“I just honestly have to say that this is incompetence in leadership, there is no other word to describe it.”
Although Pell’s conviction was made public on Tuesday, Archbishop for Canberra and Goulburn Christopher Prowse did not issue a pastoral statement until Thursday.
«The revelations regarding Cardinal Pell over these last days have deeply shocked and disturbed us. We find in our hearts so many emotions and confusions,» the statement said.
«We hold deeply in our hearts all survivors of sex abuse and their families. We pledge to do all we can to stand alongside them in prayerful, transparent vigilance.
«Given that Cardinal Pell’s conviction will now be subject to an appeal in court we best leave aside further comment on this matter.
«Be assured of and comforted by my prayers and thoughts for you, my dear people, in this fragile time. Please find strength in your care for each other.
«Together, let us turn as always to the Lord Jesus and our Mother Mary, during our Masses and our prayers to guard and guide us in this ‘vale of tears’.
«Please pray also for our priests, deacons and seminarians. They who seek to serve you with great pastoral care are in need of their own care in these days.»
But Mr Collins said the church had still yet to properly respond to the findings of the royal commission into child sexual abuse in the church, handed down in 2017, and that congregations around the country needed answers.
“I would have expected that as soon as the royal commission’s conclusions were published, the Catholic bishops of Australia would have got together, [and] would have at least tried to draw up a pastoral letter,» he said.
“Not so much excuse themselves, but to explain what they are going to do to remedy the problems that the church faces — particularly what they’re going to do with regard to the victims, that’s the first thing, but secondly, what they’re going to do with regard to the causes of this problem.”
Mr Collins said the problem was rooted in the governance of the church, and that church leaders repeatedly claimed that governance was “a matter for Rome”.
“No it’s not. Their theology is wrong if they think that,” he said.
“They have responsibility for this church, they have responsibility for the governance of the Australian church, and the local archbishop has responsibility for the governance of the church of Canberra Goulburn, and there are things that they can do to remedy at least some of the problems that we face.”
He said many of the church’s problems could have been avoided if women and laypeople were given decision-making roles in the church, rather than just administrative functions.
“Women and married men have a sense of children and the vulnerability of children, have a sense of care for children,” he said.
“Celibate men, by definition, have no intimacy with children, don’t come in contact with children, don’t have any sense of the vulnerability of children.”
And he said it was wrong to claim that this was a decision for Rome alone to make.
“If the bishops think that the church belongs to themselves and to the clergy, they are gravely, theologically mistaken,” he said.
“The church belongs to all of us, we are all participants, we are all equally baptised, we all stand equal before god, and all have a role to play within the Catholic community.
“In an area like that, they could bring laypeople, men and women, into decision-making roles and they wouldn’t need to go to Rome. They’ve used Rome as their backstop and as their shield and protector for too long.
«It is time for people like Archbishop Prowse to take responsibility for the local church.”
Mr Collins said he could understand why the bishops had otherwise gone to ground when it came to statements about the sexual abuse crisis.
“I can understand that they’re afraid of the media because they don’t get it,” he said.
“Jesus, after all, said ‘the truth will make you free’. If they were prepared to go out and tell the truth, they would be astonished at how well they’ll come off.”
Sally Pryor is a reporter at The Canberra Times.