Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Church official in U.S. from Australia has been asked by some here not to address subject publicly.

BY VIK JOLLY

The Orange County Register

Bishop implores Catholic church to re-examine what led to sex-abuse scandal

VOICE: Retired Australian bishop Geoffrey Robinson, promoting his new book about the clergy sex abuse scandal, speaks in Costa Mesa. Seated on the floor at the left is married Catholic priest Terrence Halloran.

COSTA MESA - In a standing-room only community hall Wednesday night, a retired Australian bishop asked not to speak about the Catholic clergy sexual abuse by some American bishops outlined his theory on its causes and how to move forward.

The Most Rev. Geoffrey Robinson said his own experience of being abused at a young age -- not at the hands of a priest -- and listening to hundreds of sexual-abuse victims for about nine years starting in 1994 when he was put in charge of a task force to develop guidelines for dealing with clerical sex abuse cases in Australia, convinced him that the issues needed to be dealt with head on.

He grew certain that there must be a study of immediate causes of abuse, including what he termed the unhealthy psychology, unhealthy ideas on power and sex and unhealthy living conditions among priests, Robinson told the more than 100 gathered at the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Center.

"I am suggesting that when these three things come together, we're most likely to find the murky world out of which abuse arises," said the silver-haired Robinson, who is on a monthlong tour of the United States to promote his book "Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus."

Robinson had written a courtesy note to American bishops whose diocesan area he was planning to speak at about his book, including Tod Brown of the Diocese of Orange. Several bishops, including Brown, asked Robinson to cancel his tour.

Robinson argues in his book that the sex-abuse scandal forces all Catholics to re-examine the fundamental issues that permitted the abuse to take place, including attitudes toward power and sexuality, according to the Web site of the Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic group whose Orange County affiliate co-hosted his stop here.

Sherida Ruiz of Anaheim, whose son was abused at an Anaheim parish when he was 10, said it was good to hear Robinson speak and she left with a little more understanding of why other bishops did not step up and intervene.

Robinson said he too could be blamed for "cowardice" because he only began speaking out after he retired in 2004, but the powerlessness of bishops and deference to papal authority is what kept many from speaking out.

"There are bishops who agree with significant parts of what I have said. It's very difficult for them to come out," he said.

The causes and the inadequate response of the church to the sexual-abuse scandal inevitably leads one to the examination of the role of power and sex throughout the church, said Robinson, whose 60-minute talk was interrupted by applause on a few occasions.

"We must be free to ask questions about those two subjects," he said. That is also where the fundamental difference lies between him and the authorities that are questioning his book, he said.

"I say let's find out everything and anything that may have contributed" to sexual abuse by clergy, he said. "And if it causes us to ask questions about church law and teachings, then I think that we must ask the questions."

He also poignantly but briefly and without offering details spoke of being abused in his youth.

"The abuse that I suffered was put in the attic of my mind," he said. "I was so innocent that I didn't even know what the guy did. It confused me. It sat there for 50 years. And it was only when I was dealing with abuses of others that I finally brought this thing down from the attic and for the first time named it sexual abuse."

He spoke broadly about changing a church culture that holds priests and the pope as infallible and urged that a conversation, not confrontation, with church leaders needs to happen. Pope John Paul II, who he said led with authority, did not exercise the same as the scandal rocked the Catholic Church.

"His absence of any leadership in this field left us deeply confused," Robinson said. "Despite the welcome statements made by Pope Benedict, we believe there's still a need for a public apology" to show the victims of sexual abuse that they were not at fault.

To learn more about Robinson's tour, visit www.voiceofthefaithful.org.

To see a complete description of the book, visit www.litpress.org/Detail.aspx?ISBN=9780814618653

 

June 12, 2008

Former Bishop Geoffrey Robinson's work with victims puts him at odds with the church.

BY KARIN KLEIN

Los Angeles Times

Catholic rebels with a cause

Considering that they had come to hear a forbidden Roman Catholic speaker, the people at the UC San Diego faculty club didn't look like rebels. They were mostly older, conservative in dress, sedate in manner. At a reception before the speech Tuesday evening, as they sipped French roast coffee and nibbled cheese cubes, they professed their continuing love of the Catholic religion -- but also deep turmoil and anger about sexual abuse by priests. Or to be more exact, about church leaders who put protecting predator priests and the church's image over protecting children.

And when they settled in for the speech, there were so many of them that people stood, lining the walls of the room and spilling onto the patio beyond it.

They had brought their troubled hearts and disturbing questions to retired Australian auxiliary Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, whose work with abuse victims led him to believe that the celibacy rule for priests, their status as authority figures "above" others and the church's emphasis on appearances contributed to the molestation scandal. Four Roman Catholic bishops in California told him to stay out of the state on his nationwide speaking tour, saying he could be a source of disunity and confusion for Catholics. "I hereby deny you permission to speak in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles," Cardinal Roger M. Mahony wrote to Robinson, whose U.S. tour is scheduled to end tonight with a talk in Culver City.

Of course, Robinson is at odds with his church because he challenges such authority -- which makes him precisely the sort of person who would come with or without Mahony's permission.

Church officials believe that Robinson's book, "Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church," contains "doctrinal difficulties." But if they expected that U.S. audiences would unquestioningly accept Robinson's views, they would have been surprised by the response Tuesday night. True, the audience applauded him for arguing that the statute of limitations on sexual molestation must be lifted, and that neither Pope John Paul II nor Pope Benedict XVI had properly addressed the issue. But in private conversations, they doubted his claim that priestly celibacy played a role in the molestations, saying that sexual desire and sexual predation are entirely different things. This group was evenhanded in its skepticism.

Robinson's listeners were not putting the scandals behind them without more thought and debate. That's especially true now that they see parochial schools and parishes being closed to pay huge settlements to the abuse victims. One woman had been so tormented by the documentary "Deliver Us From Evil," about molestations in Northern California, that she had driven from Las Vegas to hear Robinson speak. They want an open conversation with the church, even if that conversation leads to questions that challenge the foundations of Catholic tradition. Until they feel they have found this at their church, they will seek it elsewhere.