Here’s an idea … suppose there was a TV debate tonight between Jesus and the former archbishop of Melbourne, Cardinal George Pell. The topic: do you endorse the Melbourne response to child abuse by the Catholic Church?
Pell will appear before the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the s-xual abuse of children by members of the Catholic Church and other institutions this afternoon; Jesus will not. But both are on the record when it comes to their views on abuse — well-researched in biblical and contemporary records.
Some inside and outside the church believe it has lost its moral authority because it no longer represents the views of its founder, Jesus Christ. The purpose of this thought experiment is to allow some fresh thinking to see if this claim is valid. Some of the following statements are quotes by Jesus (with the language freshened up for a TV audience), some are direct quotes by Pell. The others I have created for this thought experiment …
MODERATOR: Cardinal, your church has admitted that it had upheld 620 cases of criminal child abuse by your clergy in Victoria during the administrations of your predecessor, your successor and yourself. Your fix was called the Melbourne response. Is that correct?
PELL: Yes. In 1996 I announced a strategy whereby the Catholic Church in Melbourne would offer justice, compensation, counselling and professional support services to victims of s-xual abuse by Catholic priests. That is what we called “The Melbourne Response“.
MODERATOR: Did the Melbourne response include transparency or were victims required to sign confidentiality agreements?
PELL: Well, many of them did sign confidentially agreements but we’ve now waived them for this royal commission.
MODERATOR: That’s nice. So my first question to you is: did you endorse the Melbourne response?
PELL: Yes, I did endorse it. I launched it and authorised it to be used on many occasions.
MODERATOR: Whom do you consider to be the founder of your church?
PELL: It is well-known that Jesus is not only the founder of the church I administer in his name but that I proclaim him also to be My Lord.
MODERATOR: OK. I will now turn to you, Jesus, for your viewpoint. So many words have been put in your mouth by so many people. When we look at the vast multi-billion-dollar global Jesus industry, we can see so many vested financial and power-based interests that we can be forgiven for wondering what is your real point of view. The big problem has always been that you, Jesus, left no account of your life or your teachings in your own hand. Your sayings, which you spoke in Aramaic, had to wait for many years to be written down in Greek and Latin. What we have to go on was recorded by your disciples and your disciples’ disciples so we can only make educated guesses about the accuracy of your sayings after their subsequent translation and editing. Do you see our problem?
JESUS: Yes, of course, I do.
MODERATOR: OK. Now let us proceed to the issue of child abuse and the Melbourne response. I will now put the question to Jesus. Do you endorse the Cardinal’s approach to child abuse of an independent investigation, counselling plus confidential compensation?
JESUS: No, I have never said that I would endorse such an approach.
MODERATOR: Well, can you tell us what you have said?
JESUS: This is a subject on which I really have had a lot to say. You will not have to stretch a point to understand my views about the value of children. I have given very clear instructions to my followers. The Cardinal and his predecessors have squandered my reputation and that of the church by their procrastinations, dissembling and shortcomings on this real issue which is so close to my heart.
MODERATOR: You seem very passionate about child abuse.
JESUS: Well aren’t we all? Sadly, my bishops have chosen to ignore the authority I have expressly given them about children and their abusers.
MODERATOR: What have you said about this issue?
JESUS: One day I was teaching my apostles. These were the first bishops — my own bishops whom I personally appointed. They were curious about rank and precedence in heaven. Naturally, they wanted to know who I thought would secure the most favourable positions in heaven. They kept asking me about who’d get to be in the inner sanctum? Who would sit closest to the Father Himself? I saw this as a good opportunity to assert my authority. I spoke to my bishops ex cathedra giving them one of my core teachings. Later these teachings were recounted first by Matthew and then corroborated by Mark and Luke. I saw a little kid watching me so I called him over and sat the kid in the middle of them all and then I taught them the following important lesson:
“Listen! I’m telling you disciples the truth now. Unless you change and become like little kids, YOU won’t ever be getting into the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever makes himself as little as this little kid, he’s the one who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And anyone who welcomes one little kid like this one, in my name, also welcomes me.” (Matt 18:1-5)
MODERATOR: What did you say about the abuse of children? And, in particular, what did you say about the abuse of children that follow your group?
JESUS: Well, here I became most passionate. I said to them:
“But if anyone is the downfall of one of these little kids who believes in me, it were better for him that he drowned in the deep of the sea with a great millstone tied round his neck.” (Matt 18:6)
MODERATOR: Did you really say that?
JESUS: Yes, I am on the record in Matthew, Mark and Luke in the New Jerusalem Bible which is the official Vatican version of the Bible.
MODERATOR: Child abuse can be emotional, physical or s-xual and there have always been abusers of children. What else did you tell them?
JESUS: I said:
“It’s a great pity for the world that there should be such causes of kids falling. Causes of falling indeed there must be, but pity help anyone who provides them!” (Matt 18:7)
MODERATOR: Did you prescribe any preventative measures?JESUS: Certainly.
“If your hand or your foot should be your downfall, cut it off and throw it away: it is better for you to enter into life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.” (Matt 18:8)
MODERATOR: What about those, like your bishops, in positions of responsibility for the protection of children? What about those who just turned a blind eye?
JESUS: I told them:
“And if your eye should be your downfall, tear it out and throw it away: it is better for you to enter into life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into the hell of fire.” (Matt 18:9)
MODERATOR: What about consequences from heaven? Are those who have abused children likely to go undetected? Are those who have failed to protect children in their care likely to get away with it?
JESUS: Well, what do you think? I said:
“See that you never despise any of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in heaven are continually in the presence of my Father in Heaven.” (Matt 18:10)
MODERATOR: Cardinal, over to you. Recently your church has had to face these issues in a damning report you call Facing The Truth where you admit for the first time that there are not merely a few cases of child abuse in Victoria but hundreds — maybe as many as 620 children who have been abused. This report has exposed the organised and institutional abuse of many children. You have heard what your founder has had to say, Cardinal, so what can you now report to Jesus that you will do about your Melbourne Response?
PELL: I will wait to see what the royal commissioners say and then I’ll have further discussions with my legal advisers.
MODERATOR: Jesus, are you satisfied with this response?
JESUS: What do you think?
You can try to imagine what would have happened to the televised “worm” during this debate.
*Michael Hewitt-Gleeson is a Melbourne writer at Vaticanology.net and has been a Vaticanologist for 30 years