Homily for Mass – Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

(Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Park Ridge: 8:00am, and Saint Catherine’s Church, Jimboomba: 5:30pm)

17 November 2013

[Readings: Mal 3:19-20;  Ps 97;  2 Thess 3:7-12;  Lk 21:5-19]

You will have seen in the news that the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has already begun its private and public hearings.  Two case studies have already been looked at, and another case study will begin tomorrow.  On the 9th of December a fourth case study will be commenced, and that will be when the Royal Commission turns its attention to the Catholic Church’s response to child sexual abuse, and specifically it will look at the Towards Healing protocol that has become the Australian Church’s way of responding to those who bring forward allegations of abuse.  (see http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/)

The bishops have stated that it’s important for all of us to know how Church leaders are approaching the issue of sexual abuse and the disposition they are taking to the Commission.  In order to make this clear, they have provided a “commitment statement” which they have asked priests to make known as widely as possible.  I’d like to share the contents of that statement with you this morning.

The Catholic Church in Australia, in its submissions to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and in its communications with both the Catholic and broader communities has made the following commitment:

The leaders of the Catholic Church in Australia recognise and acknowledge the devastating harm caused to people by the crime of child sexual abuse.  We take this opportunity to state:

1               Sexual abuse of a child by a priest or religious is a crime under Australian law and under canon law.

2               Sexual abuse of a child by any Church personnel, whenever it occurred, was then and is now indefensible.

3               That such abuse has occurred at all, and the extent to which it has occurred, are facts of which the whole Church in Australia is deeply ashamed.

4               The Church fully and unreservedly acknowledges the devastating, deep and ongoing impact of sexual abuse on the lives of the victims and their families. 

5               The Church acknowledges that many victims were not believed when they should have been.

6               The Church is also ashamed to acknowledge that, in some cases, those in positions of authority concealed or covered up what they knew of the facts, moved perpetrators to another place, thereby enabling them to offend again, or failed to report matters to the police when they should have.  That behaviour too is indefensible.

7               Too often in the past it is clear some Church leaders gave too high a priority to protecting the reputation of the Church, its priests, religious and other personnel, over the protection of children and their families, and over compassion and concern for those who suffered at the hands of Church personnel.  That too was and is inexcusable.

8               In such ways, Church leaders betrayed the trust of their own people and the expectations of the wider community.

9               For all these things the Church is deeply sorry.  It apologises to all those who have been harmed and betrayed.  It humbly asks for forgiveness.

The leaders of the Catholic Church in Australia commit ourselves to endeavour to repair the wrongs of the past, to listen to and hear victims, to put their needs first, and to do everything we can to ensure a safer future for children.  (For more information on the Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council go to www.tjhcouncil.org.au).

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On this second last Sunday of the Church year, the readings lead us to focus on the end of human history.  We are invited to reflect on the fact that human history is a story: with a beginning, a middle, a climax and an end.  As a story it also has a purpose, it is going somewhere. (1)

When you’re in the midst of reading a novel, you usually don’t know how it will end.  As you’re reading the book, the point of every little twist and turn is not immediately apparent: it will only make sense at the end.  Likewise, the story of human history is still being written.  Because we have free will God is still at work, redeeming and saving us.

When we consider an issue such as child sexual abuse we naturally ask “why does this happen?”  Why did it happen in the Church?  Why have we witnessed such a betrayal, both in the original crimes, but then also in the treatment of victims?

We can be invited to see the work of the Royal Commission as helping to shine the light of God into the darkness of human sin and corruption.  The light of God is one which shines with truth, justice, and healing its rays.  But as the first reading today says, the day of the Lord in which the sun of righteousness shines, is also a day “burning like a furnace” on which evil-doers and wickedness is burnt up like stubble.

In this time of collective purification for the Church, we should also look into our own hearts.  The darkness of sin ultimately resides in our individual hearts.  The extent to which the Church follows Jesus more closely is the extent to which each of us does that.

Let’s – each of us – bring ourselves to stand in the light of God, and to allow His light to reveal any darkness in our hearts.  May we help each other to be better Christians, and courageously allow Jesus to win the battle over sin and death in each of us … so that all may come to know the healing mercy of God.

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(1)               Aidan Nichols OP, Year of the Lord’s Favour: A Homiliary for the Roman Liturgy, Volume 3: The Temporal Cycle, Sundays through the Year, Balwyn, VIC., Freedom, 2012