Australian Bishop Victim of Sexual Abuse Speaks Out on US Church Crisis

Bishop Vincent Long is the Bishop of Parramatta, a diocese to the northwest of Sydney. A former Assistant General of the Order of Conventual Friars Minor, he is Australia’s first Asian-born bishop and the first Vietnamese-born bishop to lead a diocese outside Vietnam.

In 2017, Bishop Long testified before the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. In his testimonyhe revealed, “I was also a victim of clergy sex abuse when I came to Australia, even though I was an adult, so it had a powerful impact on me and how I want to, you know, walk in the shoes of other victims and really strive for justice and dignity for them.”

This is the third in a series of interviews that Jim McDermott, SJ, is conducting on the sexual abuse crisis. This interview was conducted by email.

Monsignor Long, wWhat are your reactions to the events of the past three weeks in the United States and beyond? What do you see happening in the vshurch right now?

The events of recent weeks, including the sensational accusations against Pope Francis himself by the former nuncio to the United States, have caused great unrest in the Church. The sexual abuse crisis is flooding the entire church like a tsunami and it has the potential to cause long term damage, chaos and even schism. It is the greatest crisis since the Reformation and it exposes the ideological conflict that runs deep through the universal church.

The anti-Pope Francis forces…have accelerated their frontal attacks against him in a coordinated and virulent manner. The gloves are clearly off and they seized this moment of turmoil as an opportunity to undermine his papacy and derail his reform agenda. What is also interesting is the number of bishops who have chosen to sympathize with these forces and have therefore shown their not-so-subtle disapproval of the way the pope leads the Church.

“I was also sexually abused by clergy when I arrived in Australia.”

Obviously, Captain Francis will have to weather both storm and mutiny on board. I just hope and pray that he stays the course because nothing short of deep and comprehensive reform will restore faith in the church. It is time for the church, especially its leaders, to listen with great humility and embark on a journey of radical conversion. I firmly believe that we must seize this period of crisis as a catalyst for change and not as a temporary aberration. We must have the courage to do whatever is necessary to create a church worthy of Christ and His gospel.

We shouldn’t be afraid this time. For it can be a great opportunity and a huge blessing in disguise.

The vshurch in Australia seems to be in a somewhat similar position to that of the United States at the moment, with the Royal Commission and Pennsylvania grand Iury at once begging the question of next steps. What do you think are the next big steps the episcopate needs to take?

It is said that culture eats strategy for breakfast. Any attempt to rid the church of clergy sexual abuse of children will have to address its root causes. I believe the clerical sexual abuse crisis is a symptom of a dysfunctional, corrosive, and destructive culture in the church. Pope Francis often denounces clericalism, which is endemic to many aspects and levels of the institutional Church such as the Roman Curia, diocesan structures, seminaries, etc. Ultimately, these are not individual manifestations of clericalism. It is a question of clericalism inherent in the very culture of the Church, which must be looked at very honestly.

If we are to make the church a safe and healthy environment for children and vulnerable adults, we must not only hold perpetrators and facilitators to account, but also explore the cultural and structural reforms needed to move the church forward.

Among these, the exercise of power is essential. Abuse of a sexual nature is often a manifestation of abuse of power. An effective response to the crisis must therefore include an examination of the exercise of power in the Church, not only among the clergy but also in the structure of the Church itself. A healthy approach and exercise of power is grounded in an understanding of power as relational and meant for service, rather than as domination, right and privilege.

Any attempt to rid the church of clergy sexual abuse of children will have to address its root causes.

These are the main steps that I believe church leaders must take: enabling survivors to achieve truth, justice, and healing; create a safer and healthier church environment for children and vulnerable adults; and to help the faithful, especially women, to participate fully in the life of the Church, in governance structures and in decision-making processes.

In all these stages, it is necessary to have a body endowed with expertise, experience and independence in order to investigate, examine, recommend standards, governance and management structures of the dioceses, parishes and institutions, including with regard to issues of transparency, accountability, consultation and participation of lay men and women.

This IIt is very difficult for people to understand how the culture of the church continues to allow obfuscation, concealment and sometimes refusal to take responsibility for serious errors. How do you see these questions? Why even now, and even among leaders who have done so much otherwise, do they persist? What do you think it will take to change the culture of the church?

The culture of clerical hegemony has been firmly entrenched in the Catholic Church since it began to take center stage in the Roman Empire. It is a by-product of the church model, which sees itself as self-sufficient, superior and separate from the outside world. Its security, reputation and internal relations are the focus of attention. The church in this model becomes the church of the ordained at the expense of the baptized. As a result, the ordered becomes an exalted and elitist club that protects the interests and privileges its members. This explains the obfuscation and concealment so endemic to this club mentality. It is a far cry from the model of the Humble Servant at the Last Supper and is a powerful ingredient and an ideal condition for the disease of clericalism to fester.

In my opinion, we really must, once and for all, abandon this model of the clerical church. It served us well past its expiration date. The Church as understood and articulated by the Second Vatican Council sees itself as a pilgrim People of God, incarnate in the world. It is a new paradigm, based on reciprocity and not exclusion, love and not fear, service and not clericalism, engagement with the world and not flight or hostility against it, embodied grace and not dualism. The time has come for us to unambiguously and decisively embrace and implement the vision of the pilgrim Church entrusted to us by the Second Vatican Council. The time has come for the Church to truly be the Church of the baptized and, together with the ordained, all the People of God can create a new culture of humility, responsibility and service.

Martha J. Finley