It may be said that for some time now the Church has found herself under persecution in Australia, as she has in other parts of the world as well. The relentless and continued reporting in news media of criminal behaviour by a few clergy has become more than an attack. It has become persecution. The Catholic Church in Australia is being excoriated by enemies of the Church, by enemies of religion, by enemies of God.
One wonders why? Or are they doing Lucifer's work and following his agenda?
Persecution has always been part of the Church's life. Christ warned his disciples at the Last Supper: "If the world hates you, remember that it hated me before you" (John 15:18). They crucified Jesus, the Redeemer, to death.
When St Peter was imprisoned, the community of disciples prayed and an angel released him. When St John and St Peter were brought before the Sanhedrin, they were warned "not to speak in the name of Jesus", and then dismissed with a flogging (Acts 5:40).
A series of Roman emperors tried, unsuccessfully, to close down the New Way with severe persecutions. In Reformation times, attempted elimination of clergy did not succeed in bringing the Church to its knees. One need only think of other examples in Japan and Vietnam.
French revolutionaries and atheistic communists attempted to eliminate the clergy and religious and thus leave the Church shepherdless. How many clergy and religious were persecuted and put to death in the 1940s and 1950s in Germany, Poland and Russia following many similar instances in Spain in the 1930s?
Today, the current persecution of the Church and her clergy and religious has a new format. Lucifer and his cohorts are trying to destroy the Church, the Body of Christ, by discrediting her leaders. Sexual misbehaviour is the stick with which to beat the Church.
Not only is there no let up in the relentless and continued campaign of discrediting the shepherds of the Church by imputation, but one wonders what the next target will be: slurring the financing of the Church's corporal works of mercy and her educational services?
The time has come to make people aware of the persecution which the Church in Australia is undergoing. Our response and outlook have to be that of the early disciples: pray for courage to persevere in our Catholic way of life and strength to bear persecution. At the same time, as occasion requires, defending our Church, in any way available, should be undertaken.
In any case: why pick on the Catholic Church? Other churches and organisations have leaders and members guilty of criminal misbehaviour. But it is rare that one reads of other groups being sued for financial compensation when one of their members has misbehaved.
Criminal misbehaviour has never been condoned by the Catholic Church, and never will be. The Church abhors all such behaviour and the sadness and distress that come from it. The law of the land must take its course, and has. The Church respects the civil and criminal law of the land and its procedures.
The Church has its own law and legal procedures to deal with any Church member, especially clergy and religious, who misbehave. And when the law of the land does not act or is unable to act, then the Church will surely do so.
Something is amiss when anyone can make a complaint against a member of the clergy or a religious institute and it becomes commonplace that an unsubstantiated complaint is taken as factual by media reporting it.
I plead for novenas of prayer, penance and mortification for the sanctification of clergy and religious, for strength and courage among those whose good name and reputation have been damaged, probably beyond repair; at the same time we should also make reparation for sins.
The Church is a wise and experienced Mother. She knows that not all her children are saintly. Holy Mother Church on earth is made up of saints and sinners, and mostly in-between. Mother knows when to punish, when to forgive and reconcile, when to seek forgiveness, when to urge people to try again or to improve, and when to give warning and protection to the young and innocent.
The persecutors of the Church are very well aware of this. That is why the campaign to discredit the Church and its leaders is so continual and relentless. On the other hand, we have Christ's promise, when constituting St Peter the head of the Church, that "the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it" (Mt 16:18). And furthermore, "I am with you always, yes, to the end of time" (Mt 28:20).
Most Rev Luc Matthys is the Bishop of Armidale, NSW. His article first appeared in 'Catholic Viewpoint," Armidale Diocese.