If the Royal Commission is going to have ongoing impact in the life of our institutions then we are the ones who are going to enliven the way forward, writes CRA President Sr Ruth Durick osu. We cannot leave it to others, or hope that all might go away if we ignore it. We are called to engage the future with hope.
The release, in December 2017, of the final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse marks an important point in our development as church and as religious in the church and society here in Australia. We are particularly mindful at this time of all those whose lives have been so damaged by the evil of sexual abuse.
The release of the final report is not a full stop. It is an ellipsis indicating a pause, perhaps a faltering pause, but one denoting that the future is ours to take hold of, and to move forward as gospel women and men, doing what we are called to through our consecration:
To bring good news to the poor; to bind up hearts that are broken; to proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison. (Luke 4:18)
As we move towards the season of Lent in our liturgical life, we can contemplate the symbol of dust. We may wish to think of it as something negative ‘you are dust and to dust you shall return’ or we can think of it as a sign that we are participating in something much larger than ourselves. As people of the resurrection, we believe that death, our return to dust, is not an end but a new beginning. How can we embrace the future, building relationships that draw us to something newer and deeper in Christ, because of our experience of the Royal Commission?
We are given on the first Sunday of Lent, the Gospel reading of the temptations of Jesus in the desert. This year in Mark’s translation, the reality of it is presented as starkly as possible: The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. The other Synoptics give some flesh to this experience when they describe the temptations of Jesus in terms of power, privilege and control. We may think of the desert as a barren place. In fact, it is an environment with enormous potential for life. Our current place may seem like a wilderness but if we pause, look closely, listen to the Spirit who is present in abundance here, we will be able to see the footprints of God in this place.
Our call now is to respond – to the survivors; to those who are bewildered by what has happened in their beloved Church; to the society at large. Our response has been taking shape through the years of the Royal Commission. We are called to continue and to intensify our engagement in the process of healing and of walking with those who have been harmed. Much has been done in the development of policies, protocols and practices to ensure safe environments for children and vulnerable adults. We need to remain vigilant in this area and keep developing our processes according to best practice and who we are as Church.
Clericalism and its role in the Church’s response to the evil of child sexual abuse was referred to on a number of occasions during the Royal Commission. The elimination of clericalism is the responsibility of all of us – it does not just belong to those of the clerical state. The power and authority we give to others can contribute to a climate of clericalism; so also, can power and authority which we assume to ourselves. The privilege we allow others, and ourselves, to enjoy because of our position, is also a reminder to us of how clericalism can seep into every aspect of our lives.
If the Royal Commission is going to have ongoing impact in the life of our institutions then we are the ones who are going to enliven the way forward. We cannot leave it to others, or hope that all might go away if we ignore it. We are called to engage the future with hope.
As consecrated religious in the Church, we are called to be prophetic, to imagine the new and to be open to the invitation of the future as it emerges. For the sake of all who have been harmed, for the hope of a more humble, more open and inclusive Church committed to the gospel of Jesus, for a future where all are respected in their dignity as human persons and the body of Christ is made more whole, let us encourage one another in this journey of love and healing.