As an old Patsy Cline song goes, “I go to church on a Sunday…”. I am a grey-haired widow in my 60s. Even at the main mass of the week, there are no altar boys or girls. Only five little children line up for Sunday school.
Mass commences. The sole acolyte is 60 years old, or more. Our priest, a lovely shepherd of his flock, is ready to retire. The congregation is mostly grey, like me. There are a few young couples, with rugrats, from overseas. No teenagers. The pews are only half-filled. I look around me. Is this the future of the church in Australia? How is this faith to remain an influence in our society?
Maybe the demographics of the local community have changed. Perhaps the churches are overflowing in younger suburbs on the fringes of Melbourne. The church is thriving in Africa and South America. What became of the next generation of Christians in Melbourne, I wonder.
More than 12 years ago, the founding parish priest — outed as a paedophile — was forced to retire by the Archdiocese of Melbourne. The Archbishop at the time swept it all under the carpet. Apart from the damage to his child victims, the ripples impacted on the children’s siblings, their parents and their faith. Secondary effects are still casting ripples in the faith community. Broken trust is hard to restore.
This parish is only one example of the issues facing church leaders, preaching the gospel message of faith, hope and love. That no one is perfect. No one in Australia, in 2019, has to believe in a God who does not look for perfect people.
Kindness can be a lifestyle, and the church is never empty. However, the ripples of prior child sexual abuse compound. The local parish’s school enrolments are still declining. Building bridges must be the aim of the Vatican, to overcome this stigma, to restore faith, to reach out to the community.
As believers, if we are, we must maintain a sense of perspective about even the cardinals and bishops currently in the news. We never provide enough accolades to the devoted clergy and lay people, including women, who work tirelessly for each other, as well as for the vulnerable and impoverished.
Generally, Catholicism needs to heal. The church will survive globally. These dark days of child sexual abuse stories are still rippling through the smaller communities. To regain young people to faith, perhaps the church leaders and catechists could enlist the latest technology. What about the ‘Gospel in Graphics’ on a smartphone? Only a suggestion. The secondary ripples are far reaching.
No one can change the past of the Catholic church in Victoria. Even conviction of a Cardinal will not wipe the slate clean, but it might be a massive step to healing.
We hope that, one day, that chapter is closed forever. Restoring trust, building healing bridges, is a giant task.
If you are concerned about domestic and family violence, sexual abuse in your family, friends or workplace, contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800 737 732, Mensline Australia on 1300 789 978, Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277 or Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 for confidential support, advice and referral that will help you explore your options.