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June/July 1996

End-Game Dissent Down Under


"WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?" a young man recently asked me, "between Cindy Crawford and a Catholic Bishop?" .... "Who is Cindy Crawford?" I enquired sheepishly. "The highest paid model in the world, Father!" "Yes. Quite!" I added hastily, chastened by my wilful ignorance. "I'm sure I don't know. What is the difference?" "Absolutely nothing!" he exclaimed. "If the camera doesn't lie, then that's enough!"

A few seconds elapsed before the excruciating truth of his pithy answer unfolded before me. Like the domain of high fashion, you see, the world of the Catholic hierarchy is more and more a world built on facade, in which appearance is everything. "If the camera doesn't lie, then that's enough!" A Latin rendering of that line would be a thoroughly fitting epitaph for the late Archbishop Worlock of Liverpool, a contemporary episcopal archetype who, in seeking to avoid the uncomfortable demands of real "dialogue" about the abject state of his diocese, made smiling his livelihood. As with Ms Crawford and the elite fashion models, however, the great majority of Western prelates smile but the eyes are cold - a screen masking their sense of disillusion and unhappiness at how far they have let things go. The two articles immediately following in this issue indicate something of just how far into the abyss that is.

Australian writers Joughin and McGrade underline how dissent nurtures hypocrisy and hypocrisy fosters dissent in a never-ending, downward spiral that ends in the spiritual, psychological and physical ruin we now see exploding in countless scandals throughout the Catholic world - like so many time-bombs whose time has come. But if the newchurch chickens have finally come home to roost - and with a vengeance! - our smiling Shepherds are still content to disregard this most elementary lesson in cause and effect. Judging by their singular lack of interest in robust, orthodox reform, they clearly refuse to see that dissenting ideas have deadly consequences; that their tolerance of heterodox seminary professors, liturgical "cowboys," homosexual sympathisers, radical literature in diocesan bookshops etc, etc., reaches fruition not only in a plague of spiritual death and apostasy but, ultimately, in ecclesiastical perversion and the suicides of sexually abused adolescents.

After all, to admit such linkage would necessitate diocesan reforms and personal courage of Borromeoesque proportions. Instead, far easier to rationalise, shift the blame, rearrange the deck-chairs, concern yourself with mere symptoms, maintain a Catholic facade, watch your back and wait for the storm to pass. Thus, after two years of child sex-abuse scandals, an exhausted Archbishop Desmond O'Connell of Dublin recently sighed: "We would hope we are over the worst." Not much chance, Your Grace, unless you set about treating the cause, by piecing together the broken links in your own backyard, and stop taking counsel from the so-called "U.S. experts" - advisors to the Irish and Australian bishops - whose callous "pastoral response" to U.S. victims of abuse has turned ecclesiastical evasion and hypocrisy into the malign art form outlined in The Catholic Response to Clerical Corruption, a blueprint now imitated in dioceses around the globe.

"If the laity had any idea of the deception being practised on them the game would have been over long ago," writes Margaret Joughin. "To date we have only seen the merest tip of a very large iceberg." I can assure readers, who have profited from her previous contributions to Christian Order, that she would know. A Melbourne housewife, mother of three and BA Phil. (Hons), Mrs Joughin has been one of the few souls courageous enough to follow the trail of dissent all the way to its logical and loathesome conclusion. For at least a decade, she has been among the most fearless critics of episcopal negligence and complicity and an outstanding, articulate defender of Catholic orthodoxy in Australia. In recent times, her defence of truth has drawn her inexorably into the cesspool of end-game dissent Down Under - the lost and ruined souls at the heart of the clerical sex-abuse scandals - much to the distaste of many erstwhile admirers who have suddenly found her admirable candour a bit too close to home; one step too far.

Orthodox clerics, for instance, who once marched with her in battles over cathechetics, sex-education, RENEW and all manner of heresy, have broken ranks and walked away. Sniping at those who would expose the evil perpetrated by men they thought they knew, feeling tainted by implication and awash with self-pity, they will no longer march with Mrs. Joughin and others on their just but thankless trek through the corrupt, self-serving minefield of clerical officialdom. Instead, with barely a thought for the victims, they are found concelebrating en masse at the funeral-cum-canonisation ceremonies of their late priestly pals who just happen to have doubled as child molesters and wicked manipulators of souls. It seems that human respect is to have the last word even among some of the best orthodox clergy. They would do well to ask themselves: how many of the eleven broke bread while eulogising the late, "misunderstood" Judas?

The context is Australia but the general, experience and shameful ecclesiastical response is mirrored in every Western country afflicted thus far. When England's time arrives and the victims of abuse come forward in numbers - as they must, for their own sake, the sake of others still at risk and the spiritual health of Holy Mother Church - will the English hierarchy turn reflexively to false-charity, cover-ups and lawyers, on the U.S., model? Or to the Lord, the victims and families in a genuine spirit of atonement? And will they treat the cause rather than mere symptoms? Or, under pressure, revert to type, put on their best face and convince themselves once more that "if the camera doesn't lie, then that's enough"?


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