Bishop Geoffrey Robinson the author of Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus spoke to a large crowd at Emmanuel College on the University of Toronto Campus on Sunday June 1. He spoke at Emmanuel because word went from the Chancery that his visit “would be an embarrassment.” Such is the state of the poor Church today that thinking seems to be out of fashion and bishops are mere ditto machines for what emanates from Rome.
Fellow Australian bishop Pat Powers said about him:
“The lot of a prophet is rarely a comfortable one. Geoffrey Robinson with his great knowledge and love of the Scriptures would understand that better than most. Yet he chose such a path when he wrote Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus. In many ways, he had no other option but to write such a book.
But he saw the need to go deeper. It is imperative to look not just at the causes of individual instances of abuse, but to try to understand the systemic weaknesses and failures which underlie such a betrayal of trust and power. “
Robinson from 1994-2003 was a member and for the last six years chairman of the committee to investigate sexual abuse so the Australian Church could coordinate a response. he spoke and listened to hundreds of victims and offenders. “It dominated my life and it changed me in so many ways and even if I wanted to i could not go back to the person I was.”
Robinson’s conclusion: “If we are ever to look to the future with a clear conscience there must first be profound change in the Church.This will lead us to look at all aspects of power and sex in the Church. It’s at least as much about power as about sex.”
“You are aware that many in Australia, America and Canada are not happy with the book I have written. We start from different points. they start from the teachings of the Church. They are set in concrete. You may not question them-not even in trying to respond to abuse. I start from the opposite end Here is this horrendous fact. let’s find out what caused it and let’s follow the argument wherever it leads. If it leads to ask questions about solemn teachings let’s ask them.”
Very brave and very necessary but not too much in vogue in the corridors of power in the Catholic Church .
He spoke about papal authority and creeping infallibility on almost every issue. The Vatican is spending so much energy and time on sexual issues that the peoples of the church (and even the clergy) come to believe that these are infallible teachings. Humanae Vitae is a classic example Therefore one is not allowed to question. This has led to weakening authority because people say (for instance) ‘Well, I think the Pope is wrong on birth control, so what else is the Church wrong about? or we might think that if we now accept women priests, does that mean that we have 2000 years of wrong teachings?Robinson asked, “Is church teaching on homosexual acts infallible? No, but it would be defended as strongly as if it were”. Celibacy for example is a law—it could be changed tomorrow but it could be implied that 1000 years of papal teaching is wrong.
Geoffrey Robinson maintained that there can be change in the Church. Both communism and apartheid ultimately fell. He recognized the need for confrontation but it was not enough–and here he was challenged from the floor in the question period by people who had worked for many years on reform and received a stony silence from the hierarchy. These maintained that it was only the threat of lawsuits, dramatic public disclosures and confrontations that did force the hand of the hierarchy.
The question period went on for several minutes and could have gone on for many more. They were many and varied. Geoffrey Robinson candidly answer as many as possible. He did insist that the sexual abuse issue has the energy to create change and he implored those in the room to hang in an dialogue with the hierarchy. He was deeply chagrined that in the USA 30 million had already left the church and now were not part of the chorus for change that is so necessary.
A prolonged standing ovation ensued as Bishop Geoff Robinson walked to the back to autograph his book.