on morale from Brisbane to Sydney to Melbourne to Perth.
In the same week that this was happening “down under,” things on the Tiber weren’t much better. Pope Francis’s own commission, designed to look into safeguarding children and vulnerable adults and working through various recommendations for transparency and episcopal accountability, has suffered a serious blow with the resignation of Marie Collins, the compassionate face of the abuse survivor and a treasured and credible presence on the papal commission.
Collins’s departure highlights the abject failure of the pope’s own body to implement serious change.
How long, O Lord, how long before the most senior ecclesiastical authorities grasp the consequences of institutional failure? Clerical concubinage in the Middle Ages and Tetzel and his bag of tricks on the cusp of the Reformation are minor perfidies in the face of clerical sex abuse.
The words of physician, bioethicist and Sister of Charity Dr. Nuala Kenny in 2010 ring louder now than ever: “The evil of clericalism exists when there is automatic status, protection of image and institution, resistance to critique and change, secrecy, non-accountability and, ultimately, loss of both the sense of the fundamental call and commitment to those whom they serve.” (Afterword, Suffer the Children unto Me: An Open Inquiry into the Clerical Sex Abuse Scandal)
The law-poet, judge and committed Catholic writer, James Clarke, captures with stark sadness the despair, sickness and contagion of clerical sex abuse in his recent poem, “His Deputy”
When you were ordained Father,
the bishop anointed your hands
with chrism, empowered you to call
down heaven to our earthly table.
In Jesus’ name you taught the
Kingdom to little ones—
you were His deputy, a priest
of the Order of Melchisedek,
beloved by all. Tell them Father
what went wrong? Whose shadow
stalked your light these many years
behind tall rectory walls?
What Eden did you hope to find
within those slender loins,
those sweet red mouths? Today
you appear before me, hands cuffed,
the dark despoiler of God's unlucky
children, and I must lead you
to a place you would not go, a tree
of thorns—broken bread, spilt wine.