BRISBANE Archbishop and Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Mark Coleridge has used a Vatican visit to publicly demand bishops “be accountable” in changing Church culture that made child abuse possible.
“We’re not above the law, we are not a law unto ourselves nor is the Church a law unto herself,” Archbishop Coleridge said following a conference on safeguarding and child protection held at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University on June 18-21.
In Rome, Archbishop Coleridge also met with leading Church officials interested in the episcopate in Australia, the process of responding to the Royal Commission and preparations for the Plenary Council.
He used a lunch hosted by the Australian Ambassador to the Holy See and attended by the Vatican’s deputy foreign minister, to reiterate his key message: “… that the bishops are keen to work with the government in tackling child abuse at every level”.
“The presence of Vatican officials made it clear that the Holy See shares the same commitment,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
Archbishop Coleridge was one of several Australian keynote speakers at the Anglophone Safeguarding Conference, reflecting on the theme “Culture, an enabler or barrier to safeguarding”.
Some elements of Catholic culture had been “very destructive” and there were aspects of Church culture that had hindered progress in addressing allegations of sexual abuse, Archbishop Coleridge said.
“I’ve tried to identify the points at which Catholic culture made child abuse possible and also gave rise to the cover-up of the abuse that happened,” he said.
“One word that’s used to describe a large and complex phenomenon within the culture is clericalism – in other words, authority geared to power and not to service.
“In many ways, what happened in the Catholic Church was that our strengths became our weaknesses.”
Archbishop Coleridge said an example of those strengths was that closeness that Catholic clergy and religious shared with families.
However, he said, it was precisely that which, “in certain situations, gave them access to the children who were abused”.
Nevertheless, Archbishop Coleridge said that just as strength can become a weakness, a weakness could also become a strength.
“I believe that the agony we are passing through this time in fact is a purification of the Church that has already made us stronger,” he said.
“It’s kind of a searing grace that we never saw coming, and we certainly wouldn’t have chosen.
“But somehow, God is in the midst of it all, purifying the Church and calling us to what we are intended be.”
Among the speakers at the conference was head of the Pontifical Gregorian University’s Centre for Child Protection Jesuit Father Hans Zollner and Bishop Gilles Cote of Daru-Kiunga, Papua New Guinea.
“The Church finds itself in a situation of deep mistrust,” Fr Zollner said, echoing comments made to The Catholic Leader during a visit to Brisbane last September to speak to priests, teachers and parish leaders.
“There is no other way than to be as consistent as possible, as transparent as possible to prevent further abuse.
“You learn it on your own will or the hard way because there are no excuses.”
Fr Zollner said the effort made by the Church to place safeguards and increase education concerning abuse was “enormous”.
Archbishop Coleridge agreed.
“Words like transparency, accountability, inclusiveness – they can sound like clichés but they’re not. They are at the heart of what it means to shift culture in the direction of safeguarding,” he said.