News from the Diocese
Caring for those who have cared for us - Bishop's Annual Appeal 2017
My sisters and brothers in Christ
It is the responsibility of our Diocese to support and care for those sick and retired clergy who have dedicated their lives in service of the Church. These clergy live either on their own, in assisted living facilities or in nursing homes, and also require some level of assistance to do so. Your donation to this appeal will help to provide suitable accommodation, transport assistance and holistic health care to them.
Currently, there are nine clergy in retirement and the clergy age profile indicates that 11 more will retire over the next five years alone. The Diocese will need to urgently and significantly increase its resources to ensure that we can continue to care for our ageing clergy. Your donation will help ensure a dignified retirement for all of our diocesan clergy. I am grateful for your consideration of these needs and for your generous practical support.
Yours in Christ
Most Rev Peter W Ingham DD
Bishop of Wollongong
Francis Sullivan's Address at the Diocesan Assembly | Saturday 3 June 2017
Sometimes the facts do more than speak for themselves. They cut through the confected edifice of an institution more obsessed with its image than its ethos.
Such is the case with the Catholic Church and the scandal of the sexual abuse of children by priests and brothers.
The Royal Commission has revealed that over a period from 1950 till 2010,
4440 individuals alleged abuse by 1880 perpetrators in more than 1000 Catholic Church institutions.
Since it is well known that most people never come forward to tell of their childhood sexual abuse and that only 1 in 6 ever tell anyone, the extent of abuse in the Catholic Church is far higher than the reported figures.
This is a scandal and a hypocrisy unparalleled in the history of the Catholic Church in Australia.
It has cut to the very heart of the Church, demoralised its followers and threatens to erode its public voice for generations.
Already allegiance to the Church is waning, attendances are down to record lows and the public voice of the Church is increasingly shrill and irrelevant.
The days of the all powerful Catholic Church are well past. And with it the influence as a moral persuader has been damaged, if not irreparably for at least a generation to come.
The mere fact that I can stand here this evening and say these things and have the sense that they resonate with so many of you in this room speaks volumes for the present state of things.
Confronting the Church about its sex abuse history is like questioning your parentage.
It is an affront to image, respect and integrity. It calls for a candid and at times threatening conversation.
For decades in Australia the Church has been outright dishonest about the history of abuse of children.
Firstly there was silence and complicity to cover up the facts, the perpetrators and the way victims were managed.
The Royal Commission’s data report on the Catholic Church actually shows that in some years the percentage of alleged perpetrators within the ranks of some male religious orders numbered as high as 40 percent.
Amongst other things this means that these men were in positions of influence, maybe even on leadership teams, where decisions were taken about managing cases of abuse and the perpetrators themselves.
This only led to corruption of processes, concealment of facts, secrecy and a lack of accountability by the leaders.
The plain truth of the matter is that it has taken the courage of victims and their families to out the Church. Only when victims have gone public has the Church sprung into any obvious action.
Of course the knee jerked, tried and true reaction was to blame the victims and the secular press.
The allegations were vexatious and the media was on a campaign to weaken the influence of the Church.
There are still voices like that in parts of the Church and they have their media barrackers as well.
Next came the lawyers. True to their profession they ran interference to safeguard their clients. Aggressive litigation tactics, paltry cash settlements and suffocating confidentiality agreements were par for the course.
The might of the Church was used to silence the victims and keep them from the courts.
The less the police were involved the better.
Since those days there have been the brave and good souls within the Church who have placed on the public record the mismanagement and cover ups. They have pushed for victim focused protocols on complaints handling and compensation. They have pushed for public apologies from officials and for more accountability and transparency.
But it was all a bit half hearted. Still the Church leadership sought to present the scandal as being the result of the ‘bad apples’ in the bunch. There was never any unconditional recognition that the leaders themselves had been complicit and concealed the facts from the authorities and the public.
Fast forward to the Royal Commission.
The glare of public scrutiny has laid bare the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church.
Church leader after church leader has had to admit that there was cover up, the active moving of perpetrators from parish to parish, job to job and that decisions were taken in secrecy far removed from the police and official authorities.
In short, bishops and religious leaders had to admit that the image of the Church meant more to the leadership that the welfare of children.
You couldn’t get a more morally bereft and ethically corrupt circumstance for a religious organisation.
So, where to from here?
Now is a time to become a listening Church.
The easy way, even the more familiar way is to become divisive. We risk playing the ‘blame game’ with the past. We can become stuck over the anger we have with the way things were or with what may still be the case. We can point to a church and its culture that has over managed and controlled not only its operations but its people.
These were days when clericalism ran unchecked. Where power was abused and those in positions of influence and authority misused their privileged status.
We can all relate to the days when clerics were never questioned, where bishops and advisors were tolerated but never challenged and where the ‘pecking order’ between lay people and the clergy was clear and immutable.
However, there is another more healthy approach.
The sex abuse scandal actually is our pathway to save the Church from itself.
First and foremost the scandal is not about the Church. It is about the victims. Responding to victims properly should be our only goal, not restoring the credibility of the Church. If the credibility of the Church is our concern then once again the Church’s interest and image has become the priority. No, the way forward is to unconditionally be with and to stay alongside the victims. This is the Jesus option. It must be ours too.
In practical ways it requires a pastoral disposition of simplicity, sincerity and silence.
There is no need to over complicate the relationship with victims. They need to sense our sincerity of heart and notice that we are not trying to fill any awkwardness with words, platitudes or empty promises.
I think this is what a listening Church is about. One that is present and attentive, quiet and affirming. One that is open to the change that is knocking at its door. One that actually has its doors permanently open!
We need to accept that many victims not only were disbelieved by the Church, they also felt discrimination and rejection. The might of the Church turned victims into vandals. The powerful interests in the Church scandalised the victims and made out that their claims for justice would ruin the Church and as such had to be resisted on moral grounds alone.
A more corrupt scenario would be hard to find.
Sure there will be some commentators and interests who will persist in casting the Royal Commission as a political hachett job on the Church. In my mind they have lost the plot.
Any sensible strategic planning exercise does not quibble with perceptions but understands that ‘perceptions are reality’.
The Church has to face head on how it is perceived and why its credibility has been so damaged. A self inflicted wound no doubt that can only be cured with self imposed medicine.
The cultural factors that entrench power and privilege and limits participation in the exercising of authority are at the heart of the problem.
The Church in Australia is still structured like a medieval realm. Only men can occupy positions at the top and only men can make the most important decisions around personnel appointments and succession to rule.
Overly strict and restrictive applications of moral codes can condemn people rather than liberate them. This only builds resentment, rage and disengagement.
A rigid church /state engagement has become too brittle and far too uncompromising when a more reasonable stance is not only legitimate for the Church to adopt but is equally more prudent.
Sadly though at this time there are still those who choose the barricades rather than in the words of Pope Francis being a field hospital. That is in the thick of things, accepting the mess and uncertainty because the casualties are more important that than the war.
The Catholic Church in Australia very much needs to soul search. It needs to be open and inclusive. Most of all it needs to be relevant.
In our spiritual tradition we are counselled to ‘let go’, even to ‘let die’, our ego constructed identities. The true self is far more humble, receptive to change and engaged with the search for goodness and truth.
I think that this can become our framework to move along in the abuse scandal.
Firstly, it requires an acknowledgement that for our Church it cannot merely be ‘business as usual’. Neither can we allow the Church administration to ‘contain’ the impact of the public inquiries out of a fear that those who remain loyal to the Church will become demoralised or worse.
We have to humbly examine how we are being perceived by those damaged in their encounters with the Church.
That is, we need to be open to the way we are arrogant, self righteous and judgemental.
Also our openness goes to the dispositions and attitudes we bring to those who disagree with us, or have issue with us and that can seem irrational, unjustified even spiteful.
Secondly, we need to be a vulnerable Church. Let’s stop being in the ‘giving answers’ to life mode and become more a resource to do life. Let’s genuinely engage others on their terms, not ours. That means with no ideological agenda. No ‘capture mentality’ dressed up as evangelism or religious education. Rather, let’s try and articulate a contemporary spirituality that is based on the emerging consciousness of Christ in our times.
To take on such a disposition the Church leadership needs to stand shoulder to shoulder with lay people, gazing in the same direction seeking the same results.
There is no time to retreat into identity politics and conservative versus liberal camps. Neither is it helpful to pitch Church leaders against the rest.
The truth is, this is not just a leadership issue. It is our issue. Our leaders need to be responsive and open. We need to be discerning and open.
Our leaders need to let go of what is not working, we need to embrace change that can work.
Our leaders need to seek a Church that is relevant, we need to respond to the call of faith.
Our leaders need to step up and we need to stand with them shoulder to shoulder.
Most importantly, we need to be a listening Church. These are dangerous times for our Church.
Many have left already. Among those who stay there will be calls in some quarters to ‘just settle down and regroup’. Others will try and rally the troops to ‘ show that the Church is far more than the evils revealed at the Royal Commission’. Even others will want to circle the wagons and ‘wait for better days’.
None of this will work.
Any genuine healing for our Church requires open dialogue and recognition of the pain experienced at all levels within the faithful, both those present and those who have drifted or run away.
We need to have the courage to discuss what has for too often been kept off the table. We need to embrace pain and discomfort as the opportunity for healing and growth.
And having the courage to live with uncertainty, even silence, as new ways, directions emerge will be essential.
This is not a new call. The very fact that it is not a new call is telling in itself.
That said, our time to be imaginative and open to the promptings of the Spirit has well and truly arrived. Let us take up the challenge of Pope Francis and be a Church that is engaged, inclusive and messy.
A Church that listens before speaking. Understands before judging and seeks to be relevant rather than set apart.
3 June 2017
The Sacrifice of Jesus and the ANZACS | Bishop Peter's Easter Message 2017
Over the course of the next two weeks many Australians will be celebrating two solemn memorials: Good Friday and ANZAC Day. Don’t disconnect them, both are inextricably linked. In the Gospels, Jesus calls us his friends proclaiming, “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
For Christians, the fruit of the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is the forgiveness of sin resulting in peace of mind and heart lived in union with God. In those outstretched arms, the sheer extent of God’s love and mercy was borne out through Jesus Christ sharing in the suffering of an imperfect world.
Barely a week after Good Friday we will celebrate ANZAC Day. In war and hardship we are exposed to the best and worst of humanity. We encounter the horrific to be sure, but we remember and celebrate the selflessness and sacrifice of those who gave their lives for their country.
Inevitably, victory and joy only come after the hard work is done. The freedoms and life we enjoy are the fruits of the ANZAC spirit of sacrifice which lives on in the selflessness of Australians today in responses to floods, cyclones, drought, bushfires and the like.
Likewise, the fruit of Good Friday comes on Easter Sunday in the joy of the Resurrection and new life lived under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who encourages and empowers us to act like Jesus and treat each other in the way that we like to be treated ourselves (Luke 6:31).
May the Hope of the Risen Lord be our encouragement this Easter.
Yours in Christ
Most Rev Peter W Ingham DD
Bishop of Wollongong
12 April 2017
- Bishop Peter Ingham's Lenten Message 2017 - "Millstone or Milestone?"
- At Once: Lenten Concert Varroville - 25th Anniversary of the Dedication of the Church
Bishop Peter Ingham's Video Pastoral Message on the Royal Commission's Final Hearing on the Catholic Church
My Dear People
When I became a priest so many years ago, it was God’s love for me and, in turn, my love for people that inspired me to follow the call to a way of life that would seem counter-cultural in today’s world. I knew from my own experience the fulfilment and joy that a life of faith lived out in Christ’s Church could bring, and I wanted to share the gift I had discovered. To be here 52 years later, knowing the damage that some members of the Church which I now lead in Wollongong has caused to the lives of many innocent people, particularly children and their families, breaks my heart.
Priests, religious brothers and sisters, and other persons in positions of authority and trust within the Church, are mandated to bring hope to people. It is our task to bring light to darkness, peace where there is strife, and love where there is pain and hatred. Shamefully, some have used that power against the most vulnerable within our communities, and through abuse they have shattered the lives of many. It is a corruption of the Gospel the Church proclaims.
During the Royal Commission, victims and survivors have courageously come forward to share their stories, each case representing a personal account of an indefensible crime against their dignity. Statistics revealed this week have shown that 11.7% of the priests in our Diocese between 1952 and 2010 had claims of abuse made against them. Most devastating is that each data point represents a life, or many lives, that have been shattered. It’s not just a number – it’s a child, a young or vulnerable person.
In my time here, I have met with and listened to a number of victims and survivors and have personally heard their tragic stories. In recent days, I have also met with some very dedicated people representing our parishioners, our teachers, those who work in our welfare agencies, in social justice, in aged care and my fellow clergy. It was a meeting with great emotion, depth of feeling, hurt and dismay, as they told of their sense of betrayal and of having also been let down by the perpetrators, Church leaders, and the culture that has enabled this.
There is no doubt that these findings will rock the Church in Australia for generations to come. It is not just the sexual abuse, but a connected spiritual abuse that remains a poisonous consequence. It troubles me deeply, knowing that these crimes, these sins, have also potentially closed hearts and minds to being open to the fullness of life in God.
So, as the leader of the Catholic Church in Wollongong, I again say, how deeply sorry I am for the past failures that have left so many so damaged. The story of our Church will, and must, include this chapter. It must not be denied or hidden. For the dignity of those who had their trust severely broken, and for the sake of the future of those who will seek hope in Jesus, the Church must honestly acknowledge this failure and re-commit to doing everything in its power to see that such things never happen again.
I wish to assure you and the wider community that the Diocese of Wollongong is committed to the protection of children and vulnerable people and to addressing with sensitivity and determination any concern or allegation brought forward. We already meet all mandatory reporting obligations in relation to the Police, the Ombudsman and other child protection authorities. We also have mandatory child protection training as well as strict screening processes for those wishing to be involved in ministry. These are just some of the steps we have taken to ensure a safe culture which we all want and expect.
The measure of our commitment will ultimately rest on the effectiveness of our actions. There needs to be an ongoing process of cultural change and continual improvement as we seek to be truly open to the wisdom of the Royal Commission and so ensure greater protection for children and vulnerable people into the future. I am grateful to our parishes, schools and agencies for the important work they have been doing, and are still doing, to make our Church a safe place.
I, along with all who exercise leadership in our Diocese, continue to strongly urge any person with a complaint of abuse to come forward to the police through the Police Assistance Line on 131 444.
I am mindful that as the Royal Commission continues over the coming weeks, it may be a difficult and even distressing time for many. I encourage you to talk to each other or seek advice from a trusted counsellor. Should you feel that other pastoral support or counselling would be of assistance to you, please contact the Diocese on 1800 225 922 and the appropriate support can be arranged.
I believe it is in the midst of great turmoil and despair that God can work – where Jesus can transform and renew, where the Holy Spirit can bring hope and make all things new. And so it is my prayer that the Church will emerge more humble, more just, and more compassionate. It is also my prayer that we do not turn away from God who remains the light of the world, and that our Church remains the Body of Christ, a wounded body that is rightly humbled, but one where we all gather around the same table to draw on God’s limitless love and mercy.
We pray for the victims and survivors and their families and friends. We pray for the Commission; that it is a source of justice and peace to all those affected. We also pray for the many men and women, the vast majority in our Church communities, who have dedicated their lives to loving God and loving others, who have also been deeply betrayed.
Finally, I invite you to pray for me and all the leaders of the Church as we commit to doing everything in our power to see that such things never happen again.
Jesus, Light of the world, source of love and hope that can heal the deepest wounds, hear our prayers.
Most Rev Peter W Ingham DD
Bishop of Wollongong
10 February 2017
Bishop Peter Ingham's Statement on the Royal Commission's Final Hearing on the Catholic Church
My Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ
The final hearing involving the Catholic Church at the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse commences this coming Monday, 6 February 2017, and will run for three weeks.
During the hearing, the Royal Commission will examine the following questions in relation
to the Church:
- What are the current child protection policies, procedures and standards including responding to allegations of child sexual abuse?
- What factors may have contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse in the Church?
- What factors may have affected the institutional response of Church authorities? and
- How has the Church responded to the relevant case studies and other Royal Commission reports?
As part of the hearing, the Commission will also release data relating to the extent of claims of child sexual abuse in the Church in Australia. Francis Sullivan, Chief Executive Officer of the Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council, recently said, “The data will shock and confront the community and will once again make plain the extent of the suffering, damage and loss victims of abuse have endured. It is absolutely important that this information is made public. It is part of being transparent and ensuring the complete story is told.”
The hearing will explore the way forward, providing the opportunity for the Church to explain what it has been doing to change the old culture that allowed abuse to continue, and to put in place new policies, structures and protections to safeguard children and vulnerable adults.
I reiterate my heartfelt apology to victims of sexual abuse by Catholic Church personnel. I also apologise to their families and all who have shared their suffering. Victims, survivors and their families must receive respect, justice and compassion. For the victims and survivors, for the Catholic community and for many in the wider Australian community, this hearing may be a difficult and distressing time, as the Royal Commission reviews the evidence it has already received and seeks to understand why and how this tragedy has occurred. Should you feel that pastoral support or counselling would be of assistance to you, please contact the Diocese on 1800 225 922 and the appropriate support can be arranged.
I again strongly urge any person with a complaint of mistreatment or abuse to come forward to the appropriate authority. If the complaint is of a criminal nature, please notify the police through the Police Assistance Line on 131 444. If you need assistance with this, or if the matter is not of a criminal nature, please contact the Diocese on 1800 225 922.
Pope Francis has urged the whole Church to “find the courage needed to take all necessary measures and to protect in every way the lives of our children, so that such crimes may never be repeated”. I renew my invitation to all people of the Diocese to join me in prayer for the continuing work of the Royal Commission that our combined efforts may lead to the greater protection of children and vulnerable adults, and to justice and healing for victims of sexual abuse.
Yours in Christ
Most Rev Peter W Ingham DD
Bishop of Wollongong
3 February 2017
ALPHA... Join the Adventure
Alpha is a tool for evangelisation that is being used by thousands of Catholic parishes around the world to introduce people to the first proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ, otherwise known as the Kerygma: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you, and now he is living at your side to enlighten, strengthen and free you” (Evangelii Gaudium, 164).
Alpha is a series of interactive sessions that explore the basics of the Christian faith in a friendly, open and informal environment. It is a parish tool for evangelisation based on welcome and hospitality, sharing and prayer, all in the midst of a caring parish setting. Each session includes a meal, a talk, and small group discussion, where no question is too simple and no answer is pre-packaged.
Alpha explores many questions such as: Is there more to life than this? Who is Jesus? Why did Jesus die? How can I have Faith? Why and how do I pray? Why and how do I read the Bible? How does God guide us? How can I resist evil? Does God heal today? What about the Church and telling others?
Wanna know more about Alpha in the Diocese of Wollongong. Click here to check out the recent article in Journey Magazine all about Alpha.
Alpha is already scheduled to be run in two parishes in the Diocese. Click the following parish links for Alpha dates and times:
- Christmas Mass Times 2017
- Journey 62 - Summer 2016 | READ ONLINE NOW!