It’s been all over the Hunter’s media – on the front page of this newspaper and on our television screens – that the new Anglican Dean of Newcastle wants her church to be a safe place, and that’s a heartwarming sentiment.
What she means is that she is hoping the Anglican church in the Newcastle region will no longer be the hotbed of paedophilia that was exposed in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, that Anglican clergy will no longer be free to sexually abuse children, that Anglican leaders will no longer protect the abusers or at the least turn a blind eye to their clergy preying on children.
Dean Katherine Bowyer’s hope is delivered with a smile, of course. As the city’s new Anglican Dean she uses all the right words: courage of the victims, respect, vulnerability, humbling, deeply sorry.
She tells us that the Anglican diocese is committed to changing the cultures that led to the paedophilia, and she and her church seem to expect that we should be thrilled about that.
But how long will it take to change the cultures?
The extraordinary outbreak of memory lapses among Anglican leaders at the royal commission hearings in Newcastle a year ago suggests that the culture of protection is alive and well.
The ugly fact is that the people the Very ReverendDean Bowyer will have to rely on to reassure us that the Anglican culture will change are the very same people who have supported the church and its culture.
Can any Anglican (or Catholic) clergy who enjoyed and helped preserve the culture that sanctioned paedophilia be blameless?
And those who supported the church, the churchgoers who believed that priests were too close to god to be doubted, who therefore helped protect the depravity, who therefore helped put the priests beyond the reach of the families of victims, should be more than a little uncomfortable.
They should have no doubt that the money they put on the plate on Sundays or otherwise contributed to the church rewarded men who preyed on children and the men who protected those who preyed on children.If there is a single reason priests in the Anglican and Catholic dioceses of the Hunter were able to thrive as predators of children, it is the mindless adulation of their devotees.
Can those devotees be blameless? No.Despite the smiling and virtuous reassurance of the Very ReverendDean Bowyer that the church is committed to changing its cultures, that there has been lots of work towards change and that she wants to build on that, why do we give this organisation any amount of time to change its ways?
We don’t give other businesses that prey on children time to change their cultures after their activities – on the dark web, say – have been exposed.
We don’t then have a smiling new director of these purveyors of paedophilia declaring in the media that they’re changing a few things to try to make their business a safe place for children, that, for example, they’re going to move into adult films.
The fact is that the church is a business, one that sells religious services.
Just as some businesses sell their products on the promise of status, as in car manufacturers, or good times, as in cruise ships, the church sells its services on the promise of forgiveness and eternal life.
For the clergy the attraction is a career that can climb the ladder of reverence from the reverend through the very reverend and the right reverend to the most reverend, with benefits that include the adulation of customers, channelling the word of god, being seen as unerringly godly and, until recently, beyond accusation. A free hand, and if things get a little too warm there’s a transfer to another parish.
Like any business, and like the businesses that peddle paedophilia on the web, the church was created for the benefit of those who created it and who manage it, the clergy.
Now the Very Reverend Dean Bowyer assures us that the Anglican diocese based in Newcastle is hoping to remove paedophilia as one of the benefits.Children would be safer sooner if the Anglican and Catholic dioceses in the Hunter closed up shop.