Bishop Robinson Stands With His Flock

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jun 16, 2008 | Categories: Accountability, Arts & Letters, Bishops, Dissent, Popes, Scandals

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, the retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia, and former head of a panel investigating sexual abuse in that country, wrote a book in which he explores  what he sees as the  roots of abuse in the Church. Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church was published in the fall of 2007.

The book’s genesis, according to Robinson, came from his work as a member and then chairman of the Australian bishops’ commitee charged with addressing the sexual abuse crisis.

“For nine years it completely dominated my life,” he said of his committee work from 1994 to 2003. “It was an experience that changed me in so many ways that even if I wanted to, I could not now go back to being the person I was before.” bishoprobinson.BMP

Meeting and speaking with abuse survivors and their families convinced him that the roots of clergy sexual abuse lay in fundamental church attitudes toward power and sex, and that the only solution was first to examine and then to change those attitudes.

“Sexual abuse is all about power and sex, so to counter abuse, we must be free to ask serious questions about power and sex in the institution of the church,” he said. “Without this freedom, we would be attempting to respond to abuse while handcuffed and blindfolded.”

On a personal note, Robinson said his work with abuse survivors created an inner conflict between his loyalty to the pope and his “loyalty to that portion of God’s people   that the Australian bishops had assigned to me, the victims of abuse.”

“It was the conflict between being a pope’s man and a victims’ man,” he said with emotion. “At all times, I would have loved to be both.”

“The conflict eventually became a genuine crisis for me when the pope of those years (Pope John Paul II) gave no real leadership in relation to abuse,” he said. pope-jp2.BMP

In a May 8 statement, the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference listed its concerns with the book. The bishops said that “after correspondence and conversation” with Bishop Robinson, “it is clear that doctrinal difficulties remain.” Chief among them, they said, is Bishop Robinson’s “questioning of the authority of the Catholic Church to teach the truth definitively.”

In a brief statement dated May 15, Robinson responded, “In their statement, the bishops appear to be saying that in seeking to respond to abuse, we may investigate all other factors contributing to abuse, but we may not ask questions concerning ways in which teachings, laws, and attitudes concerning power and sex within the church may have contributed.   This imposes impossible restrictions on any serious and objective study, and it is where I have broken from the bishops’ conference,” he said.

Before he left Australia for  a  book tour, Bishop Robinson sent a letter notifying several U.S. bishops of his speaking engagements in their dioceses. His May 16-June 12 tour included stops in Pennsylania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Connecticut, Ohio, Massachusetts, Washington State and California.

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and 10 U.S. bishops asked him to cancel his speaking tour. Bishop  Tod D. Brown of Orange, CA and Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles refused him persmission to speak in their dioceses.

Bishop Robinson said the call in his book for confrontation is a “confrontation of issues, not of people,” adding that “confronting bishops will not achieve change.”

“The major changes we seek cannot at present come from any source other than the pope, and we must be aware of the relative powerlessness of the bishops before the power of the papacy and the Vatican systems that support it,” he said.

“I suggest that we must, therefore, learn to work with the bishops rather than against them,” he said. “It will be a lengthy process in which we engage them in conversation, gradually show them there are problems in the culture they have been living in and that the new culture we would like to introduce to them has a real beauty and freedom in it.”

His book, he contended, was not an attack on the church, “but the beginning of a debate which will eventually lead to a better church.”

Bookmark and Share

Leave a Reply