During advent, the readings for morning and evening prayer have been from Isaiah. Isaiah and his followers in later chapters have been saying that the cause of the exile of the population of Israel and Judah has been their faithlessness to God: through their injustice, and their lack of covenant faithfulness.
In other places Jeremiah says to the people words to the effect that “ You may believe hat you are safe because we have the temple of the Lord’ but the Temple of the Lord is not going to save you.
God’s instrument of correction of the people was their military defeat by foreign armies.
I am thinking about the connection between these events and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse.
The Church has tried to some degree to ‘set its own house in order’, but it has not been enough. Now an external source of coercion has stepped in, like a foreign power, to give us a very big wake up call. On top of a decline in people coming to faith for other reasons, we are now more generally on the nose in the community because we have been attached to our institutional reputation, more than we have been attached to the ‘little ones’ as St. Matthew calls them.
Now I am thinking that we too must get ready for a time of exile, where we say ‘This Royal Commission is perhaps God’s way of telling us that the kind of power that was exercised by those people in institutions who have not listened to the voices of the abused ones is not the kind of power that God exercises. We should give up trying to exercise that kind of power.’
Some of the problem was that we also believed too much in the power of confession, and absolution as an instrument for changing people with paedophile, or megalomaniac tendencies. Where better to go than to a school of little people if you want to lord it over others. Where better to congregate than around children in choirs, Sunday schools and orphanages if one has paedophile tendencies. Some of the structural problems faced by the institutions were because of the nature of the work those institutions did, and the opportunities that it gave for abuse.
But the saddest thing of all is that this way of being contradicts our core directive, and now our credibility to represent this core message has been damaged by our own unwillingness to see what we were doing.
In a way, the very early days of the Church, when it had no institutional power are a kind of ‘time of innocence’ where it might have been possible to be a better Christian than it is now.
I don’t want to press this too far, because the Church was not without its problems, as the Letter to the Corinthians shows, with the case of incest there, but I do think that our entanglement with government money and lack of transparency in our operation has made us not as god a Church as we might be. Now we all wear the consequences.
Through the Royal commission, we are experiencing the meaning of Advent in our own life, rather than talking about it.
The other thing that comes to me in this context is the vehemence with which people have expressed themselves. The presumption of innocence has gone out the window for those accused.
No matter what the outcome of the trial of Cardinal Pell, he has become the focus for so much venom, that only his losing his job, or being found guilty will satisfy some people for whom a the sacrifice of some is the only thing that will return the social order to any form of normalcy.
Our justice system purposely separates the operation of justice from the desire for vengeance so that such demands for blood can be resisted.
Jesus died as a blood sacrifice by the authorities, in order that he might be the last scapegoat.
Neither the people who were able satisfy their own sexual and power needs, under the cover of institutional protection, nor the people who want to see a new reign of terror like that of the French Revolution have grasped what Jesus came to make possible.
We are living in times where what is most primitive in human beings is coming to the surface. This is happening both in the committing of crimes, and the sacrificial revenge that is exacted for them.
Here is the invitation to confession for Advent “The Lord comes, bringing to light things now hidden in darkness and disclosing the purposes of the heart.” How true is this. But the things hidden in darkness and the purposes of the human heart are darker than we wanted to know about, or could imagine.
I pray that God will work in me to make me a better human being by learning more what it means to be a follower of Jesus, whose way of exercising his power as God is neither compulsive, abusive, nor vengeful.