#nuptothecup

Remembering Medora, Dispatch, Dulcify, Verema, Admire Rakti, Araldo, Red Cadeaux, Regal Monarch, and Cliffsofmoher–who each died during or soon after racing in the Melbourne Cup.

Today the Melbourne Cup takes place. It has become known as the race that stops a nation. But the reality is, it really should be the nation that stops a race—and all other horse races—because of the cruelty that is integral to the horse racing industry. A brief history indicates this.

The race was first run in 1861 to a crowd of 4,000 people. Two horses died in that first race. An article in the Australian Dictionary of Biography describes the race: Medora’s front legs gave way and she fell heavily, bringing down her jockey, Henderson. Dispatch rounded the turn and somersaulted over her, careered into the picket fence and threw her jockey, Morrison. Next came Twilight who collapsed on top of them, bringing Haynes down with her. Unhurt, she broke loose before heading off across the course and was disqualified. Nearby spectators anxiously dragged the fallen horses off the track before the others came round the course again. The jockeys also sustained injuries; Henderson’s shoulder was dislocated and Morrison’s right collar broken. The injury to his right side was such that he could only walk with assistance and had to be taken to Melbourne Hospital. (see http://adb.anu.edu.au/essay/1)

In 1881, Jockey John Dodd died as a result of injuries received while riding Suwarrow in the race. The horse survived.

In 1979, Dulcify broke his hip 400m from the finishing post in the 1979 Melbourne Cup and was taken to the Melbourne stables of his trainer, where he was euthanased by a vet in the back of a horse float.

In 2013, a horse named Verema was euthanased right on the Flemington racetrack, although green tarps prevented the crowd from seeing what was happening.

Two horses died due to racing in the 2014 Melbourne Cup. Cup favourite Admire Rakti, who was carrying the heaviest weight since Think Big (1975), died of heart failure in his stall after the race, and Araldo broke his leg and had to be euthanased after being spooked by a flag in the crowd after the race.

In 2015, Red Cadeaux, the only horse to finish 2nd in the race on 3 occasions, and a public favourite, did not finish due to a fetlock injury and had to be euthanased 2 weeks later.

In 2017, Regal Monarch broke his right leg and had to be euthanased. Such deaths take place because it is difficult for a horse’s fractured bone to heal. So a broken bone spells death.

In 2018, Cliffsofmoher had to be put down after fracturing a shoulder early in the Cup. He was euthanased on the track, right in front of the grandstand, behind a large green sheet.

In 2015, 132 racehorses died on race courses across Australia due to repeat injuries, according to the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses. That’s about one death every three days.

Has that terrible figure produced a response from racing authorities, to lessen the death toll? Not at all—in fact, the number of death has grown in the intervening years. From July 2016 until July 2017, 137 horses died on Australian racetracks. That is an outrageous number.

The most recent set of figures kept by the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses indicate that over the past year, the most common reason for a racehorse dying was catastrophic front limb injury (61), whilst 7 horses collapsed and died on the track, 10 horses died from cardiac causes, and 5 horses died from bleeds.

We need to stop this cruelty. This is actually the race that shames a nation. The whole industry, however, is riddled with practices and customs that perpetuate cruelty and cause regular deaths, as the recent ABC 7:30 report has demonstrated. (see https://www.abc.net.au/7.30/the-dark-side-of-the-horse-racing-industry/11614022)

Say Nup to the Cup.

See also

https://www.animalsaustralia.org/events/?event=159

https://horseracingkills.com/issues/deathwatch/

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-11-06/the-cliffsofmoher-euthanased-on-track-after-melbourne-cup/10470260

https://www.news.com.au/sport/sports-life/the-melbourne-cup-hit-by-protests-after-horse-deaths/news-story/f9948e85ad3a3b68cde5d197292e65f2

Report on Queanbeyan Intentional Interim Ministry, to Congregational Meeting, 14 July 2019

Canberra Region Presbytery (CRP), in consultation with the Queanbeyan Uniting Church (QUC), have implemented an Intentional Interim Ministry (IIM) placement at Queanbeyan, at 75% for 2019.

IIM placements are established by Presbytery in consultation with Congregations to address times of transition in ministry and enable Congregations to discern and embrace positive future ministry. They are short term placements and they follow a particular process addressing the Five Developmental Tasks of the Congregation:

  1. Coming to terms with the Congregation’s history
  2. Discerning the Congregation’s purpose and identity
  3. Supporting leadership change and development
  4. Reaffirming and strengthening denominational links
  5. Committing to new leadership and new ministry

For the July Congregational Meeting, I am reporting on what has occurred thus far, and what is planned for the coming months.

1. Key moments completed February to July

Induction in February

Listening process over initial months

Lent-Holy Week-Easter journey, worship and study groups on Wilderness Journey

Working with Transition Team to explore History and Identity of the Congregation

19 May Service of celebrating, letting go and looking forward

Second round of studies with two small groups

23 June Workshop on “what sort of church are we?” (core values, key commitments)

Sermons regarding Good Neighbour Church, Good News/Discipleship Church

Preparation of resources for ongoing life of congregation

Pastoral involvements, meetings with specific individuals, BS Group

Monthly Church Council meetings

My ongoing continuing education and regular reflection on QUC situation with Transition Team, Reference Group, Professional Supervisor

July Synod meeting

2. Key moments anticipated for July to December

6 August Workshop on Constructive Conversations that transform relationships

8 September Workshop on Mission Planning and Strategic Directions for QUC

Future studies on discipleship for the life of the Congregation

Plan Agora anticipations and deliberations

Membership within QUC: position paper for consideration by Congregation

Leadership within QUC: consideration of future ministry configuration and future lay leadership

Nominations for leadership roles open in late September

Discernment and Elections in November, establishing a new leadership group into 2020

JNC and Profile, process of seeking a minister for 2020 onwards

Monthly Church Council meetings

Worship in Advent and Christmas

My ongoing reflection with Transition Team, Reference Group, Professional Supervisor

Conclusion of placement in January 2020

QUC

QUC is a church in transition. Our membership and our leadership is changing. We are not alone in this, however. We are in transition, like so many of our fellow-believers across the Western world. In our lifetimes, we have seen the growth of a diverse multifaith mix in society. We know that we live in an increasingly vocal secularised or anti-faith environment, where the church is both smaller than in its heyday, and also occupying a very different place in (or on the edges of) society. We are all in a context of transition.

I recently spent a week with a cohort of ministers who are undertaking training in the Foundations of Transitional Ministry, with a view to being accredited as an Intentional Interim Ministry (IIM). I was there as a co-teacher in the course, along with my wife Elizabeth Raine, an experienced IIM practitioner, and Rob McFarlane, a colleague who has taught this course now for almost two decades. It was a rich experience of learning in community.

The course (in two parts—this is the second part of the course) seeks to equip ministers for transitional ministry; ministry in contexts where changes are afoot (or need to be afoot!), where transitions are taking place, where the ground seems to be shifting under our feet as we walk the pathway ahead of us.

And that might well refer to almost every ministry context these days in our post-Christendom context. We are all in a context of transition.

One of the prayers included in the training resources offered these words: eternal God, lead me now out of the familiar setting of my doubts and fears, beyond my pride and my need to be secure, into a strange and graceful ease with my true proportions and yours …

May that be our prayer, also.

John Squires, July 2019

A prayer for Mother’s Day

One of the delights of the worship that takes place each week in my current placement, is that the Prayers of the People are led by a range of people from within the Congregation. This provides prayers which are “grounded” as well as reflecting the diversity of perspectives found within the people.

Today, Mother’s Day, Marg Cotton led with this thoughtful prayer. I share it with her permission.

******

Creator God, as we come to you in prayer help us to pray in your spirit and truly enter into a time of stillness and simplicity.  Give us courage to be open to your unfathomable goodness, and imponderable light.  While we cannot ever know the depths of your being help us to see enough of what is truly mysterious to break down our pride and recognise that we need to rely on your grace and mercy.

We have much to be thankful for.  Living in freedom in this land.  Having access to education and health care, food and water, warmth and friendship.  Being able to worship in peace and security.  We give thanks for the many blessings you have given to us and the many people who have been part of our lives.

On this Mothers Day we particularly acknowledge the role that those who nurture us have had in our lives.  For some of us we have fond and happy thoughts about our mothers: their love and support, sacrifice and hard work, compassion and teaching.

For others, perhaps our experiences and memories are not so sweet.  The difficult mother or embarrassing mother, the times when our mums could not cope, the absent mother, the one who was addicted self obsessed, or struggling with mental illness.  

As we think of our mother on mothers day let us show her the respect of acknowledging that she was always more than we ever understood.  Like the God we worship she came before us and she labored to bring us into this world.  Let us acknowledge in the words from Deuteronomy 32:18 “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.”  

In the same way we have been often been unmindful of the women who gave us birth and of those other nurturing figures who supported us in many steps in our lives. Help us to acknowledge appropriately those who have helped make us who we are.

But as we acknowledge this help us not be complacent.  Help us to see that some of our own struggles may have come in part from our upbringing and our expectations.  Help us to turn to you and see that our lives can be transformed and made more whole as we seek a path of hope and reconciliation.

We are aware that there is much darkness in our world.  We hear every day of terrible injustices, of violence, of hatred, of feuds, of greed. We see this both at the personal level, at the political level and at the global level.  Break through our complacency and help us see when we are jealous or spiteful, not prepared reconsider our own prejudices, not able to acknowledge the hurt we caused. 

Help us to be aware of the needs of others and take our part in caring for those who are facing difficulties.  We know that there are some people in our midst who struggle to find hope and justice in our community.  For people living with illness or disability, let us ensure that our health system and the NDIS are available to provide the best kind of help available.

For those struggling to find employment let them not be disheartened by the complex structures that sometimes make a secure job seem unattainable.  

For people who are seeking to exercise leadership.  Please grant clarity of thought and honesty of purpose as to all who are involved in important decisions.

For the forgotten people who toil without recognition or thanks.  May we sometimes notice and give thanks for their work and commitment.

As we join together and to share praying the Lord’s prayer I invite those of you who would like to acknowledge the non-gendered divinity of our God to begin this prayer

Our Mother in heaven….

Hallowed be your name,

Your kingdom come,

Your will be done,

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins,

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Save us from the time of trial

and deliver us from evil.

For the Kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours 

now and forever. Amen

 

Friendship in the presence of difference: a Gospel call in a world of intolerance and hatred

 

In recent weeks, we have seen Muslims murdered as they gather for Friday prayers; Jews murdered as they meet for Sabbath prayers; and Christians murdered as they congregate for Easter worship. These tragic events point to the intolerance, even hatred, held by individuals who identify with a faith “other” than the one where people have been killed. They indicate that, even in this contemporary world where we recognise that there are people of different ethnicities, nationalities, and religions, this intolerance and hatred remains strong and incessant.

The Uniting Church has been advocating for some decades, now, that as we live in a multicultural society, we need to recognise and engage constructively with people of other faiths. There are some keynote resources that deserve our attention and ongoing reflection.

The Ninth Assembly (2000) adopted a statement prepared by the Doctrine Working Group, entitled Living with the Neighbour who is Different: Christian Vocation in Multi-faith Australia.

It set out the following theological affirmations as the basis for the way that we are to relate to people of other faiths:

God is calling us to engage in conversation with people of other faiths. The development of hospitable and respectful relationships with those of other faiths is a proper response to Christ” who “calls us to live in harmony with all other people and so contribute to a world of peace, justice and hospitality.

Christians are called to love the neighbour who is different. The movement from exclusion to the embrace of neighbours who are different is of the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christians discover the will and power to enact this gracious embrace of the neighbour as they become more deeply immersed in the indiscriminate love of God.

God has placed the contemporary church in an ideal situation to engage in genuine dialogue with those of other faiths. We no longer relate to those of other faiths from a position of assumed political and social superiority. From nearer to the margin of society we are free to relate to other people as servants of the unifying, reconciling purposes of God revealed and embodied in Jesus.

God delights in diversity and seeks unity. Diversity, woven into the heart of creation, is a gift of God. The unity God intends for humanity does not destroy difference but weaves difference into a single human mat.

The Spirit is present in all of life. No part of life, no person is without the influence of the Holy Spirit…the Holy Spirit is present through the whole fabric of the world, yet is uniquely present in Christ and in the fellowship of Jesus’ disciples. It does not follow, however, that the life and work of Jesus exhaust the work of the Spirit or exclude the presence of the Spirit in other faiths.

The Centrality of Jesus Christ in Christian believing is not to be compromised when we engage in interfaith dialogue. Christ is the foundation of Christian believing and living. We live “in Christ” and our way of being with others should be consistent with the way pioneered by Jesus.

In 2010 the Relations with Other Faiths Working Group commissioned Keith Rowe to write an updated statement. The title of this statement, Friendship in the presence of difference, is carefully chosen. Real differences do exist in humanity. The gospel imperative calls us to live in friendship.

Individual and corporate friendship robs difference of its power to divide, to foster distrust or to sanction violence. Friendship in the presence of difference is a gift greatly needed both in the Christian community and within the human family as a whole.

The word ‘friendship’ is chosen because it includes a sense of growing relationship, empathy, warmth and care for others. While we may rejoice in similarities among the affirmations and wisdom of the various religions we do not want to deny the existence of very real and important differences. World religions differ in their understanding of the Divine dimension within life, the purpose of our living, the nature of human fulfilment and what it means to live together in a world of many faiths.

Our Christian uneasiness in the presence of difference is something we need to recognise and address. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks puts it well: “In our interconnected world, we must learn to feel enlarged, not threatened, by difference”. (The Dignity of Difference, Continuum, 2003, p. vii). The possibility of the religions and people of religion being able to contribute to peace rather than conflict in our world depends on the capacity to relinquish the desire for uniformity based on what serves our comfort or power.

The Thirteenth Assembly (2012) adopted a statement prepared by the Working Group on Relations with Other Faiths, entitled Friendship in the Presence of Difference: Christian Witness in Multifaith Australia.

In introducing this theme, the statement said:

Friendship in the presence of difference is regarded as being a central Christian attitude and value. Engagement with those of other faiths is welcomed as a pathway on which we may rediscover the heart of the Christian way while also being enriched by wisdom others have to share. Distortions that have crept into Christian living and believing often become apparent in informed conversation with those who believe differently. Friendship in the presence of difference can be a significant doorway into the renewal of Christian discipleship and theology.

It offered the following Conclusion:

As a church we are grateful for our developing friendship with those of other faiths. Christians have deepened their understanding of God and of the tasks we face together in our divided world in friendship and conversation with people of other faiths. We look forward to developing deeper friendships and discovering ways we can live together generously and work together for the common good.

We encourage politicians, decision makers and opinion shapers in commerce, industry and the media to grow in sensitive and accurate knowledge of the faiths within our society. Where religious beliefs contribute to conflict and division, we ask our national leaders to strive for understanding and reconciliation among those whose beliefs differ. We believe that lasting peace in our world is not possible unless the religious dimension of life is recognised.

Each part of the Uniting Church is invited to make the building of friendship in the presence of religious and cultural difference a priority missional objective. Whatever theological or spiritual stream of the church’s life we belong to we all have a positive role to play. Trusting in Jesus Christ as Lord and in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Uniting Church commits itself to cultivating friendship in the presence of difference.

Clearly, the call that the Gospel places before us at this time, is to offer and receive friendship in the presence of difference.

See https://assembly.uca.org.au/images/Ministries/ROF/images/stories/theology/livingsummary.pdf

https://assembly.uca.org.au/rof/about/theology/item/1876-study-guides-for-living-with-the-neighbour-who-is-different

https://assembly.uca.org.au/fipd

https://assembly.uca.org.au/images/Ministries/ROF/images/stories/resources/appendix_1_-_Friendship_in_the_Presence_of_Difference-Christian_witness_in_Multifaith_Australia.pdf

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/22/hello-thank-you-we-are-with-you-we-support-you/

Hello. Thank you. We are with you. We support you.

Hello.

Thank you.

Salaam.

Thank you for being here.

Simple words. Everyday words. But words which were filled with emotion and sated with meaning, in the context in which they were spoken.

Everyday people. Everyday words. People going about their normal, everyday business.

They have been to work. They have driven their cars, parked along the verge. They are walking along the street; walking with intent, heading with purpose, to the place of prayer.

Hello. Thank you. Everyday words. Accompanied by smiles. Sometimes, by handshakes. Or by a hand held to the heart; no words, just a signal, that this was appreciated. Deeply appreciated.

In a curving street on a gently-sloping hill in a Canberra suburb, twenty of us were gathered, standing on the footpath, greeting worshippers as they arrived for prayer.

We were Christians. They were Muslims. We were white. They were, mostly, Middle Eastern, or Southeast Asian. They were coming to pray. We, too, would gather to pray; but not today.

Our day of prayer is Sunday. Their day of prayer is Friday. Today is Friday. It is their day of prayer.

So this Friday, we stood outside the mosque, a silent witness of support and solidarity. Smiling, bowing, shaking hands, offering a greeting; not speaking further unless we were engaged in conversation; simply, standing in solidarity.

This is what it is, to be a human being. This is what it is, to relate to our fellow human beings. Hello. Thank you. You are welcome. You are us. We are with you. We support you.

Simple words, short phrases; but deep emotion, and profound meaning. Just in these simple acts and words of human interaction.

Some conversations were longer. We discussed the issues, the personalities. We could see, and hear, and feel, the emotion.

It could have been people like these. It could have been these people. Ordinary people. Coming from work. Gathering to pray. People of faith. Ordinary people, committed people, people who share their lives with us each and every day.

They serve us in shops. They answer our phone calls. They draft our legislation. They clean our homes. They install and service our utilities. They collect our fares and drive our taxis. They are everywhere. They are people of prayer. They are people of peace. They are us. We are them.

What happened a week ago in New Zealand, at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre … and what has happened in Quebec City, and Kembe in the Central African Republic, and the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Minnesota, and in countless interpersonal interactions involving Muslims as victims … what has happened in far too many places, on far too many occasions, is a cause for deep distress.

We weep. We pray. And we stand, quietly, supportively, in solidarity.

Hello.

Thank you.

Salaam.

Thank you for being here.

Further reflections on the tragic events in Christchurch:

https://canberra.uca.org.au/uca-news/uca-statement-christchurch/

https://revdocgeek.com/2019/03/16/prayer-for-christchurch/

https://www.eternitynews.com.au/world/aussie-church-leaders-respond-to-christchurch-massacre/

https://www.eternitynews.com.au/world/dont-give-nz-terrorist-what-he-wants/

On the threshold, in a liminal space

Over recent months, Elizabeth and I have occupied what might be called a liminal space. Liminal spaces are the places of transition, from one place to another.

We have moved states—indeed, we have travelled the length of the continent, relocating from a Perth suburb just a few kilometres inland from the Indian Ocean, to a suburb in Canberra, in the anonymous territory that is hiding in the midst of the undifferentiated eastern states (at least, that’s how the sandgropers of WA view them).

We have moved house, to a residence that the church has recently purchased. That meant packing everything into boxes in WA, then waiting for delivery to the ACT, where we then unpacked everything and found new places for each item, each book, each piece of furniture.

We have also changed jobs, in association with this domestic move. We have each ended the work that we have been doing in Western Australia in recent times—for Elizabeth, a year-long Intentional Interim Ministry in a Congregation, and some months of resourcing of the Presbytery Pastoral Relations Committee; for myself, two years of restructuring and rebuilding the educational offerings and formation processes within the Synod. That has meant a series of farewells with colleagues in WA.

We are now both settled into congregational ministry—for Elizabeth, in a regular placement, and for myself, as an Intentional Interim Ministry in a Congregation which has experienced a series of challenges in recent times. That means introductions, getting to know new people, and sussing out the key issues in each place. This is a challenging place for us each to be!

And this week, we are both “trainers-in-training” at a course on The Fundamentals of Transitional Ministry. This is part one of a two-part course, auspices by the Interim Ministry Network (based in the USA, but taught with an Australian accent for the Australian context by our colleague, Rob McFarlane). You can see more about this network at http://imnedu.org/

Part One of the course is subtitled The Work of the People. Part Two (scheduled for June) is subtitled The Work of the Leader. The two courses complement and inform each other.

The Basis of Union of the Uniting Church articulates a commitment to this process of change and transition. Obviously the motif of “a pilgrim people on the way” (para 3, also para 18) is a key motif, and the Basis refers explicitly to persevering through the “changes of history” that we experience (para 4). There is great encouragement for us to develop creative new expressions of church in another obvious phrase, referring to “fresh words and deeds” (para 11). So this should be fundamental to the way we operate as a church.

It is clear that Ministers undergo a process of change and transition in moving from one placement to another: moving through ending in one community, and leaving behind the ministry exercised there; to joining a new community and coming to understand and appreciate the context within which ministry now takes place. (And then, of course, exiting the community at the end of the period of ministry.) As well as all of the learnings, adjustments, developments, readjustments, further learnings, reshaping and continuing developments that are inevitable within the course of a good ministry placement.

Alongside this, the Congregation or faith community has work to do, and this is recognised in the second course. This work entails a series of tasks, which the Intentional Interim Minister is charged with overseeing and stimulating. These are summarised quite succinctly as dealing with understanding heritage, refreshing leadership, relational connections beyond the community, developing missional identity, and committing to the agreed future. That’s quite a lot of work!

So, all of these changes that we have experienced in recent times—changes in jobs, changes in residence, changes in location, and changes in the faith community to which we are connected—all bring challenges with them. We are in what anthropologists and sociologists call, a liminal space.

The word liminal comes from the Latin word līmen, which means “a threshold”. Technically, that is the place that marks off one space from another. Its origin was the strip of wood or stone at the bottom of a doorway, which was crossed in entering a house or room.

The thresh is the place where one treads as one enters a room. So the threshold, is where you put your foot as you walk into a new room or new place.

So, we are on the threshold, in a liminal space.

Anthropologists define liminality as “the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a ritual”. It is the moment when participants no longer hold their preritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete.

During a rite’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which completing the rite establishes.

The concept of liminality was developed in the early twentieth century sociologists. It was applied particularly to religious rituals marking the movement of a person from one stage to another. We can see this in the traditions of the church: for instance, Confirmation as a move into adulthood, Marriage as a move into long term partnership, and, of course, Baptism as the movement into life outside the womb, in the world as we know it, and Funerals as the move into life beyond death, life in the world beyond that as we currently know it. These are liminal moments for all human beings.

More recently, usage of the term has broadened to the political and cultural arena, alongside the religious or faith area. So it is a useful concept to be applied to the places where we are ministering and the changes that are among place, or need to take place, within those communities.

During liminal periods of all kinds, the experts tell us, “social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt. The dissolution of order during liminality creates a fluid, malleable situation that enables new institutions and customs to become established.”

[I found this on Wikipedia, which references the source as Agnes Horvath, Bjørn Thomassen, and Harald Wydra, Introduction: Liminality and Cultures of Change (International Political Anthropology 2009). Accessed 18 March 2019.]

That means, then, that we are facing opportunities at this moment, in the liminal space—opportunities to dissolve traditions, opportunities to reshape practices, opportunities to cast doubt over long term certainties, opportunities to lay down new patterns of functioning that will be healthy, life giving, and resilient in the longer term. Now that’s a set of challenges to be met!!!

In the wake of the verdict about Pell …

There has been a lot of media discussion in recent days about the convictions handed down against Cardinal George Pell. Articles that I have read have ranged across the validity of the sentence, the quality of the evidence provided, the rhetoric of the defendant barrister, and the perception that Pell was targeted in a “tall poppy syndrome” or as part of a wider vendetta against the Church.

I have been thinking, not just about this particular case, but about the various elements of our culture that are involved in these discussions. There are many elements that deserve attention and careful consideration.

Fundamental to these discussions, should be the basic principle of respect for another human being. If an alleged victim raises an accusation, that person deserves to be heard with respect and integrity. It is not fair to label or accuse such a person, especially if the claim has not yet received measured and fair consideration in the courts. Disrespectful descriptions and negative labelling of victims should never be published by any media outlet.

Second, I sense, is a concern about the way that we demonstrate trust in institutions — whether those institutions are the justice system, religious bodies, or leadership in society. It is clear that, in modern Australian society, any institution is “fair game” for suspicion and distrust. That might well be justified in some instances—the banking and finance industry, for instance; or political parties, when it comes to “jobs for the boys” and (as we have seen lately) “goodbye to the girls”. But should it be the default setting when considering any institution in society?

A factor that I see running through all considerations relating to sexual abuse, is the pernicious influence of secrecy—whether that is secrecy by church leaders, concerned to maintain the good name of their church; or secrecy by perpetrators, seeking to quieten the noises made about their alleged activity. Perpetrators are particularly good at impressing the need for secrecy on their victims. That’s one of the main warning flags in a sexual abuse scenario. It is not a healthy trait.

Of course, there is a different between when something needs to be held as confidential, and when it has become a secret. Knowing the difference between secrecy and confidentiality, is an important process of discernment. Some matters do need to be held in confidence, while further investigations are undertaken, for instance. And knowing when it is inappropriate to hold on to a secret, is also important to discern.

The discussion raises questions, for me, about styles of leadership within our society. Cardinal Pell exercised a particular style of leadership. It may well have contributed to the surge of opposition to him, both in his role as a leader of the Roman Catholic Church, and as a person in the spotlight. Certainly, while his style of charge-through-and-win-at-all-costs, might have garnered him support from those who agreed with his ideological stances, it also generated a mountain of opposition to him. Is this really the best way to exercise leadership in society?

Of course, the recently-concluded Royal Commission has shone a spotlight in the culture and ethos which has been dominant in a number of institutions in our society, including the Roman Catholic Church, other church denominations, and other institutions dealing with children. The Roman Catholic Church has been carefully scrutinised and a number of the commission’s recommendations do deal with changes that need to be made, to create a more healthy culture with an ethos that values integrity and transparency above arcane processes and secrecy.

I found myself, again and again, coming back to the priority that should be shown (but which often has not been shown), to demonstrate authentic care and compassion for victims. There are too many examples, that I am aware of, where people who have been victims are saying that the way the issues are discussed in the public arena provides a trigger to their hurts and fears, to their anxieties and depressive feelings. We owe them more than this; we need to prioritise a way of discussing matters that does not replicate past abuses and reinforce negative emotions.

That leads to another matter; the importance of language. Nothing demonstrated this more, than the unfortunate and ill-chosen rhetoric of the defence lawyer representing Cardinal Pell. It carried an inference that the kind of sexual assault experienced by the victims in this particular instance, was a lesser grade of assault. The swift apology and withdrawal of the terrible phrase that Robert Richter used, is a clear indication of the power that is carried in the words we use. I know this from my experience in leading worship and interpreting texts, within my church roles. It is something that needs to be recognised in people right across society, in the public discourse.

In terms of my faith, the message that I hear pressing on me, again and again, is that the Gospel call to faithful discipleship is far more important than the matter of preserving the institutional reputation. The deeply sad fact at the heart of so many instances of sexual abuse by priests, ministers, and pastors, is that the Gospel call has been subordinated (and ignored) in favour of protecting the institution. That is completely wrong.

I guess that the culture of “let’s stick together”, “this is not who we are”, “don’t criticise us, we do lots of good things”, must have been strong within the Catholic Church. That explains why there was such a concerted effort by many, to protect their fellow priests. The same went on in the Anglican Church, and there are indications of it in other denominations and organisations.

There is something positive in looking out for your fellow priest, or minister, or believer. (Although I really dislike it when someone says to me—as they do, from time to time—“ah, but you Ministers always stick together”.) But, sadly, this sense of a priestly brotherhood, all looking out for one another, has contributed to this distorted culture. It is clear that the culture of the Catholic Church has actually fostered misogyny and secrecy in relation to abuse. The sense of belonging to “a brotherhood” has contributed to that culture.

I have noted a tendency, in some faith-based commentary, to look for conspiracy theories about the criticism of churches that is abroad in society. I don’t think it is helpful to become defensive in this way, and I certainly don’t think it is at all useful to label those who criticise the churches as demonic or guided by the devil. Such negative, condemnatory language is completely unhelpful. The church needs to be able to defend itself through reasoned argument, and not resort to judgemental stereotypes.

A final point needs to be made. There is a need to distinguish “The (Roman) Catholic Church” from other church denominations. There are things about the Catholic Church which are distinctive, and which set it apart from other denominations, such as the Uniting Church: the all-male priesthood, the lack of females in leadership, the power of episcopacy in setting the culture, the requirement of celibacy amongst the priesthood, the centralised bureaucracy in Rome, and the strongly bonded nature of “the brotherhood” amongst religious (men). These factors have contributed to create the kind of culture that has protected, and also fostered, abusers. The Catholic Church needs to work hard to dismantle that culture. And all denominations need to be on the alert for signs that secrecy and protection of abusers is continuing.

There is a fine prayer for the current situation, written by my colleague Avril Hannah-Jones, at https://revdocgeek.com/2019/02/27/prayer-for-the-survivors-and-victims-of-child-abuse/

This is a well-argued piece which focuses on the damage done by a Pell, to an individual as well as to the church:

https://www.smh.com.au/national/history-will-judge-george-pell-the-cardinal-who-sought-to-crush-me-20190227-p510ma.html

Frank Brennan offered this analysis immediately after the verdict:

https://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article/truth-and-justice-after-the-pell-verdict

However, Daniel Reeders has provided this careful critique of Brennan, and of others seeking to vindicate Pell:

https://badblood.blog/candle-lighting-the-catholic-response-to-the-pell-conviction/