Home' Aurora : Aurora June 2013 Contents BY MICHAEL KELLY SJ
Over twenty five years ago, the notorious
Premier of Queensland, Johannes Bjelke
Petersen, epitomised corrupt leadership.
When asked by a journalist about
allegations of corruption in the Queensland
police force, Premier Joh looked
condescendingly at the young reporter
and told her not to "worry her pretty little
face about that".
Organisations of all types -- businesses,
governments, public service departments,
sports clubs and, yes, churches -- react in
a similar way when revelations loom that
show things are not what they should be.
They behave like tortoises, withdrawing into
a hard, protective shell and not emerging
until they believe the threat has moved on
But, organisations only thrive when
they are open to the society they live in.
Closed off and deprived of the life that
comes through interaction and open
communication, they become sick. Then,
just as happens with individuals, one
infected organ spreads disease through
the whole body.
This experience is not unique to the
Church. We know it well in NSW, the home
of Commissions of Inquiry into corrupt
behaviour among the police, politicians,
public servants, crime networks, prison
systems and hospital groups to name just
Now, the Catholic Church's co-operative
approach to the Royal Commission into sex
abuse of children is showing that, like so
many other organisations, left to itself, the
Church has not managed, and perhaps
cannot manage, its
This failure to
handle its own
the way the people
and the issue have
been handled in
dioceses and by religious congregations.
Such transparency and accountability are
two of the weakest operational activities in
the Catholic Church.
I have long believed the so-called "crisis
of clerical sexual abuse" in the Church is
just as much the "crisis of organisational
leadership", something which may become
increasingly clear in the Cunneen Inquiry.
Abuse and organisational collapse are
related for one simple reason: both the
leadership and the rank and file of the
Church have, as we say in Australia, some
very ordinary cattle among them.
The Catholic Church is like a cricket team
that has among its members some Don
Bradmans with lifetime batting averages of
99.94 runs per innings, along with players
who never face a ball and yet stay on the
team. Even worse, they never turn up to
training, don't appear at matches and bet
with bookmakers against their own team.
Yet they're left in the side. No one asks why;
no one tells them they aren't worth their
place; no one calls their bluff.
And look at the shocking things they do;
look at the narcissistic acts of destruction
they perform and numbing self-delusion
with which they rationalise their evil deeds.
No one in the
among the clergy
and their associates
have been. And
once the Inquiry
makes all plain, no one will need reminding
how hopelessly incompetent and practically
destructive some leaders in the Church
What is to be done?
A great deal, I would suggest. And there are
many hands at work across Australia on the
many tasks that need to be performed.
I fear, though, that we may miss the
impact of this public mess on the average
Catholics who may never have heard of
the problem of child abuse until it was
highlighted in the media and have no
personal experience to draw on.
What unaddressed demoralisation,
disappointment, dismay and sense that
they have been, at least, misled, if not
betrayed, floats around in the Catholic
My pastoral concern as a priest is for "the
people in the pews", and there are three
steps we must take for their sake:
1. Face the hard facts and not hide from
victims' calls for empathy and justice;
2. Accept the fact that our generation
of Catholics has no choice but to live
with this reality, and to discover what
it means to forgive the perpetrators
and the incompetent leaders on
whose watch it all happened; and
3. Live in the hope that with honesty
and courage, such discouraging
times can lead us to something
better where justice, compassion and
healing might hold sway.
How those things might be approached,
nurtured and fostered will be the subject of
my talk in Newcastle on 18 June.
Fr Michael Kelly SJ, a native of Sydney, is
Executive Director of UCA News, based in
Bangkok. www.ucanews.com See details
of the Social Justice Council event where
he will speak on page 21.
Organisations behave like
tortoises, withdrawing into a
hard, protective shell and not
emerging till the threat has
Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mn.catholic.org.au
Inquiry likely to reveal
leadership crisis in Church
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