Catholics Deserve Real Reform

I’m an angry man. I’ve learned to diffuse it somewhat by being the first to laugh at, well, anything. I also rush to make jokes, perhaps too irreverently and “too soon,” people will sometimes say as they slam the door behind them.

When, for whatever reason, the ancient history of my high school years comes up, my first instinct is to break out the pedophile gags. This is likely because I’m not terribly funny and in need of new material, and, I guess, it’s my way of dealing with the fact that I went to a Christian Brothers school in Sydney where several of the brothers were prone to diddling the kids.

I didn’t get diddled, which probably makes my attempts at “humor” (including using the word diddled) even more egregious. I am increasingly aware of this ignorance and have lately resisted the temptation to break into my lame routine in unfamiliar company. Plus, you’ll be pleased to hear, despite imbibing a million beers, I opted not to call for a show of hands at the last class reunion from people who had endured the abomination.

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When this awful subject comes up these days, I usually keep my tastelessness to myself, although in the company of a select few friends I’ll sometimes drop in a wickedly witty aside about the main assailant. He killed himself.

I was at it again not long ago, making a gag (so memorable I can’t remember it now) about the brother’s methods in the presence of a close friend I’d known since schooldays.

“You know he groomed me,” he said, not wincing, not laughing.

No, I did not, but as my buddy bravely talked about it a little, I connected a bunch of dots.

I did not sleep that night or much of the next. In fact, it’s kept me awake a fair bit since.

Suffice to say, like a good, self-loathing, lapsed Catholic, I have dunked myself in guilt. I’m through the irrationally violent stage when I wanted to inflict terrible physical damage on anyone who mentioned the name Edmund Rice. Now I’m in the midst of wrestling with the idea that I should shut up about it forever as I was not diddl … sexually assaulted.

I’m not exactly sure why this is eating me up right now. I’ve known for decades in general terms what happened and, in fact, years ago I learned that four friends suffered abuse at several different schools. (It’s disturbing that two of the primary things I’ve likely got in common with many fellow former Sydney private schoolboys is an interest in the Australian rugby union team and knowledge of clergy who molested people).

Certainly the current Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Sexual Abuse in Australia has pushed it to the front of the mind. Cardinal George Pell’s apparent recalcitrance as the inquiry sought his overdue and much-needed cooperation, was infuriating, though it probably shouldn’t have come as any great surprise. He cited illness as an excuse not to travel from Rome to appear at the Commission—hope he was also troubled by an acute case of guilty conscience.

While the highest-ranking Catholic cleric in Australia, unwittingly or otherwise, undermined some of the goodwill Pope Francis has generated for the church in recent years, my urge to rage was more significantly inflamed as I contemplated the recent, premature death of an old mate who was in that class with me overseen by Brother Despicable.

It was a sharp reminder that we, middle-aged men, are not indestructible. The end may not be nigh for all of us, but certainly we are no longer able to brush things away as we perhaps once did, and, painfully, that call up to the national cricket team is now extremely unlikely.

There is a sense that to leave some things unsaid before we fade away would be wrong.

Along with my inability to conduct myself with any dignity as I age, I can’t ignore a feeling that intensifies the more I see of the world to accept a small part of collective responsibility for heinous acts.

I know, I know, these terrible things that are now (finally) being investigated en masse were the crimes of a relative few rogues. The vast majority of the priests and brothers are good men, the church has taught and cared for young people for hundreds of years, they’ve apologized to some of the victims, they’ve offered prayers, Cardinal Pell testified openly and honestly via video link … blah blah blah …

Shut up. Just shut up.

Sorry, lock the doors. Nobody is leaving this story until I get to say what’s on my mind.

It was more than a few, and screw making excuses for the unconscionable reaction at times of the Catholic Church in Australia to this day in response. We’re at least 25 years into this stuff being common knowledge and some leaders of the faith in Australia still hedge, admitting a degree of responsibility but anxious to point at individuals—blaming the evil few rather than the prolonged, calculated and systematic hypocrisy of the institution. Meanwhile, the old school ties gibber about how it’s all better left alone now, and “why don’t we all relax and get down and watch the First XV go round.”

Look, I respect the wishes of the victims are what is most important, and in some cases, not talking about it, quietly moving on, has been an effective therapy. So let me make this note, not to them, unless they want a part of it, but to my friend who told me—damn it—that this was going on under my nose.

I am sorry. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I am sorry.

I was there in that vaguely dysfunctional environment where a few brothers established a little fief and would use their power to manipulate the kingdom. I have no idea if more than one of them molested kids in our year, but I know the behavior of a few made it possible for that perversion to flourish.

What those impossibly selfish, sick cows did was to wave around declarations of God’s love in front of our parents as cover for themselves or their brothers in Christ.

And it wasn’t just my mate left scarred. I know of a few parents, one who went to her grave, lamenting having accepted the word of those curs.

These weren’t necessarily the mums and dads of the victims, but of students who these miserable sods had to move out of the way—shift to the margins in one way or another, punishing or disgracing them to ensure the messed-up scheme remained undetected. Some of those kids were never the same either.

As it turns out, my mate, after two years of being escorted to Kings Cross by Brother Despicable on special nights; being encouraged to smoke and drink in the brother’s special cubby and having his parents visited by this spider to clear-the-way, clicked that his “best friend” was poised to take the next horrible step. He scrambled away, but the guilt of that association and the sense that his peers “talked” about him behind his back, has plagued him; devastated him, at times, for 30 years.

Being a dull thud of a jock, I knew little of what was going on at school other than sport and looked inquisitively at little else in the world but girls, though I sensed the maneuvering. The brothers using their well-intentioned colleagues, prominent parents and a few of our classmates to divide and conquer.

I hate that I didn’t agitate back then to at least disturb what was percolating. I am not sure what I can do now other than yell about this as loudly as I can when appropriate. Surely, as churches finally are required to explain themselves, the focus must not only be on identifying the people with the capacity to do this but truly eradicating the religious, disciplinary and academic hierarchical structures that facilitate it.

That’s part of a submission made to the Commission by Catholics for Renewal, a mob dedicated to getting transparency in an institution that continues to practice world class obfuscation.

Apparently the Royal Commission won’t wrap up until the end of 2017, and even then, after years of inquiries and a half a billion bucks of funding, there will be no guarantees of action from government or authorities.

The Catholic Church, admirably, is re-visiting cases, and taking action to ensure  precautions are put in place, like appointing special officers to be point people for future allegations of sexual abuse. All good, but it’s solving the apple problem with an orange.

It’s not about exposing hundreds of Jehovah’s Witness sickos or a shaming a Catholic perv or ten; it’s got to be about embracing real change to systems and institutional attitudes. Nothing less. Cardinal Pell can stay hidden away in Rome until he drops for all I care, but surely the church must embrace structural reform.

Meanwhile, I suppose I should stop telling jokes about the issue (unless they are very, very funny).

And if nothing else, my friend, despite being a lifetime too late, I will not allow you to be alone with this burden for a moment longer. Not for another second, if that’s what you desire.

3 thoughts on “Catholics Deserve Real Reform

  1. O partner! My opening partner!
    Our fearful trip is done
    The ship has weather’d every rack
    The prize we sought is won.

    Greg, if I were in charge, your dream of a call-up to the national cricket team would be very much alive. Such is the power of a shared Premiership as mongrel underdogs.

    More seriously, your glorious Catholic reform piece rings true on so many levels for me. I too attended an institution for the chronically catholic (Daramalan, Canberra). I too harbour similar guilt and regrets that I didn’t agitate back then. As you know, the stories continue to emerge at an alarming rate. Yet we’re less surprised as each year passes. And so it goes.

    How art thou? Where art thou?

    Cheers brother!

    • Kip!! The diddling Catholics reunite us. Mate, trust you’re well. And where about are you excelling at life? I’m still in NYC. My time was up about a decade ago, but such is life. Let’s talk. I’ll send you an email.

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