By Rodney Macann
I’ve been asked to write something about the current scandals that are swirling around the Catholic Church and the covering up of historic sex abuse cases. In seeking how to respond to this sensitive and tragic issue I read through Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7. In Matthew 7 Jesus says, “Do not judge others and you will not be judged” (v1) and, “why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own” (v3).So here are a few thoughts.
1. All abuse is a misuse of power. Priests who have abused have tragically misused their power. There is a warning here for all of us involved in ministries that put us in positions of power. We are human and fallible and there is always a potential for us to abuse the power which has been given to us.
There are those who are rallying strongly to the defense of the Pope at this time but, as a sinful, fallible human being there will be times when he has misused his power and, like all of us, made bad judgement calls. Satan realises that one of his greatest victories can be to tempt us to abuse power. This, in essence, is what Jesus is tempted with at the start of his ministry, and He resists. In that, I believe, He displays His uniqueness.
2. The media are making much of the sins of the Catholic Church and that is their right. I would expect the same if there were found to be a number of cases of sexual abuse committed by Baptists in positions of power. However my experience of Catholics who I meet in a number of differing circumstances is quite different.
There are a number of Catholics who have been a blessing and encouragement to me. I have appreciated their spirituality, encouragement and friendship. Nothing that is written about people who I have no knowledge of can change that. This is my personal experience.
3. Although there has been a great deal of scrutiny of the Catholic Church at this time, it serves as a wake up call to the Church generally. Be very sure that you have good protocols in place when it comes to the care of children and young people in particular. If there is an accusation of sexual abuse, it must be taken seriously and if, on investigation, there appear to be grounds for an accusation there should be no hesitation about going to the police.
4. At a time like this we become very aware of the supposed power of the media. As a Christian leader I care very deeply about our reputation and my heart sinks a little when I see the media feeding frenzy around the Catholic church and, recently, Destiny, and the superficiality and the sensationalism of much of the reporting.
By the same token my heart lifts when there is very positive coverage of the church by the media. There has been plenty of that in recent times with very empathetic coverage of our Ranui Baptist church community, the very fair Nation programme which I participated in for TV3 (shown over Easter) and the wonderful feature on the church by Tapu Misa in the Easter Monday NZ Herald. (Tapu Misa is speaking at our Pastors Conferences in August – make sure that your pastor and staff team are there to hear her.)
However, when it comes to influence that can lead to redemptive transformation, the influence of the media is nothing compared with that of people experiencing the true flavour of Christ through His people. As I read through the Sermon on the Mount, for me one of the most deeply challenging passages is where Jesus talks about our saltiness.
You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavour? We have something very wonderful to share that does not simply give people snippets of information but is life-changing, redemptive and hope-giving in its power. Our saltiness will be shown in our care for the most vulnerable members of our communities and churches.
Finally, pray and care for those who have suffered terrible abuse. Pray also for our Catholic brothers and sisters and our friends who are part of Destiny.