When Our Own Family Causes Shame and Disgrace

Following the news of Cardinal Pell’s conviction, the response in the media, among politicians and among parishioners has been understandably diverse.

Many of us feel deep shame and hurt. Many are responding with anger and a frustration at the slow pace of change in the Church in the face of the evidence before us. For some, our first thoughts are for the victims and survivors of the crimes committed in the Church. Some remain incredulous that such things could have occurred.
Right through our community there is deep pain and disillusion. This may lead people to walk away from the Church altogether, feeling betrayed by an institution in which they had placed such trust. Others will be questioning whether justice has in fact been done and will be waiting for the outcome of the Appeal which may be months away.
Whatever our feelings and in whichever direction our anger, shame and judgements are directed, we as a Church are hurting. In a state of confusion, anger and pain, we may not be in the best position to reflect on what has been happening and to shape a future direction for ourselves.
Perhaps when the time is right, we can take a second look, unravel the various elements of the events of these days and then come to a response that offers hope and healing.
We may realise anew that the Church at every level, is made up of people who are both holy and frail. We may understand that the Church’s politics have sometimes been as self-serving as those of any other political entity. We may remember that scandal and sin have coexisted with holiness and grace all through the Church’s history.
We may also realise again that the Church is not an end in itself but is a vehicle for the coming of God’s Kingdom among us. This thought may help us re-align where we place our ultimate trust. In other words, is my trust ultimately in the institution of the Church or rather in the Gospel and in my relationship with Jesus? Perhaps any trust I now place in the institution of the Church will be tempered by a certain realism.
For many of us, our experience of Church centres on our local parish or other community. Here we are among people of faith, people we love and respect, people with whom we can have a good argument, people with whom we pray.
It’s here at this level that we can, each of us, play our part in the healing of our family of faith. It’s here we can support and challenge each other. It’s here we can reflect on the events of the day and form a response together that will enable us to move on.
It’s here that our understanding of ourselves as Church, as this community of faith may be able to ripen. Once we are clear in our understanding of ourselves and our mission as a community, then we stand ready to gain the insights and nourishment from the Gospel that in the end will be our true anchorage.
As we seek a way forward together, we pray for all the wisdom, understanding and patience that we will need. Let’s offer one another some attentive listening so that people can express openly what is in their hearts and seek some clarity from there.
When a living relationship with Jesus becomes our common starting point, we have a place from which we can re-build the trust that has been so badly shaken, clear the vision that has been distracted or distorted and heal the pain that has so weighed on us.

May God’s compassion and justice guide our next steps.
Father Kevin Bates SM (Aus)