Today is the 50th Anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council. In today's editorial commentary, Brian Coyne pays tribute to the victims' advocacy group, Broken Rites, and their volunteers for the massive expenditure of time and energy they have put in over nearly 20 years providing advice and assistance to victims of clerical abuse. All of their work is unpaid and entirely voluntary. Is it somehow reflective of the spirit of service that Vatican II endeavoured to promote in the faithful? Somewhat ironically it could be seen as some kind of Christ-like call to walk with the most marginalised in society. They might not be thanked by the institution and its leadership, possibly not even by secular society, but can we ask if their work is more Christ-like than the behaviours of those it has been their unfortunate role to bring to public account?
A tribute and thanks to Broken Rites
Editorial Commentary by Brian Coyne
Last night I spent a long period studying the submission made by the advocacy group Broken Rites to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations. The submission can be read as a pdf document on the Victorian Parliament website at this LINK. There are many other submissions to be found on this page from other organisations including the Catholic Bishops of Victoria, and the Victoria Police, both of which have attracted comment in the media (for example in The Age newspaper HERE).
While we suggest that all readers of Catholica might set aside some time to study the submissions being made by Broken Rites, the Church, and others to this Parliamentary Inquiry, in this editorial commentary our principal objective is to draw attention to the largely thankless and unpaid role the volunteers of Broken Rites have undertaken as advocates for victims of clerical abuse over a period of nearly 20 years. Very often the victims of abuse are severely marginalised in society because of the abuse they have suffered as is revealed in so many stories of victims published in the media, in the submissions to this Inquiry, and also on websites like that of Broken Rites.
In their covering letter to the Parliamentary Inquiry, Broken Rites, provides the following succinct summary of their work:
Broken Rites is a voluntary organization and its primary roles are to provide advocacy and advisory services, on a no-cost basis, to persons who have or may have experienced physical, psychological and/or sexual abuse by either ordained clergy, professed, religious, church members or church employees. In a number of situations, our services have to extend towards family members of victims, to persons who are working within community-focused, government agencies and non-government organisations, and to persons who may be legally representing victims and/or their families. These activities are carried out across Australia.
For nearly twenty years this organisation has been approached, on average, by 2-3 new contacts every week. In a busy week we can be contacted by up to 10 persons. As a consequence, we have been able to assist hundreds of abuse victims and therefore the organisation feels qualified to make this submission.
The spirit of Vatican II...
I have been following the website of Broken Rites [LINK] for a long time now. I have long been in awe of the commitment that is involved in time, energy and skills that these people bring in service to some of the most marginalised in contemporary society. There are no material rewards to be gained from this sort of work other than the satisfaction of helping make our society a slightly more humane place. There will be no papal knighthoods and sainthoods handed out to any of these volunteers, nor paid airfares to Rome to be photographed with the Pope. One might doubt that even the secular state might honour any of them with significant honours for their commitment.
Is this though not the sort of endeavour we are called to from any intelligent reading of the life and example of Jesus Christ? The courage to stand up against authorities who have become too big for their boots, or sycophantic, and who have turned their vocations of "championing the interests of the poor and marginalised" on their heads?
In recent months there have been many events and media articles remembering the Second Vatican Council. There are many testimonies arguing that the Catholic Church has lost direction — caught up in some sort of internal fight between those who want to take Catholicism back to some vision of Middle Ages power and triumphalism, and those who want to take it back to the powerlessness and humble vision of the founders like Jesus and St Paul.
For a long, long time I never knew who the faces behind Broken Rites were. Even in looking for a photograph of Chris McIsaac, president of the organisation, for this commentary, a Google image search turned up nothing. (I eventually found one on the ABC's Lateline website by taking a screen shot of an interview she gave in 2008.) Jesus Christ urged at a number of points in his discourses to undertake our works in private — out of the public eye. The work of the people of Broken Rites, it seems to me, are an excellent example of taking that sort of advice to heart. Their work appears to take this advice almost to an extreme degree with very few appearances in the media. Their work is largely on display through the carefully researched documentation they publish via their website.
On this day, 11th October 2012 — the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council — we urge you, our readers to spend time in some reflection of what this enormous endeavour called Catholicism is all about. Is it to be found in triumphal displays of liturgical grandeur? Or is it more likely to be found in the self-effacing endeavours of those who seek to return some small amount of power and control to the lives of some of the most abused and marginalised of God's children?
LINKS (mentioned in the above commentary and to extra stories):
Brian Coyne, Editor and Publisher, 11 Oct 2012
What are your thoughts on this commentary?