Supporting those on the margins
Fr Frank Brennnan SJ, Opening Keynote Address,
Catholic Social Services Australia 2019 National Conference
Port Macquarie 19 February 2019
Published Eureka Street, 19 February 2019
I join with you in acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet here in Port Macquarie. And I thank Uncle Bill O'Brien from the Birpai Local Aboriginal Land Council for his welcome to country and the challenge for us to take up the Uluru Statement from the Heart. I also thank Fr Paul Gooley for the welcome here to St Agnes Parish.
On 18 January 2019, I visited Fr's Paul's predecessor as parish priest, Fr Leo Donnelly. Leo was in the ICU at St Vincent's Hospital Sydney. He awoke, immediately recognised me, his face lit up, and he thanked me for doing him the honour of visiting him. I told him not to be so silly. 'Some say I'm a Legend. I'm no legend. I just work with others'.
He then apologised for letting me down, that he would not be able to attend our conference. I told him this was no problem whatever, that we simply wanted to honour him, and would whether he was present or absent. 'No I don't want any honour.'
He said he did not need to be honoured. 'My life has simply been about empowering others to do the work. When I drove down from Lismore to become parish priest, I wondered, "What is it to be a parish priest?" I had only been involved in administration at that stage. I say "only", but it was important work. As I drove into Port Macquarie, I saw two street lights out the front of the church. One was not working. I thought, "Well that's what the parish priest can do. I can replace the light and light the place up for everyone". That's what I did. I was there to meet people's needs, to help them. We were able to do a lot.'
I observed that another Jesuit, Mick Kelly, had recently visited him: 'Yeah, he's a great bloke Mick. I remember when he first came to visit me. We had a whisky and he spoke about the need to get the good news out there, to spread the message. He just needed some money to get started. So then he set up Cathnews, then UCANews, and now those other ones he's involved in. Not afraid to have a go.' When I communicated this a couple of days later to the long-time church publisher Mick Kelly in Bangkok, Fr Kelly replied: 'Leo was the quintessential, highly intelligent Aussie priest, possessed of boundless apostolic zeal, humility as evidenced with his response to your praise, well read and fully up to date, the real "smell of the sheep", someone not just with contempt for any form of Catholic presumption, pomposity or hypocrisy but also the practicality to leave it to one side and just get on with the job.'
On what turned out to be his deathbed, Leo Donnelly said to me, 'You know one good thing to come out of all this abuse issue is that we might get rid of clericalism, putting priests up on a pedestal. The Church is the laity.'
I said we wanted to showcase St Agnes parish at the conference, showing how you could break down the silos between parish, the Vincent de Paul Society, health, education and welfare. 'Yeah, we've done that, just by looking out to the community and meeting their needs. That's what we're here to do. Salvation is not just about saving your own soul, though that's part of it. It's about the reign of God, here and now. I've been reading Tom Wright's book on St Paul. He brought it altogether for me.' In his large tome on St Paul, the English scripture scholar N T Wright speaks of St Paul's vision of 'a united and holy community, prayerful, rooted in the scriptural story of ancient Israel, facing social and political hostility but insisting on doing good to all people, especially the poor'.
I brought Leo greetings from Bishop Pat Power who had been speaking to me about the historian Jon Molony's funeral. Leo immediately recalled the good days in Rome with Molony back in the 1940s. He and Molony had been ordained with a group of seven others, five of whom became bishops — Heather, Little, Faulkner, Quinn, and Gerry. Donnelly particularly remembered one who like him did not become a bishop, Noel Tobin, who ministered in Western Australia, sometimes working on the wharves to generate a bit of income. The parish of Exmouth was short of money and unable to support its priest, so Fr Noel used refuel the tankers. Leo liked the idea of the resourceful worker priest.
I told him that his sister Margaret worked for me years ago: 'I do miss her. She was a great girl.' He kept saying, 'Now I'm probably boring you.' I kept assuring him that he was not. He had a constant smile of delightful satisfaction looking back on a good life and happy that others were wanting to come together to see it and draw fruit from it. He'd have happily talked on, but I told him that the nurse had cautioned me that he needed his rest. He had his mobile phone and rosary beads beside him.
I asked whether he'd like a blessing: 'I'd love that. That'd be great.' We prayed briefly and he thanked me for coming and wished us all the best for the conference. So here we are, inspired by the memory and witness of Leo Donnelly wondering how best to support those on the margins — harnessing the collective capability of the Church. And we do so, inspired by the words of Mary MacKillop: 'Do all you can with the means at your disposal and calmly leave the rest to God.' Mind you, not everything said by our first canonised saint was so consoling and reassuring. She once wrote to one of her sisters saying: 'I often feel inclined to envy my quiet Country sisters who have the same daily routine and so much peace whilst I am one day in a rough mail coach, again in a steamer, in rain and storm, but worse than all, when I have to see Bishops and Priests, and, in the cause of our loved work, have to hold out against all their arguments and threats.' It's not always plain sailing.
This morning I would like to take up eight aspects of our identity and mission as we contemplate the value proposition of Catholic Social Services Australia:
'As a national advocate, CSSA works with its members to produce evidence/research which informs public opinion and assists lawmakers to develop just and compassionate social and economic policies that will improve the lives of the poor and vulnerable in Australia. In doing so, CSSA fosters connectedness and partners with Catholic social services providers.'
Who are we? We are:
- Australians on the verge of an election, having endured two royal commissions where our trust in traditions, institutions and authority has subsided
- Australians on the verge of an election worried that we are letting go our commitment to the first and most recent Australians while being hamstrung in our efforts to be good stewards of creation
- Australians worried that our society is becoming more unfair, with inequality on the increase, and we feel powerless to do much about it
- Members of Australian society increasingly wondering about the place of religious faith and spirituality when dealing with trauma, mortality, loss of meaning, and the need for forgiveness
- Members of Australian society providing for the welfare needs of those doing it tough who are worried that our politics leads to further disadvantage for those without a voice — the one who fall through the cracks or who can't get through the door of the NDIS; those whose basic income is not addressed until budget repair is concluded; those who have to endure experiments and trials like the cashless debit card which may provide pathway from welfare to work or else a dead end of welfare dependency and loss of self-determination
- Members of Catholic organisations troubled by the findings of the royal commission which found our church to be insufficiently transparent, accountable and humble
- Members of Catholic organisations who wonder if the name 'Catholic' is now a label for an outdated and failing morality, failing to keep up with society's new moral agendas — whether it be the rainbow tick or environmental issues
- Citizens, church members, and service providers who want to break down the silos in our church and society so that we might more integrally provide services, presence, and community for those most on the margins.
Australians on the verge of an election, having endured two royal commissions where our trust in traditions, institutions and authority has subsided
We are all living through a time of disruption and uncertainty. Trump, Brexit, and frequent changes of Australian Prime Minister tell us that political confusion is not isolated to a particular time or place. The Royal Commissions into institutional responses to child sexual abuse and into the banks and financial institutions point to an underlying loss of trust in institutions, traditions, and authority. The public reputation of the Catholic Church in Australia has been tarnished, and church affiliation is decreasing.
In the past, many Catholics saw a stark contrast between the Church and the World. The Church was all good and the world all bad. The Church was a perfect society and the world was not. God was found in the Church but not in the world. Evil was found in the world but not in the Church. All that has gone. On Saturday, Archbishop Mark Coleridge wrote in The Weekend Australian as he flew off to Rome for a meeting this week with Pope Francis and the presidents of all national bishops' conferences to discuss child sexual abuse:
'For me over the years, it's been a journey from seeing abuse as a sin to seeing it as a crime and then finally seeing it as involving a culture — by which I mean that cultural elements in the Catholic Church were part of abuse and its concealment. It took me a long time to see that and to see therefore the need for cultural change if we are to go to the root of the crisis and not just treat the symptoms.'
Australians on the verge of an election worried that we are letting go our commitment to the first and most recent Australians while being hamstrung in our efforts to be good stewards of creation
This morning we have heard the challenge from Uncle Bill O'Brien to heed the indigenous voices gathered at Uluru in May 2017. Regardless of previous discussions about Indigenous constitutional recognition, we all need to accept that the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart is the new starting point. Though it has been the prerogative of Indigenous Australians to name this starting point for constitutional recognition, the journey will be one of compromise and shared deliberation, and the destination will need to be one identified and owned by all Australians. That's why we all need to talk and engage respectfully. At the moment, we're all stuck in our corners 'going nowhere, fast' as the poet Bruce Dawe would say.
There is no point in proceeding with a referendum on a question which fails to win the approval of Indigenous Australia. Our lodestar must be the Uluru declaration: 'We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.' But I make no apology for bluntly stating that nothing will be gained by those who advocate for the immediate insertion of a voice into the Constitution — sight unseen, unheard and untested.
That suggestion has been rejected by the last three Liberal prime ministers — Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison. It doesn't matter where you find your Liberal Prime Minister on the political spectrum in the Liberals' broad church. He or she will not be advocating or supporting a voice being put into the Constitution untried and untested. Those who advocate for that will be proposing a course that has no hope of support from the Coalition parties.
Commentators like me have seen wisdom in trying to limit the role of a national voice to those legislative and policy issues unique to Indigenous Australians — those matters which you would expect to be listed in any constitutional acknowledgment. But the Congress is insistent that the national voice would need the mandate, capacity and resources to comment on all manner of legislation which impacts in any special way on First Australians. They have submitted: 'National Congress asserts that the national voice must have the ability to review any legislation which it believes may have a tangible impact upon the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.' They give as an example the cashless debit card being trialled as a welfare reform.
It's this sort of submission which fuels the fears of conservative leaders like the present Prime Minister Scott Morrison who see any such voice as a 'third chamber' of the Parliament — having a say on all manner of general legislation in relation to health, education, welfare, and housing, as well as uniquely Indigenous issues such as native title, sacred sites, cultural heritage and languages.
Late last year, the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples co-chaired by Senator Patrick Dodson reported to Parliament. That committee recommended that that the Australian Government initiate a process of co-design of the Voice with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The committee emphasised the need to consider national, regional and local elements of The Voice and how they interconnect. Senator Dodson told the Parliament: 'Labor will take up the challenge of enabling regional and local voices in this process of establishing a voice to the national parliament. Labor will begin the co-design process with legislation to set up the voice early in the first term of a Shorten government.' Some indigenous leaders have expressed their disappointment not just with the Coalition's rejection of The Voice as a third chamber but also with Labor's insistence that there is a need for preliminary legislation setting up the co-design process. Let's be attentive to indigenous voices but don't let's pretend that there is no division of opinion in the wake of the Uluru statement. For example, the Congress of Australia's First Peoples have repeatedly told Parliament that they could be The Voice. Representatives from the Uluru meeting seriously question that. We need to foster good relations with a range of Indigenous Australians so that we might be respectfully attentive to the diversity of Indigenous voices.
Moving the focus from First Australians to those seeking to be amongst the newest arrivals, we need to acknowledge that we have a long way to go. We are all gearing up for the third election in a row when boat turnbacks and the punitive treatment of refugees and asylum seekers feature. It need not be so. It's time voters sent a message that it should not be so. The overwhelming majority of our politicians and the overwhelming majority of voters are agreed that the boats from Indonesia carrying asylum seekers transiting Indonesia should be stopped, and the refugees and asylum seekers who have been languishing on Nauru and Manus Island should be treated decently and humanely. The disagreement is over whether after five and more years of aimless waiting and suspension, all those who are sick can be given appropriate medical attention either on site or in Australia. A recent swathe of court cases demonstrates that when the decision whether to conduct a medical evacuation is left to Mr Dutton's public servants, the decision cannot always be classed as decent and humane. A narrow majority of our politicians thought it was time to insist that such medical decisions always be decent and humane. They remain insistent that the boats remain stopped, with turnbacks in place.
Just before Christmas our bishops asked our politicians to consider a fresh return to Canberra in the new year, intent on putting an end to the intolerable situation on Nauru and Manus Island endured by asylum- seekers whose plight continues to be our responsibility. The bishops said, 'We cannot afford to have the plight of these people made even worse by making their futures the subject of bitter electoral disputation in the year ahead. Enough is enough. Let's find them a home.'
It's no surprise that after more than five years living precariously and on hold, refugees and asylum seekers who are still Australia's responsibility develop physical and psychiatric conditions that need to be treated here. Just as we have depoliticised safe turnbacks, we must now depoliticise appropriate medical treatment by competent decision makers. Listening to Messrs Morrison, Dutton and Pyne this past week, one could be forgiven for thinking it was no longer possible to stop the boats while treating everyone decently and humanely as Mr Abbott would say. To form government in Australia today, you need to be able to stop the boats safely, lawfully, and effectively, while treating everyone, especially the sick, humanely and decently. If you can't do that, you don't deserve to be in government.
In Laudato Si, Pope Francis said:
'If we approach nature and the environment without openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously.'
The young people amongst us are so much more passionate than my generation and our political leaders have been in standing up for the environment. Just last month a royal commission into the Murray Darling Basin reported that we are killing Australia's main river system, and this is being done on our watch NOW, while Australian politicians and senior public servants are flouting the law, giving preference to politics and sectional interests over science and the common good.
Just consider these three brief statements from the Murray Darling Basin Royal Commission Report:
'The Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) and the Commonwealth Government of the day can be seen not to have followed the plain requirements of the Water Act.'
'... they appear to have set out to gauge the limit of sectional or political tolerance for a recovery amount. The story of this cynical disregard for the clear statutory framework for decision-making on this crucial measure is unedifying, to the lasting discredit of all those who manipulated the processes to this end.'
'Those who think it smart to say so, should reflect on the damage they threaten to a great national environmental asset, the relation of science to policy, and the rule of law.'
And here we are gathered today while the greatest river system in Australia is dying before our eyes. Let's commit ourselves to being environmentally responsible stewards of our national heritage.
Australians worried that our society is becoming more unfair, with inequality on the increase, and we feel powerless to do much about it
Ken Henry's 2009 report to the Treasurer on Australia's future tax system presented 'a vision of a future tax and transfer system that would position Australia to deal with the demographic, social, economic and environmental challenges of the 21st century and would enhance community wellbeing'.
The Henry review, the most comprehensive analysis of Australia's tax and transfer system in recent times, looked at 'the relationships of the tax system with the transfer payments system and other social support payments, rules and concessions, with a view to improving incentives to work, reducing complexity and maintaining cohesion'.
Henry proposed three types of income support payment: pensions, participation payments and student assistance.
Pensions would be set at an appropriate level for people not expected to work — that level being what would be needed for an adequate standard of living. Participation payments would be less than the pension rate, because government has a legitimate policy objective of encouraging participation in the workplace using both the carrot and the stick.
Student assistance would be less again because students could be expected to engage in some part-time work without too much interference with their studies; and where need be, they could take out a low-interest loan in the expectation that their studies would ultimately contribute to the capacity to earn a higher income.
It is legitimate to provide positive and negative incentives for people to access the labour market, including social security payments lower than those payable to persons who have no prospect of accessing the labour market whether because of age or disability. But it is just plain wrong for governments to keep payments such as Newstart and the Youth Allowance at abysmally low levels, in the name of 'budget repair', when there are insufficient jobs available and no realistic prospect of employment, training or education.
The threefold classification of payments is fine in theory. But since the Henry review, no government — Labor or Liberal — has addressed how to design a process that is fair and transparent for determining the participation payments and deciding how best to offset what is needed for an adequate standard of living with a discount to provide sufficient incentive for participation in the workforce.
The problem is highlighted with the unacceptably low Newstart payment, which is set at the whim of the government of the day with no transparent process and no criteria for determining a fair and workable payment.
Back in 2012, when the Senate conducted an inquiry into the level of payments, the Business Council of Australia acknowledged Newstart 'no longer meets a reasonable community standard of adequacy and may now be so low as to represent a barrier to employment'. Now it's much worse. In the next session of our conference, you will be hearing from the elder statesmen of both the Coalition and the Labor Party, Kevin Andrews and Jenny Macklin, that Newstart is abysmally low and in need of increase. But on the verge of an election, neither major party is in a position to tell us what an increased Newstart allowance might be or how it might even be set.
Members of Australian society increasingly wondering about the place of religious faith and spirituality when dealing with trauma, mortality, loss of meaning, and the need for forgiveness
I constantly meet well educated, compassionate human rights advocates who view religion as a hangover from a long past era. While conceding that human rights are universal and inalienable, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, they basically think that freedom of religion is more trouble than it is worth. They find religious belief and practice marked by notions of tradition, authority, ritual and permanent commitment mystifying and counter-productive. They prize individualism, freedom, personal autonomy and non-discrimination. They not only welcome increasing manifestations of the secular with a strict separation of church and state. They also relish increased secularisation of society with less reliance and respect being shown to the religious inclination which is quarantined to the sole preserve of the individual's private life — not to be shared in polite company and not to be aired on the public airwaves. Or if aired ever so briefly, to be silently tolerated or publicly declaimed.
Those of us who work in social services often encounter people who are suffering trauma. We need to have an eye to their well-being and our own. Those who work closely with people suffering great trauma run the risk themselves of vicarious trauma. Those who administer social services have a responsibility to care for their staff who are at the forefront assisting trauma sufferers. The trauma may result from unendurable pain or seemingly unforgivable things done to the victim. How to endure the unendurable? How to forgive the unforgivable? Could religion help? Or is it an opiate for the masses which simply disguises the reality that needs to be addressed?
All human beings have to face ultimately their mortality, their limitations, their suffering and their existential angst. These things can be faced against a horizon of ultimate meaning and eternal connectedness. My mother now in her 90s is suffering dementia. She is in care in Sydney. Recently I took her in her wheelchair for a walk in the nearby park by the harbour. It was a glorious day. The jacarandas were in full bloom. The water was glistening. We stopped at the café for a coffee. I asked Mum, 'How's the coffee?' She doesn't have many words nowadays. She answered, 'Mediocre'. Then her face lit up, and she lifted her arms and looked around and said, 'But this!' She obviously felt blessed to be out in the sunshine, by the water, and with one of her own. Even in a time of ageing and diminishment, life can be a celebration of that horizon, of that perspective. There is so much about our lives which is just so ordinary and mediocre, but we can be buoyed up by that horizon of inclusive love, enduring hope, and sustaining faith.
It's in maintaining that horizon that the spiritual and religious dimension of life might help. Those of us who find fruit in the spiritual or religious when confronting trauma always need to have the humility to accept that others without religion or spirituality may find a way to forgive the unforgivable or to endure the unendurable. But those who see life as relational and graced are privileged to have at their disposal additional practices, community and narrative which allow the traumatised subject to embrace new possibilities as well as unchangeable realities including diminishment, suffering and death.
In his essay 'Religion as a Cultural System', the great social anthropologist Clifford Geertz said:
'As a religious problem, the problem of suffering is, paradoxically, not how to avoid suffering but how to suffer, how to make of physical pain, personal loss, worldly defeat, or the helpless contemplation of others' agony something bearable, supportable — something, as we say, sufferable.
'For those able to embrace them, and for so long as they are able to embrace them, religious symbols provide a cosmic guarantee not only for their ability to comprehend the world, but also, comprehending it, to give a precision to their feeling, a definition to their emotions which enables them, morosely or joyfully, grimly or cavalierly, to endure it.'
I think at times we can be too apologetic about the spiritual and religious riches we carry for our very secularist society. Our religion and spirituality are gifts for the world. Like the light to be put on the lampstand and not to be hidden under the bushel.
Members of Australian society providing for the welfare needs of those doing it tough who are worried that our politics leads to further disadvantage for those without a voice
We need to have a care and an eye for those who fall through the cracks or who can't get through the door of the NDIS; those whose basic income is not addressed until budget repair is concluded; those who have to endure experiments and trials like the cashless debit card which may provide pathway from welfare to work or else a dead end of welfare dependency and loss of self-determination. You will hear from Kevin Andrews, Jenny Macklin and Rachel Siewart about the NDIS.
I thought you might be interested in what I said about the NDIS when it was first proposed five years ago. Back then, Bruce Bonyhady one of the advocates of the scheme said, 'The NDIS is for all Australians because none of us know when we may acquire a disability ourselves, or have a family member with disability.'
This is the first real challenge in times of political change and in times of financial constraint. The average punter who knows little about these issues wonders how the scheme can be marketed as being for all Australians while at the same time providing direct benefits and coverage only to 12 per cent of those suffering disability. Australians will maintain faith in the NDIS only if they are convinced that the other 88 per cent are not being left behind, and if they are assured that the cut-offs for eligibility are coherent, comprehensible, fair and transparent.
The second big challenge for those of you administering the scheme is, as Bruce says, 'to take a firm and fair stand in order to ensure that the boundaries of eligibility and reasonable and necessary benefits which are contained in the regulations are maintained and not widened in ways which would undermine the Scheme's sustainability.' The scheme will need to be firm but fair.
The third challenge is to ensure that governments and providers 'do not shift costs which should be part of mainstream services onto the NDIS'. Cash strapped States are sure to invoke the mantra that some housing, transport and other services should be provided on a user pays basis for those eligible for an NDIS package.
Fourth, the National Disability Insurance Agency 'will need to take an active interest in ensuring that markets are competitive, so that the viability of the scheme is not undermined by price inflation'. We live in a world of changing paradigms. In the past, we looked to churches, then to charities, then to the welfare arm of the state. Nowadays we are more likely to look to the market
This is how I concluded my talk at the flash seminar at the Sydney Hilton convened by John Dellabosca and Bruce Bonyhady in February 2014: 'The market of the NDIS will ensure the protection and progressive realization of the human rights of persons with disabilities and their carers if and only if there is a safety net for those exploited by incompetent providers and for those who make ill-informed decisions for their long-term care. We need to ensure that the reach of the NDIS extends to the poor, less educated, less connected person living in remote Australia as well as to the middle class, educated, well connected city dweller. We need to ensure that the person with disabilities who falls just on the 'wrong' side of the line for coverage understands why she does not qualify and how she will be adequately cared for. We need to educate the public and bring them with us explaining how differential treatment for 12 per cent of those with disabilities works not only to enhance their choices and human rights but also contributes to the common good and the protection of human rights of those falling outside the scheme's immediate application. A market of choice for some can contribute to the enjoyment of human rights by all, but that will be a regulated market with a robust safety net.'
Five years on, I don't think I'd change a word of it. Both sides of politics might agree that the NDIS is a great idea. But both sides continue to use the analogy of a new plane taking off for flight while it is still being designed. I am delighted that the CSSA board has approved our Director of Research Dr Brenton Prosser Director of Research initiating a scoping exercise on supporting informed choice and consumer education in the delivery of human services, identifying both barriers and potential solutions.
Members of Catholic organisations troubled by the findings of the royal commission which found our church to be insufficiently transparent, accountable and humble
During the royal commission, our bishops and the leaders of the religious institutes appointed a competent Truth Justice and Healing Council to monitor and co-ordinate the Church's response to the royal commission. That council included competent laity from differing professional backgrounds, and individuals with quite diverse perspectives. They provided detailed reports to the bishops which have now been published. Those reports include some dissenting opinions. For the good of the Church, it is essential that we consider those reports so that we can assure ourselves that we have done all we can to make our Church fit for purpose in contemporary Australia.
Listen particularly to the voices of the women who sat on the Truth Justice and Healing Council. Let me share with you a sample of their remarks:
Elizabeth Proust, Deputy Chair:
'It is clear from the Royal Commission's findings that the dysfunctional governance of the Church aggravated the harm done by sexual abuse. The need for reform in this area is long overdue and the delay and obfuscation in responding to the Royal Commission on this topic, and on many others, will only worsen the alienation felt by the people of the Church, and continue to make the Church an irrelevance in our society.'
Our very own Professor Maria Harries:
'I still need to be convinced that the structures of the church implicated in their permitting of such abuse and the protection of perpetrators will really reform itself. Change is obligatory and it is differentially confronting and frightening for various elements of our church. The recognition of the problems we face as a church is a good start to finding solutions.'
Sr Maree Marsh:
'The church cannot undo all of the harm done in the past, but it has the responsibility to do all that is within its power to create an environment in which people will treat other people with respect, dignity and justice. The healing that is necessary involves a long process and will take courage, compassion, openness and patience. Above all it will take faith — faith in one another and faith that God is with us in this journey.'
Professor Rosemary Sheehan:
'Whilst the Commission has made recommendations to improve the safety of children in institutions, the reality is that children are at much greater risk of child sexual abuse in the intrafamilial sphere than in community groups. Whilst drawing up standards for the latter, is very significant, the former is ignored. And this has changed the conversation in the community about what constitutes child sexual abuse, to the cost of victims, in today's society. It has become more difficult to get attention to the high-risk children, in problematic family structures, to children in high risk communities, or to the increase in sibling abuse. These risks are significant, but are overlooked. This lack of contemporaneous concern renders the Commission concerns for children at risk of child sexual abuse flawed.'
Dr Marian Sullivan:
'The Royal Commission has challenged many parts of Australian society and its institutions. The Catholic Church has been scrutinised extensively and critiqued harshly. As a member of the Council I have moved from a disposition of disappointment with the Church to one of satisfaction that the Church represented by the Council has unflinchingly faced the shame of its past behaviour and any inadequacies of redress. Although not widely acknowledged, the cooperation that the Council gave to the Royal Commission has been exemplary and is proof of our resolve.'
Members of Catholic organisations who wonder if the name 'Catholic' is now a label for an outdated and failing morality, failing to keep up with society's new moral agendas — whether it be the rainbow tick or environmental issues
I served on the Ruddock Committee set up after the same sex marriage plebiscite. We provided our expert panel report to the Turnbull government in May 2018. The Ruddock committee conceded that in theory there is a major lacuna in the array of anti-discrimination legislation. If you legislate to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, age, race, or disability, why not on the basis of religion? Our report was not released until December 2018 by the Morrison government. We recommended both a tweaked tightening of the exemptions for religious bodies in the Sex Discrimination Act and the introduction of a Religious Discrimination Act. The delay in release of the report and the shambolic handling of its publication highlighted the political problem with our recommendations. The Turnbull wing of the Liberal Party favoured the tweaked tightening of the Sexual Discrimination Act provisions but not the introduction of a Religious Discrimination Act. The Morrison wing of the Liberal Party were troubled by the former but attracted to the latter.
The Ruddock committee did not want religious schools discriminating adversely against kids. But at the same time, we wanted religious schools to be able to teach their doctrine reasonably and respectfully. And we wanted religious schools within reason to be able to constitute their own faith environment just as a political party creates its own political environment — by employing staff and attracting volunteers who get the message and want to proclaim it and enact it. Just as the Greens ought not be required to employ a coal merchant, a Christian school ought not be required to employ an anti-Christian activist. We did not think you should be able to sack a teacher just because they entered into a same sex marriage.
If religious freedom is to be better protected in future, it is necessary that religious citizens develop a more coherent position on the utility of comprehensive national human rights legislation being enacted and implemented consistent with the complexities in federal-state relations. It is also necessary that religious citizens and their leaders show more regard for the right to equality and equal treatment of others, especially those who have suffered adverse discrimination from religious people and organisations in the past. And it's necessary that the human rights academy accord universality and indivisibility to all human rights including the fundamental right to freedom of religion. Some rights are trumpeted by the mainstream media and the academy; others are not. Freedom of religion might not be fashionable, but that's all the more reason for it to be protected by legislation with judicial teeth. It's time to advocate and demonstrate that all rights including freedom of religion and the right to equality of treatment are universal and inalienable, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated.
In my travels around Australia delivering sessions to the staff of our member organisations of Catholic Social Services Australia, I am often asked about initiatives such as the 'WearItPurple' Day which occurs on 31 August. This initiative was commenced by young 'rainbow' people back in 2010. In the past there has been some uneasiness about such initiatives in church circles. But provided we keep it personal and relational, rather than trenchant and political, I cannot see a problem. The mission of the movement is to 'foster supportive, safe and accepting environments for rainbow young people'. Their vision is 'for rainbow young people not to be disadvantaged by their environments, and for their wellbeing to be equal with their peers'. By wearing purple, supporters are expected to show a commitment 'to respect diversity and social equality'. I don't think everyone should be expected to wear purple on the day. I don't think there should be any pressure to do so. But I do think we should show respect and give encouragement to those who do. Let's remember that historic meeting in May last year between Pope Francis and Juan Carlos, a young gay man from Chile. According to Juan, Pope Francis told him, 'Look Juan Carlos, the pope loves you this way. God made you like this and he loves you.' God loves each of us as we have been created. God expects nothing less of each of us in our relations with each other, especially in church workplaces.
Citizens, church members, and service providers who want to break down the silos in our church and society so that we might more integrally provide services, presence, and community for those most on the margins.
We are meeting under the auspices of St Agnes' Parish. In my two years travelling Australia as CEO of CSSA, I have been constantly surprised by the 'silo mentality' in our Church. In New Testament times, people were saying, 'I'm for Paul', 'I'm for Apollos', 'I'm for Cephas.' Nowadays people tend to say they are with the parish, or with health, or education, or welfare or Vinnies. Here at St Agnes', there is a sense that everyone is working for and with, the parish community. Let's see what we can do to break down the silo mentality.
I have no doubt that Mary MacKillop would have been a great fan of Pope Francis, and not just because he was a Jesuit like her brother Donald. She would have drawn inspiration from the same deep wells from which Pope Francis draws water and life. In his encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis says:
'I believe that Saint Francis (of Assisi) is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically ... He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.'
At the UN in September 2015, Pope Francis with serene attentiveness showed that he knew much more than his prayers when he intimated to the world leaders that the newly minted sustainable development goals were likely to miss the mark. He demonstrated his canniness and his avoidance of glib solutions to big economic and social questions. He told the world leaders:
'The number and complexity of the problems require that we possess technical instruments of verification. But this involves two risks. We can rest content with the bureaucratic exercise of drawing up long lists of good proposals — goals, objectives and statistics — or we can think that a single theoretical and aprioristic solution will provide an answer to all the challenges. It must never be forgotten that political and economic activity is only effective when it is understood as a prudential activity, guided by a perennial concept of justice and constantly conscious of the fact that, above and beyond our plans and programmes, we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights.
'To enable these real men and women to escape from extreme poverty, we must allow them to be dignified agents of their own destiny. Integral human development and the full exercise of human dignity cannot be imposed. They must be built up and allowed to unfold for each individual, for every family, in communion with others, and in a right relationship with all those areas in which human social life develops.'
This is the wisdom of someone who has an eye for the big picture, breaking down the silo mentality and allowing each person whatever their circumstances or service need to be a dignified agent of their own destiny. We are blessed to have a pope who speaks to all the world about the prudence, justice and empathy required so that more people on our planet might enjoy integral human development. He invites us to live the ecological vocation of justice — in the footsteps of Francis of Assisi, and being prepared to engage with all comers anxious about the future of the planet and the plight of the poor. We can do this better by breaking down the silos and binding together our 'concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace'. Let's do more to harness the collective capability of our Church to support those on the margins of our society.