Monday, May 05, 2008

Rebuilding by "Confronting"

At its release last August in its author's native Australia, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson's Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus was described as akin to "Krakatoa."

Once a quiet, unassuming Sydney auxiliary, Robinson's expertise in the canons thrust him into leading the Aussie bishops' response to the outbreak of abuse scandals Down Under. The book is the result of Robinson's immersion in the crisis, an experience that led him to seek early retirement and got him reported to the Holy See for comments on the crisis' handling that, a decade later, ended up finding echoes in Pope Benedict's message on his American swing last month.

The prelate's mandate to handle the issue was, he said, the first time he confronted his own history as a victim of childhood abuse (an occurrence that, he emphasizes, unconnected to the church). Along the way, the combination of factors saw Robinson realize that his "problems with the church’s response to the revelations of sexual abuse ran deep and reached up to the highest levels of the church, for I was one of many people crying out for strong and compassionate leadership on this matter and trying to do my best without the support of that leadership." The church's top ranks had, in his mind, shown a "notable and extraordinary absence of guidance or direction" in its mishandling of the scandals.

Suffice it to say, recent events have seen the tide begin to turn and the bishop's harshest critique -- that of papal silence -- tackled. But with no small level of anticipation for Vatican action to back up B16's strong words on the crisis over the course of his US trip and the book's arrival on Stateside shelves after its first Australian printing sold-out within hours, Robinson's arriving on these shores next week for a monthlong speaking tour.

On 16 May, the bishop makes his first Stateside appearance at a Philadelphia symposium on "Rebuilding the Church." From there, the ten-stop calendar includes dates in LA, Boston, Cleveland, Seattle, and two in the New York area.

Named a Sydneyside auxiliary by John Paul II in 1984, Robinson's home-diocese has termed his efforts "an enormous contribution world-wide towards raising the consciousness of church leaders to their responsibilities" to heal the church, "and to developing appropriate and compassionate pastoral responses to those who have been hurt." In 2004, the bishop petitioned for early retirement from his administrative responsibilities. While ill health was formally cited as the reason for his departure, Robinson, 70 in August, later admitted on-record that his experience from the scandals birthed enough "reservations" on church teaching and practice that "I felt that I was not really being of total integrity if I was still standing up, speaking in the name of the church." Today, despite the frenzy that surrounded his charged tome, he maintains a low-key profile at home, serving as a curate in a local parish.

In an interview at the book's debut, the bishop said that he did "not believe we received good leadership from the one person within the Catholic Church who has the power to give that leadership." Now that said leadership has started to show itself, turning a key corner both on these shores and beyond, Robinson's response on American soil promises to be an event all its own.