Geoffrey Robinson, 70, the retired auxiliary for Sydney, a former lecturer in canon law is one of the most intelligent and capable of the Australian bishops. Bishop Robinson has just published a devastating critique of the Catholic Church in Australia. It is called Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: reclaiming the spirit of Jesus. A major Australian newspaper, The Age, has, with some reason, compared Bishop Robinson to Martin Luther.
For openers, the bishop charges that Pope John Paul 11 and the Roman curia failed to give leadership in the priest sex abuse crisis. Their whole strategy was not to support the victims but to protect the institutional church and its male celibate power structure. Bishop Robinson has had much hands on experience dealing with priest sex offenders and he is convinced that there is a strong case to be made that mandatory celibacy triggered the abuse crisis, though it is not the only cause.
But Bishop Robinson believes the deepest source of the sex abuse crisis are embedded in the power structures of the Church. He calls for a major corporate restructure, including a constitutional papacy: “Papal power has gone too far and there are quite inadequate limits on its exercises.” For all practical purposes, the College of Bishops. against the spirit of Vatican 11, has been marginalized. The Bishops, far from being a co-holder of supreme power, are seldom consulted.
Bishop Robinson says that “many bishops are uneasy” about the Church’s teachings on marriage and divorce. Furthermore, he says the arguments put forward in 1870 in support of the doctrine of papal infallibility were “flimsy”. There is no evidence of an explicit order by Jesus that there must be successors to Peter and the 12 apostles.
Bishop Robinson’s new book reflects much that is going on in the Australian church and indeed I might say in Canada and the United States too. Calls for the ordination of married men and women priests are becoming more and more urgent in Australia, and they are coming from ordinary Catholics who want priests, more articulate sermons and less of the second-rate shambles they fear is probably in store for them.
Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church has unleashed a powerful debate in Australia and beyond about the future of the Church. It also begs the question why so few bishops are prepared to put their heads above the Roman parapet and share their own concerns about the Church. The short answer is that their career path would take a dive.
The prestigious and influential Catholic journal, The Tablet (London) concludes their leader on Bishop Robinson’s book this way: “Bishop Robinson will have made a major contribution to the Church if his book reopens the debate about the kind of institution it needs to be in the twenty-first century – and not a moment too soon.” (Italics mine).
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