|Foreword: Sexual Abuse in the Church and by Christian ‘sects’ such as Christian Assemblies International points to a highly disturbing and continuing trend for sexual abuse to be swept under the carpet and go unreported to police. In this powerful piece of writing, Graeme Ness, a former Uniting Church Minister, reflects on the poison that continues to fester in our communities while a culture of denial and deceit remains the characteristic response of Church and Spiritual leaders.|
In the New Testament of the Christian Bible, the following words attributed to Jesus, appear:
“If any of you puts a stumbling block before one of these little ones [children], it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.” [Matthew 18:6 NRSV]
“The first [commandment] is ‘the Lord our God, the Lord is one, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’” [Mark 12:29-31 NRSV]
Enquiries into past sexual and physical abuse of children in Australia, both within the states and federally, have emphasised the fact that abuses have occurred across a wide range of church and community organisations, and that those organisations have often kept them secret.
It is also clear that the Ostrich Approach [head in the sand] taken by these organisations has simply compounded the damage.
The leaders of the organisations, by failing to deal with the abuse issues, have magnified the damage to the victims and also damaged their organisations. The credibility of the leaders is opened to question, as is the credibility and trustworthiness of those who work within these organisations, whether they work in a paid or voluntary capacity.
Over 20 years ago a Roman Catholic priest who had many years of experience in the church, told me “If a child falls over in the playground of the school, I can no longer go and comfort the child, I have to go and get a teacher.”
Because past abuse by some priests, brothers and others had not been dealt with by the Catholic Church, but hidden, his freedom to work as a caring human being and a priest were damaged. His actions became suspect and questionable because of the behaviour of others. Like any wound with poison in it, if it is not treated it will fester, spread and become far more damaging.
Religious and other organisations have also used the loyalty of the victims and/or their families to the organisation and to their “good” name, to put pressure on them and ensure that no reports are made to police: this to limit the damages they need to pay out, assuring them that the organisation will deal with the perpetrator/s, but frequently failing to do so in any proper manner. They have also failed to live up to the standards which they proclaim from their pulpits and expect their members to uphold. As they do this, they deny the “Light” that they claim to bring to the world.
When the leaders have failed to deal with the issues, seeing themselves as beyond or above the law, they have not understood that they may be seen as accessories to the crimes that have been committed, and to the crimes that will be committed in the future by those they have failed to deal with and report to the police.
It is well beyond the time when the leaders must be required to live by the standards they proclaim.
By Graeme Ness, Retired Minister of the Uniting Church in Australia, Woolgoolga, NSW, Australia
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