A bishop brave enough to act against child abuse

Jose Gomez has set a stunning example of what the church should be doing.

‘I FIND these files [about priests who sexually abused children] to be brutal and painful reading. The behaviour described in these files is terribly sad and evil. There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children. The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers and they failed.”

These are the words, last Thursday, not of a victim nor an advocate, a lawyer, policeman or judge. They are the words of Los Angeles Catholic Archbishop Jose Gomez. Of themselves, they are perhaps franker than the usual church apology, but what made them really remarkable is what came next.

”My predecessor, retired Cardinal Roger Mahony, has expressed his sorrow for his failure to fully protect young people entrusted to his care. Effective immediately, I have informed Cardinal Mahony that he will no longer have any administrative or public duties.” In a striking and unprecedented humiliation of the cardinal, Archbishop Gomez also had Mahony’s former right-hand man in handling abuse allegations, Thomas Curry, resign as regional bishop of Santa Barbara.

For the first time, one bishop held another – a cardinal, indeed – accountable over abuse and acted against him. On the same day that Gomez dropped his LA bombshell, I outlined in The Age some of the reasons people have felt cynical about church promises of transparency and co-operation with the two Australian inquiries into how the churches dealt with clergy child sex abuse.

Several witnesses to the Victorian inquiry said the local dioceses were controlled by the Vatican, which had a history of privileging canon (church) law over secular laws. The Vatican has been slow to grasp the issues, largely thanks to the previous Pope John Paul II – a colossus when it came to courage against communism but a pygmy in fighting abuse.

Like many, I believe real progress requires cultural change in the church, which means a measure of recognition in the Curia (church officialdom) of its own flaws, a probably insoluble catch-22. As noted Vatican watcher John Allen has said, real power in the Vatican is exercised by at most a couple of dozen elderly men, largely secluded, who are unmoved by the demands of the 24-hour news cycle.

So Gomez’ brave, moral and apparently unilateral action was astounding. Perhaps he too got tired of Vatican vacillating. Continue reading


Barney Zwartz is Religion Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald

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