A few weeks ago, Bondings 2.0reported on Australia’s Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s call for a new Vatican Council to address the sex abuse crisis and sexuality generally. Bishop Robinson led the investigation of Australia’s clergy sex abuse crisis, and the experience transformed his views on sex and power in the Catholic church. Recently, Jamie Manson interviewed Bishop Robinson for The National Catholic Reporter. At the close of the interview, Manson asked Robinson, “What keeps you hopeful?” His answer:
‘Cardinal John Henry Newman, before he became a Catholic, wrote to a friend, ‘There is nothing on this earth so ugly as the Catholic Church and nothing so beautiful.’ We’ve all seen the ugliness, and abuse is one of the ugliest chapters of all, but I’ve also seen the beauty, mostly in all of the good people I’ve worked with over the years. I don’t want to just walk away and leave that beauty behind. So I’ll work to overcome the ugliness wherever I can.”
Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia, has published a new book in which he calls for the Catholic church to institute a Third Vatican Council to discuss how to prevent sexual abuse in the church, which he proposes would also include re-examining a number of other sexual and gender-oriented topics, as well. And he is starting a global movement to get Catholics to call for such an event.
Readers of Bondings 2.0 may remember that Bishop Robinson made headlines back in March of 2012 when he spoke at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in Baltimore and called for a total re-thinking of Catholic sexual morality. He had previously been prominent because of his role as the Australian bishops’ representative to handle that country’s clerical sexual abuse crisis. That experience helped him see the church and sexuality in a different light, and he wrote a book of his new insights, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church.
Australia’s The Age newspaper reports on his new initiative to seek a Vatican III Council. which Robinson calls “a Catholic spring”:
“Retired Sydney bishop Geoffrey Robinson has launched a petition for ordinary Catholics to seek another global church council like the 1960s reforming Vatican II council. But at ”Vatican III,’ he says, there must be as many lay people as bishops to make sure the hard questions get asked.
“He believes that only a ”Catholic spring’ like the revolutions that ended the Marcos regime in the Philippines, totalitarian governments in the Arab world and communism in eastern Europe will move the Vatican to make the changes that are needed.”
Robinson lays out his call for a new council in his new book, For Christ’s Sake: End Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church … for Good, which will be published in Australia on Tuesday, June 4th. The Age describes the publication:
“The book is about the powerful cultural factors that block the church from attacking the causes of abuse, rather than merely responding afterwards. Bishop Robinson believes the church is still trying to ‘manage’ the problem rather than confront it.
” ‘Ultimately the only way to deal with abuse is prevent it. Once it’s happened, anything you do is second-rate – you can’t cure it or restore people to the way they were before,’ Bishop Robinson said.
“The biggest obstacles he identifies are papal infallibility, obligatory celibacy, the professional priestly caste, the absence of the feminine throughout the church, and an immature morality based on authority rather than people taking responsibility.”
Bishop Robinson’s efforts toward a Vatican III are supported by two other Australian prelates: Bishops Pat Power of Canberra and Bill Morris of Toowoomba. A change.org petition has already been launched in Australia for lay people to endorse the need for a Council. With no publicity it has received 10,000 signatures in about two weeks. U.S. and European versions of the petition will be launched this summer, and Bondings 2.0 will let you know about these developments as soon as they are announced.
You can learn more about Bishop Robinson and his ministry byvisiting his website.
New Ways Ministry supports Bishop Robinson’s call for a new Council with lay participation. The only way that our church can heal is if all the voices on the many diverse forms of sexuality are heard and considered.
New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in Baltimore two weeks ago continues to make headlines. The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) has editorialized in support of Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s call to re-think the Catholic Church’s official teaching on sexuality, which he made during a talk at the Symposium. An NCR columnist, Eugene Kennedy, the renowned psychologist and church observer, has also praised the Australian bishop’s proposal.
“Robinson is not the first to articulate the need for a responsible reexamination of sexual ethics, one that takes seriously the radical call to selfless love, but the addition of a bishop’s voice adds new dimension to the conversation. By rebuilding Christian morality in the area of sexuality in the way Robinson suggests, we will achieve a teaching that can better challenge the message about sexuality trumpeted by the dominant culture in television, music and advertising, a sexuality that idolizes self-gratification and that puts ‘me’ before ‘you.’ By placing the needs of the other first, our sexual ethic would reject sexual violence — physical and psychological, the idolatry of self-gratification, the objectification of people, and the trivializing of sex when it is separated from love.”
The NCR rightly points out that Robinson’s approach is not one of a wild-eyed radical:
“In the end, Robinson is making a profoundly traditional suggestion about sexuality, because what he proposes is rooted in genuine personal responsibility. He writes: ‘Many would object that what I have proposed would not give a clear and simple rule to people. But God never promised us that everything in the moral life would be clear and simple. Morality is not just about doing right things; it is also about struggling to know what is the right thing to do. … It is about taking a genuine personal responsibility for everything I do.’ ”
The tradition that Robinson is following is the tradition of Jesus in the Scriptures:
“Robinson’s take on sexuality — that it deserves deeper consideration than the narrow, rule-bound approach that has evolved in Christian circles — takes us to the heart of the radical approach Jesus took toward human relationships.”
“Bishop Robinson’s purpose is, in fact, that set out by Pope John XXIII as his reason for convening Vatican II, “To make the human sojourn on earth less sad.”
“Indeed, in urging a much needed review of what and how the church teaches about human sexuality, Bishop Robinson draws on themes central to Vatican II. The first of these is found in placing the reality of the human person rather than the abstraction of natural law as the central reference point in church teachings and papal pronouncements about marriage and sexual activity.
“The second is found in the shift from an emphasis on objective acts to subjective intentions and dispositions in making judgments on the badness or goodness of how people behave. This rightfully emphasizes the impact that our actions or omissions have on other persons rather than on the ire that has idled within so many church leaders who have been so preoccupied with sin. . . .
“Robinson’s convictions on the need for a thorough examination of the church’s teaching on sexuality are significant in themselves but also because he has found a way to speak about this essential matter from within the church, even if in the mannered traditional way that dialogue moves, however slowly, toward a wider circle of prelates.”
After Bishop Robinson spoke at the Symposium, many people told me that they felt something new and remarkable had taken place. One person told me that it felt like a new chapter had been opened in the church’s discussion on sexuality. His talk offered not only hope, but a way forward that people felt was authentically human and authentically Catholic.
His experience as the Australian Bishops’ Conference coordinator of pastoral responses to that nation’s sexual abuse crisis transformed his thinking on how Catholicism approached sexuality and how that approach can be improved. As was evident from the style and content of his talk, Bishop Robinson had one three things that more bishops should emulate: he opened his ears, his mind, and his heart.