A CHRISTIAN APOCALYPSE:
The Sexual Abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, 1884-2004
(Tamanaraik Press, Melbourne, 2004, $34.95 p&p included from Tamanaraik Press, PO Box 12792, a'Beckett Street Post Office, Melbourne, Vic, 8006, tel (03) 9480-2119)
The sexual abuse crisis is the most severe challenge faced by the Catholic Church in English-speaking countries over the past twenty years, among other things, making the task of evangelisation much more difficult.
The Catholic Church is a prominent, visible, high-profile target and, in so far as the Church is known, the public is aware that its clergy are expected to be celibate. In addition, Church leaders regularly proclaim strong moral principles - often on issues concerned with sexual morality - and in a demanding way.
When priests or vowed members of religious congregations molest children their behaviour confronts every expectation the public has of Catholic clergy. There is widespread community anger, and a withering of respect for the Church, especially among the less committed and the young. Understandably, many writers - especially in the United States - have explored child molestation by clergy from most angles. There is perhaps not much more to be said. However, the reverberations of, and the repercussions from the abuse scandals have not faded into history.
In his new, well-informed book, Dr Barry Coldrey covers familiar territory from an Australian perspective and from the standpoint of a member of a religious congregation which has been affected by the tragedy. This is a book for Church leaders, lay and clerical; it is not a read for the sensitive or the faint-hearted.
Many topics are canvassed: the problem of clergy abuse though the ages; a modern crisis time-line; the developing situation since 1984 (worldwide and in Australia); the explosion of 2002 in Boston, USA; and a sense of some problems being solved and some areas where more attention is required. The book faces some embarrassing realities, frankly but without rancour.
It seems clear that almost every movement on the part of the hierarchy to deal with the problem of sexual abuse of minors has been reactive. Mr Richard Sipe faced this painful fact in a major address to the National Convention of Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Priests, Denver, Colorado, on 12 June 2004:
"In the US, victims of abuse, lawyers, the press, civil and criminal justice, in addition to public outrage have been the forces that pushed - really shamed - the American bishops and the Vatican to reluctant action. The hierarchy of the United States has given no evidence that there is even one among them who will really stand and be counted for justice and ministry to all of those who are abused by clergy [and] who violate their celibacy. We have no Bishop Romero!"
Moreover, within many religious congregations and among ordinary priests and brothers, denial in its various shades and manifestations, is influential. Church leaders - sometimes well and thoroughly briefed - have to deal on a daily basis with priests and brothers whose knowledge is less than their own
However, the Church has survived other crises, and will survive this disaster. Survival will be easier, and recovery quicker if Church leaders are well-informed on the issues.
The book is recommended, particularly as a resource for Church leaders.