Let’s face facts: these days it’s not so easy to be Catholic in Australia.
The Church is, plainly speaking, in a time of upheaval. Public faith practice and reception of the Sacraments is on the downturn. Various legislations have been proposed which challenge the Church’s teachings and values. And the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has done damage to Catholic credibility. So surely many people are querying the point of choosing to be involved in the Church in such a time, and they wouldn’t be wrong in asking such a thing. As a young person, as a woman, and as a candidate preparing for profession of vows with a religious institute, you might look at me and think my choice to be involved in the Church is crazy. I have years, options and choices ahead of me. What can the Church offer young people anymore? Why would you want to be part of a group that doesn’t permit women to hold the same jobs as men? And what’s even the point of consecrated life today, especially given that priests and consecrated persons have an unhealthy reputation in some places right now?
I state firmly from the outset that grave mistakes have been made and many of these mistakes have come from the hands of people representing the Church. This is a real tragedy, and my heart cries out to those and for those who have suffered. The Royal Commission has brought much to light, and will offer greater protection to children and young people of the present and the future, but it does not take away or make right the wrongs which were committed. Those remain a shadowy and shameful part of the history of the Church in Australia.
Involvement in the Church is a choice which I make daily in this current post-Royal Commission climate. After some time reflecting on the reasons for my choice, a simple phrase came to my mind which, I think, expresses my feelings and motivations well:
Healing takes work. Imagine that you break your leg. What do you do? You go to the hospital. You may receive a cast, or have surgery, or use crutches or a wheelchair. If you don’t do anything about it, your bone will start the natural healing process on its own, but any healing will take much longer and won’t be nearly as effective as it would if you get help.
The Catholic Church in Australia has a massive broken leg. It needs healing, and it needs to help others heal. But it won’t heal on its own; it needs agents, like a cast, or some surgery, or crutches, to help it to walk again. The findings of the Royal Commission are deeply shocking, and for some they might mean the end of any involvement in the Church. For me, they offer a way forward. I look at our Church, struggling to walk with her broken leg. We can easily lament the situation from afar, washing our hands of any involvement and saying “Someone else will take care of it”. I ask plainly: if we don’t do it, who will? The fact is that the leg is still broken, and looking at it from our safe, comfortable spaces of non-involvement or indifference doesn’t make it any less broken. I look at our Church and I want to help. I want to act as a crutch for our wounded Church, and, as I see it, the only way to do that is by being involved.
As a young Catholic with lax or non-Catholic friends, I’m often asked questions or challenged on my positions. I welcome challenges and questions warmly, but they are one reason why it’s very important that I stay up-to-date and informed. To help my Church heal, and to represent her authentically and lovingly, I need to know the current state of affairs.
Being informed and aware helps us to create change. As a woman preparing for consecration, I find myself quite privileged to often be in situations of deep listening and discussion about faith and spirituality. At the recent Australian Catholic Youth Festival (7-9 December 2017), I had several intimate conversations with young people about the state of the Church. While a good number of people were very excited at the growth and future of the Church in Australia, there were some people struggling with questions, pain and disillusionment.
The reality is that much of the hurt caused to innocent people has been caused by members of religious institutes. The Church’s credibility, and the credibility of consecrated men and women, is not as strong as it could be. But it doesn’t always have to be this way. The findings of the Royal Commission, while confronting, challenge me in exciting ways. I see them as an invitational call to me to be a face of genuineness, honesty and care, to help rebuild trust and support where I can, and to use all my resources to make people feel valued, listened to and appreciated.
I am a young Australian Catholic woman who is striving to live a vocation as a consecrated person. I see the past, with its deep wounds, and I cry for the hurt caused. I witness the present and its call for transformation, and I desire to be part of it in whatever way I can. I firmly embrace my incredible, wounded, healing Church, and I choose to help her walk into the future with joyful hope.
The hope my Church gives me for the future is just one reason why I love being part of the Church.