Keeping the Faith

Drowning the Evil of Child Sexual Abuse

Can I brag about my son? He’s a little legend.

Parrot.

Clown.

Contortionist.

Daredevil.

Invariably his audience is in giggles at his antics. Nineteen months is such a wonderful age. He has more energy than I know what to do with – if I could plug him in somewhere he’d more than solve Tassie’s electricity woes. But at the end of the day, when his battery is fizzling out and we lay him in his bed, I have the chance to look into those blue dinner-plate eyes. I see his chubby fingers curled around his favourite “blanky”, his cheeks flushed with sleepiness, his teeth neat like dominoes behind his ready smile.

“Aaah-men,” he says at the end of our goodnight prayer, followed by “Wuv-yoo”.
I can’t tell you what that little utterance means to me, and what feelings of love and joy and protectiveness well up when I am reminded of his vulnerability.

It’s for the same reason that I join many others in expressing relief at Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s announcement last week of a royal commission into child sexual abuse in Australia, focusing on institutions including the church. It was heartening to see so many Christian leaders welcoming the inquiry, opening their churches to scrutiny.

“Let’s throw open the books to a royal commission,” Anglican Bishop of Tasmania John Harrower said. He’s been calling for a royal commission on this topic for more than 10 years – in fact, on his first day in the top Tassie Anglican gig, he publicly apologised to victims of child sexual abuse by Anglican Church workers. This is his bugbear. I had the pleasure of chatting with Bishop Harrower at the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast in Hobart last week and he was visibly elated. He quoted John 14:6 where Jesus says, “I am the way the TRUTH and the life” (his emphasis). But he also wisely said that in seeking truth, we must also see love and healing administered. That was Jesus’ way.

Australian Christian Lobby director Jim Wallace joined in support, saying, “It is our shame as Christians that much abuse has been in the church… Let’s hope and pray that this process provides an opportunity to purge our society of the evil of child sex abuse once and for all.”

Cardinal George Pell, leader of the Catholic Church in Australia, did add his support for the inquiry, although it was overshadowed somewhat by his insistence that, “the Seal of Confession is inviolable”.

Enough sweeping under the carpet, enough averting eyes, enough cover-ups. But I don’t even need to persuade you on this – there is a united front calling for a stop to child sex abuse in the institutions we should be able to trust.

Don’t for a moment believe that child sex abuse is condoned within the church. Jesus, the founder of Christianity, was a fierce protector of children. During his short 33 years, he warned adults against causing children to stumble. In fact, his passion on the topic was vehement: “It would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea,” he said of offenders (Mark 9:42).

Jesus held such admiration for children. I would even go so far as to say he revered them. He told us adults to become more like children in our faith and that anyone who opens their heart to a child does so to him also – such was the worth Jesus heaped on little ones.

Let’s hope a royal commission into Australia’s sad history of child abuse, both in the church and in other places of trust, puts a millstone on the neck of such evil and leaves it firmly in the past.

For the sake of my children and yours.

As printed in The Examiner’s Keeping the Faith column on Monday November 19.

 

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