I am writing to offer my support for an independent inquiry over child abuse in the church and I wish the community to hear that Christians too are appalled by accounts of rape and abuse perpetrated by clergy.
As a parent I feel distress as I read the stories of parents such as Helen Watson (Mother can't forget the day she lost her 'beautiful boy' 18/4). I cannot begin to understand the pain that they must share, let alone how the abused children (now adults) must cope. Words escape me. I am angry toward those who have so reprehensively destroyed the lives of children.
As a pastor I am sickened and again angry. The abuse of children is abhorrent to the community, to churches, and to God.
Here are three thoughts that came to mind as I read the story of Helen Watson and her son Peter:
1. Transparency is a virtue that is called for in the Bible. Truth demands openness. Victims deserve the proper love and dignity that an independent enquiry will bring.
While I am aware of the policy we set for our church (including strict vetting procedures before allowing anyone to work with children), I am not familiar with the processes that have been followed within the Catholic Church. But the continued stories of abuse that have arisen demonstrate that there is something seriously wrong. I recognize that the issue of abuse is not limited to the Catholic Church; the media reported a case of abuse within my own denomination in April of 2011. Upon hearing that shocking story the elders of my church read out a public statement to the church (which is available for anyone to read).
2. It reminds me of why we need justice. The problem with justice, however, is that we can’t always bring it in this world. Some seem to escape. I thank God for the judicial system we have in Australia. It may not be perfect, but it beats the corrupt systems that we find in many places around the world. But sadly, despite our best efforts, justice eludes many in our community: sometimes because the perpetrator is never discovered or is protected, sometimes because the victim dies before seeing justice, sometimes because the perpetrator dies before being brought to justice, and yet we cry out for justice to be done.
That’s what comforts me as a Christian. As Jesus says, ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’ The Bible says that God will finally and fully judge all evil. Priests are not exempt. There will be justice, either in this world or the next. And despite Cardinal Pell saying on QandA last week that hell is a place of purification, the Bible says that it is a place made by God for punishment.
3. I am also reminded of the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
This isn’t some cheap formulaic remedy like we find in the crappy self-help section in a book-store, but the words of a man who took onto himself all the pain and sin of the world in order to bring healing and peace. The cross is a picture of ugliness and suffering, and for that very reason it is also a story of forgiveness and hope.
It is a sad revelation that evil men pretending to be angels of light have so distorted and betrayed the very Christ who sets people free. We need them to be exposed and the public protected from them.
I don’t expect everyone to agree with all that I have just said, but I am confident that we all want to help those who have been abused. Ted Baillieu’s commitment to establish a Parliamentary inquiry is a positive step forward, but I concur with Barney Zwartz’s call for a full and independent inquiry, for as he wrote, ‘the victims will have only this one opportunity, so it should be as exhaustive as possible’.