Monday, August 18, 2008


NCR's John L. Allen, Jr. has interviewed Australia's retired Bishop Geoffrey Robinson for the magazine Foreign Policy on the subject of his recent book asking controversial questions. The interview begins:

Foreign Policy: Without fundamental changes, what do you believe is the future of the Catholic Church?

Geoffrey Robinson: I see this whole question of sexual abuse and the response to it as crippling much of the work of the church. When the local church speaks out on some other question, I’m afraid nobody is listening. Until this is confronted, I’m afraid that loss of credibility will continue and get worse. The same problem exists internally. Authorities within the church have lost credibility with their own members. One similarity between [the United States and Australia] is that what’s keeping the church strong, numerically speaking, is the great migrant factor. Take that away, and you have a quite steep decline.

Yesterday at Mass, when Father said we should listen to our bishops when they speak about how to apply our faith to our political decisions, my reaction was that the bishops, with a few exceptions, are no longer credible. Why should I listen? My next thought was that I've probably got one foot out the door already with such an attitude, and it needs to change if I'm going to remain Catholic in anything but name only. But I need a reason to change, and I'm not seeing any. When my husband voiced similar thoughts in the car going home, I concluded that I was not alone in my thinking.

In this interview, Bishop Robinson says much the same thing:

FP: After your American swing, you wrote that you “came away with the clear conviction that the American church has some massive problems before it.” Can you explain what you meant?

GR: I sensed that the American church was more different from Australia than I ever anticipated. I met a significant number of people who seem to have lost all faith in their bishops over this issue of abuse, with all the legal cases and so on … I found it hard to find anyone who trusted a bishop.

In any case, the attempt to silence Bishop Robinson is coordinated from Rome in Bishop Robinson's opinion:

FP: Before you traveled to the United States to promote your book, 13 American bishops wrote asking you—in fact, ordering you—not to come to their dioceses. Were you surprised?

GR: I concluded that this had all been organized from Rome. I couldn’t otherwise have believed that so many letters would all arrive at the same time. It was disappointing, but I can’t really say it was unexpected. I wrote to each of them to say that I would meet with them if they so wished, but there was no contact at all.

Yet I reflect that among those who attempted to keep him from speaking was Cardinal Mahony, an outstanding opponent of most things Catholic for decades. Mahony's opposition made me curious enough about what Robinson had to say to buy the book. In the book I found ideas that I agree with and ideas that I disagree with. What I didn't find was a reason to silence him, since he is not proposing solutions, but rather asking questions--in some cases the same questions I'm asking; and yesterday's homily just brought that fact home to roost once again.

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