A Catholic social services perspective on the Synod on the Family
Synod on the Family is over, however, you can still catch up on everything that
took place by browsing the media interviews and articles featuring our
Australian representatives in the ‘media’ section of the Synod website.
The ACBC Blog on the
Synod also gives an excellent overview.
Chair, Dr Maria Harries, participated in the Synod. Below is a transcript of
her intervention at the Synod. Click here for information about our February 2016
Reimagine Renew: Mission making a difference in a changing world, #MissionRenew, at which Maria
will be speaking on a response to sexual abuse within the Church.
Your Holiness, your Eminences, brothers and sisters.
I am Chair of Catholic
Social Services in Australia where people do much of the pastoral work of the
Church with families and individuals who are distressed, lost, broken or
despairing. We acknowledge the sacredness of the family and we travel with its
sadness and messiness. Daily, we celebrate the apostolic value of the lives of
families and in so doing we evangelise. On behalf of my colleagues I beseech
you that with your gifts and with witness to Christ’s word you can discern the
doctrinal as well as the pastoral to enable those we accompany in their agony
and brokenness to feel less alienated from our Apostolic Church.
Briefly I address paragraph
79 (Culture) then 110 (Accompaniment).
In Australia our Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islanders are our most marginalised people coming from
multiple language groups with differing belief systems and family traditions.
For most of them the idea of the family as it is represented by Church teaching
is alien. For some, the matrilineal system means they have many mothers. The
child is reared in a kinship group. Women play a dynamic role in their kinship
world and they expect them to be visible. In the words of one of their leaders:
“By not having women visible
on the Altar and in the life of our Church, we are concealing our mothers,
sisters and daughters from view”.
In welcoming the Gospel they
ask not to be re-colonised by our Church as they have been by our nation’s
forebears. The challenge for our Church is to formally and institutionally
incorporate cross cultural dialogue and adopt systems with Indigenous
Australians that honour and do not violate their culture.
My second point relates to
those who have suffered at the hands of members of our beloved Church itself. I
have worked for forty years with people who have experienced sexual abuse in
families at the hands of an adult – usually a man and often a father. For
twenty of these years this work has also involved dealing with the results of
sexual abuse of children by Clergy and Religious. All sexual abuse is connected
to the abuse of power.
I sit on the Truth, Justice
and Healing Council of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The
horrific evidence of abuse of children in families and institutions and our
failure to respond adequately to this has left the Church in Australia (and of
course elsewhere) in deep pain. The primary agony is with the victims and their
families. The other level of agony is with the Clergy, Religious Congregations,
pastoral care workers, faithful families and those who are deserting the pews.
In the words of Pope Francis, “as we all pray for and receive the grace of
shame” we need local and collective ways of meeting all these victims and their
families and each other in our garden of agony and to listen deeply. From our
failings and the accompanying pain, we have the opportunity to learn
collectively and doctrinally and indeed to re-engage with and accompany the
thousands of families who we have lost. In so doing we will indeed enrich our
joyful Church family...THANK YOU.