A NATIONAL assembly of Australia’s Catholic religious congregations has included an apology for past abuse in schools and institutions, and a call to religious congregations to “be prophetic” and emerge from dark times with healing and hope.
Keynote speaker, missionary and educator Sister of Notre Dame Mary Sujita urged 130 participants at the assembly in Melbourne from June 20-22 to live as Jesus lived and be “foot-washer leaders”.
“If we are serious about discipleship, then we need to take into account the distinct concern that Jesus showed for the downtrodden, women and migrants; his criticism of those in power; the summons he issued to the rich to divest themselves of surplus wealth; his denouncement of hypocritical religious leaders; his prophetic gesture of fellowship with the outcast and his way of challenging all to forgive,” Sr Sujita told leaders from religious congregations and institutes, lay partners and guests.
Sr Sujita acknowleged the challenges faced by Australian religious in the face of the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.
The three-day assembly included an apology by the major superiors of male religious congregations to female religious congregations.
“We want to express our sorrow for the harm that men within our congregations have brought upon others and the shame this has brought upon yourselves and the Church,” the apology statement said.
“We apologise for those times when we leaders have not acted with the swiftness or decisiveness that is rightly expected of us in our positions of authority, allowing abuse to continue.
“We apologise for the abuse that has also been committed by our members in your schools and institutions.
“We apologise that at times we have not taken seriously enough some of your members who alerted us to concerns.
“We apologise personally for any abuse our members have inflicted on women religious.”
A second keynote speaker Passionist Father Chris Monaghan told The Catholic Leader the challenge for religious in Australia today, amidst suffering and wariness of the Church, was to look for new ways to be prophetic.
“How are we going to deal with the dreadful wounds that have been inflicted, and also the loss of trust?” he said.
“When trust is lost you’ve got to work very, very hard to get it back.”
Fr Monaghan guided assembly participants through scripture passages exploring the character, call and challenges of the prophets of the Old Testament.
He referred to the call of Samuel – a call that came in the darkness of waiting, in the emptiness of readiness. Also for Jonah, the darkness was a place of conversion.
“How will we be prophetic?” Fr Monaghan said. “We live in a world where a lot of people are quite suspicious of religious and quite suspicious of Christianity.
“One of the blessings of the present moment is that power and privilege has been stripped away.
“It’s about being true to who we say we are. It’s about being true to our call and the charisms of our different orders.”
Fr Monaghan described Pope Francis as a “beacon of hope in rebuilding trust in the Church”.
“Along comes a pope like him with extraordinary vision and courage and encouraging us all to be that sort of person.
“It’s an invitation to humble service.”
Sr Sujita had further advice for religious leaders: “We need audacious faith to confront ourselves and be open to ongoing conversion, so like Jesus, our hearts and lives can embrace the most vulnerable people of our time.”