`It is a delusion to rely on a horse for safety.' (Ps. 33:17)
This is not a comfortable time to be a Catholic. The moral authority of the church has suffered because of the scandals of clerical abuse that have accumulated over many years and are now surfacing, sometimes for a second or third time, and because of the inadequate response of some church leaders. Some priests have left a long trail of misery and human destruction that could have been contained if handled better, and that shames us all.
The burden of shame falls particularly on priests, even on the great majority who are dedicated to their ministry and blameless of such heinous crimes. We are heartened to find that the Catholic people normally trust us, but we still can feel exposed and can expect negative reactions. Priests are among the people at the front desk of the Church, so to speak, and anyone who needs to express anger against someone, anyone, in an operation like a church (or an airline) can be expected to target whoever is at the front desk. If that angry person is not a Catholic then his or her hostility can be directed at the whole Catholic church community, as we are finding at the moment.
This is not a comfortable time to be a Catholic.
But it is an important time, for it is a time of faith-testing. Crises of this magnitude first of all challenge us to be absolutely clear about who or what we ultimately rely on. They put the foundations of our faith to the test. We discover that we cannot and should not put absolute trust in the Church or in any person in the Church, no matter how pivotal to the life and well-being of the community that person may be. The church community and its ordained ministers remain human beings, suffering from the many limitations of our human condition.
The psalmist's warning not to put our (ultimate) trust in horses can be applied to the church community and each and every member in it. Only God is worthy of such trust. The church is a horse. Indeed, as we reflected at a recent conference of Australian Catholic theologians, the church is better described as a donkey…but by Jesus' will it is no ordinary donkey, it is the donkey on which he rides as King into Jerusalem. If we want to welcome the King we have to accept that he rides on this donkey.
Our commitment to the Church community must urge us to make the donkey
as good a donkey as a donkey can be. We cannot be satisfied with the deformed,
limping animal that it seems to be at present. We love the donkey, we
take pride in it when it is healthy and alive and gets things right. But
it is a big mistake ever to put our ultimate trust in it, because it is
not worthy of such trust.
The over-all theme of this issue of Compass is hope. Hope is much talked-about these days, which indicates that this cardinal virtue and basic necessity for human life is under special threat at the moment, and in need of restoration. We have to dig deep to persist in our hoping.
We look to the efforts of the whole Australian church which were meant to be concentrated and channelled through the process that culminated in the Synod for Oceania. The documentary fruit of that process we now have in the post-synodal declaration of Pope John-Paul entitled Ecclesia in Oceania.
There is widely-felt dissatisfaction with the synodal process-not just that of the synod for Oceania, but that of all the synods, particularly with the closing stages of the process-and the reception of this document, Ecclesia in Oceania to date has been a little lacking in enthusiasm. However, it is the document we have for want of better, and there is much in it that nourishes. Aboriginals, particularly, gave it a very warm welcome.
We are particularly grateful to the Young Adults who have responded to
our invitations to contribute to this issue. Their reflections give us
‘oldies’ much heart and encourage us to be always hopeful. The generation
they belong to are looking for ways to connect. Let no-one stand in the
way of their connecting with God’s people!
As was perfectly clear, our contributions to the debate were fully in accord with the statement of the Australian Bishops Conference of 26th March 2002. That statement was praised by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants. The President of that Vatican Office wrote:
The Bishop’s strong statements in this touching appeal…and the competent description of the international scene show a constant attention to the dramatic necessities of these marginalised people as well as a deep and lived awareness of the prophetic mission of the Church…[and the President of the Pontifical Council prayed that the Australian bishops’ statement] may contribute to forming the conscience of the members of the Government and of the entire Australian people.
What astonishes is the almost total silence of the secular press concerning this very strong statement of the Bishops Conference.