Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa – how much longer does the breast-beating have to go on? The Royal Commission into child abuse has concluded its inquisition and is receding into history, sadly missed no doubt by the lawyers for whom it’s been a nice little earner. The taxpayer, in return for $477.986 million, has received a sheaf of recommendations, some self-evident, some hopelessly impractical. Bishops and other functionaries of the Roman Catholic Church have fallen over themselves to acknowledge the Commission’s efforts (though there is evidence that their Church was disproportionately targeted). The chorus of ecclesiastical apologies continues unabated. Francis Sullivan of the bishops’ ‘Truth, Justice and Healing Council’ never lets up on his employers’ collective contrition. In Ballarat, Victoria, scene of several of the more publicised abuse cases, remorse will be perpetuated by a memorial garden at the cathedral, a-flutter with ribbons that somehow indicate solidarity with the ‘victims’.
It’s time to move on. It’s time for the Catholic Church to stop cringing over something that, wicked and disgraceful as it was, mostly happened over three decades ago and was perpetrated by a very small minority. Are the Germans still blamed for Hitler? – a vastly higher proportion of Germans supported him than the proportion of Catholic clerics who committed abuse. The Catholic Church must start recovering some self-confidence. There are moral and cultural battles to be won, and with the Church hors de combat, floundering like a kamikaze-struck carrier at the Battle of Midway, they’re going to be much harder to win.
It might be observed in passing that the Church isn’t getting much leadership from Pope Francis in putting the abuse crisis behind it. Francis has extended his patronage to at least three clerics compromised by demonstrated or alleged sexual abuse. Why? Who knows? It’s getting harder to understand what motivates this Pope, whose MO was forged dealing with Argentinian corruptocrats.
The destruction of the Catholic Church’s moral authority by the child abuse crisis was a gift to the Left. The Church had been the single most influential obstacle to the full implementation of the Leftist social agenda – late-term abortion, ‘safe’ schools, gender kaleidoscopy and the rest. But once the abuse accusations started emerging from the past – the photographic clarity of the ‘survivors’’ memories apparently undimmed by the decades – the Church was abandoned as a moral authority even by many Catholics. It took the hint and went silent (apart from the apologies). In the first big post-crisis battle, over gay marriage, few bishops had anything much to say. Did that reluctance contribute to the gay victory?
To paraphrase Churchill, the gay-marriage battle is over. The battle over its consequences is about to begin. Will the Church take a lead when the would-be suppressors of religious liberty and freedom of conscience spring into action?
To do so, Catholicism must recover public credibility. The first step to that is for everyone to regain a sense of proportion. For every Catholic cleric who abused, in whatever way, a child, there were hundreds who didn’t. Are all actors and producers held to blame because a few have been accused of sexual harassment? Further, since most offences took place there has been a whole new generation of priests. The sexuality of potential priests is more thoroughly assessed. As far as humanly ascertainable the Augean stables have been swept clean, something the Church had started to do years before the Royal Commission was established.
But recovered moral authority would be no good if not exercised. And here, sad to say, we face the possibility that, even with its abuse guilt expiated, the Catholic Church may not become the force against Leftist social engineering it once was.
Gay marriage was championed by the Prime Minister, who claims to be a Roman Catholic. Euthanasia and abortion in Victoria have been enthusiastically promoted by the Catholic premier, Daniel Andrews. The Church considers these things, abortion particularly, deeply sinful, so Turnbull and Andrews, as advocates and enablers of sinful behaviour, must be sinners too. Unrepentant sinners, in Catholic practice, are denied access to the sacraments, and if they die unrepentant may go to Hell. Has any Catholic bishop or priest so much as breathed a warning of this to either of these Catholic politicians or to others who support them? The spiritual sanction is the only one the Church can impose. If it’s serious about fighting sin why doesn’t it impose it?
One would hate to think that the answer lies in hard cash. Each year the Roman Catholic Church receives around $13,000 of funds exacted from taxpayers for each student in its extensive system of schools. These funds, without which many Catholic schools would close, are in the gift of politicians, who know full well how much they are needed.
If fear of offending its government paymasters is the reason the Catholic Church does not use its spiritual weapons against politicians who legalise what it considers social evils, perhaps the bishops should reassess their priorities. Catholic schools, in the main, are not value for money. If their purpose is still, as it was in the late nineteenth century when the Church established its education system, to produce practising Catholics, they are a flop. According to the most recent figures I could find, 94 per cent of their students stop attending Mass when they leave school. This ineffectiveness has been attributed to many causes. One is that the Catholic school networks are now so large that there are not enough committed Catholic teachers to staff them. I heard of a secondary school in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs where the religious education teacher told his class they didn’t have to believe what he was teaching because it was ‘all bullshit’.
The Catholic Church might do better to hand its schools over to the government and concentrate on old-fashioned missions, media (such as the highly successful EWTN television in America) and other more direct methods of evangelisation. Numerically it would be no worse off than it is now. Morally it would be free to speak out against political assaults on our Judeao-Christian culture
Most importantly, the Catholic Church should remember that fighting secular Leftist social engineering is not only a Catholic thing. Many people of other faiths and no faith also oppose things the Church opposes. It does the cause of freedom and reason no service if Catholic indebtedness to the state is neutralising a potentially formidable ally against the Left’s dark ambitions.
Subscribe to The Spectator Australia today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator Australia for less – just $1 for 6 weeks