by ROWENA OREJANA
AUCKLAND — Clericalism is at the heart of the sexual abuse issue that has plagued the Catholic Church in Australia.
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge told more than 100 priests of Auckland diocese that there is a “whirlpool effect” in the Australian Catholic Church, and the two powerful cross-currents at work are: the Royal Commission, and Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation,
“A strange point of convergence [between the two cross-currents] is … what is often called clericalism. [Clericalism] is somehow central to the cultural difficulties, or the cultural
phenomena that enabled abuse to happen,” he said. “Somehow, we thought the law doesn’t apply to us.”
In the priests’ reflection of what clericalism is, Fr Anthony Malone provided a definition that his group, which included Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn, came up with.
“We said it is focused on status, the misuse of power, and it’s allowing people to make others elite and allowing those people to see themselves as elite. They are aloof and non-available, and the opposite of that is total service,” explained Fr Malone.
Archbishop Coleridge agreed. “The power is certainly entrusted to the ordained. But how do you use the power: to create or to destroy? That’s when power is dangerous, and religious
power can be particularly dangerous. That is one of the things that emerges very clearly in these cases of sexual abuse,” he said.
Archbishop Coleridge reflected on the “Holiness Code” as found in the Book of Leviticus.
“We can imagine not just in terms of geography, but in terms of people. [Out of] all the tribes of the earth, God has chosen one nation: Israel. Within Israel, God has chosen one tribe to exercise the priestly office. Out of one tribe, Godhas chosen one man, the high priest, who is the only man who can enter the Holy of Holies.”
He said it is “an evermore intense choosing and separating of peoples and a person in the end for the sake of the mediation of the blessings; a call of separation for the sake of service”.
On the other hand, “clericalism involves a separation, but not for the sake of service of others”.
“It’s all one way traffic. It’s about me,” Archbishop Coleridge said. “And I think this touches upon sexuality in eucharistic overtones. If you take the language of the Eucharist, ‘This is my body which is given to you’. That implies a eucharistic vision of sexuality
that is utterly contradicted by sexual abuse. Because what [sexual abuse] says, in fact, is ‘this is your body taken for me’. It’s anti-Eucharist.”
He noted how both Pope Francis and the Royal Commission seem to be reminding priests of their priestly identity.
“Both the Royal Commission and Pope Francis seem to me to be summoning us to be what, in fact, we’re called to be. How odd that the Royal Commission is doing that,” he remarked.
“The only way forward is the kind of authenticity that the people sense in the Pope and to which they do respond.”
Archbishop Coleridge said what is needed is a change in the Church’s culture.
“If all you do is to change policies, practices and procedure, we are only going to find the same things because we haven’t gone to the root of it. The hardest thing to bring about is cultural change,” he said.