One of the more significant items on the agenda of the Plenary Council has been the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis. On Tuesday, it was announced that all motions relating to this theme had been passed by an overwhelming majority.
This included an apology to victims of abuse, as well as a commitment to walk more closely with those people and their families, and to study further the systemic factors contributing to the crisis.
While the Motions and Amendments document took note of the significant steps taken in recent years to respond to this crisis—both in terms of priestly formation and institutional protocols—it also acknowledged the fact that more needed to be done.
One of the motions that passed included an encouragement to establish memorials for victims as a ‘tangible recognition of the harm done through abuse’ (§32).
In the live media briefing on the evening of Monday 4 July, Bishop Shane Mackinlay, Vice-President of the Plenary Council, reflected on the wording of this motion, suggesting that it allows for memorials in different forms—they don’t have to be physical, although there are certainly many of those across Australia.
‘There are other ways, in our actions,’ he said, ‘that we remember significant things.’
He also reflected on the way in which the discernment and voting were done. The Council participated in a ‘ritual of lament’ that framed the proceedings, which included the singing of psalms and the sprinkling of ashes as a sign of repentance.
‘Mindful of how significant this was,’ he said, ‘and how important that we give it really serious weight, we decided to set it in a liturgical context, a prayerful context.’
‘There was an extended and quite beautiful ritual that we began with, and then we had discussion interspersed with other periods of prayer, before voting, and then a longer period again at the end.’
He also described it as a ‘good model’ of how things can be done in the future.
The significance of these rituals of lament should not be understated. Lamentation is deeply woven into the liturgical expressions and rites of the Old Testament; they are opportunities to prayerfully express anger, grief, confusion and pain in a communal context.
Laments are also a way to participate in the pain of others, collectively confess sins and beg God to act. It is thought that more than two-thirds of the psalms are psalms of lament.
Given the gravity of the topic, it was a deeply appropriate approach, and hopefully this practice of lament can be taken up throughout the Church in the months and years ahead.
Nigel Zimmermann07 July 2022
Melbourne Catholic05 July 2022