When I read in The Courier that Bishop Ronald Mulkearns was 85 years old, I thought “so am I” and there are many things he has said, or not said, that I can relate to. It was a completely different era.
Let me say at the outset that I don't in any way condone what was allowed to happen to innocent young children. I adore children and my only ambition in life as I left school was to marry and have six children of my own. So I just can't even start to imagine what the victims of the offending priests went through and have been going through ever since.
I found I had certain things in common with my Catholic friends as we all worshipped the same God and based our lives on Christ's teaching but there were basic differences as well. Some years ago, in a discussion with a very intelligent Catholic member of my book club in Mortlake, I said I could never be a Catholic because I would not be told by any human being what I had to believe. She just laughed and said “that's what I like about being a Catholic - I don't have to think".
Many years later, I was privileged to have lunch with a group of Catholic clergy from Ballarat at Parliament House and to be seated near Bishop Mulkearns. My impression was one of a shy, sincere, gentle, thinking man. I said to him "I don't know how anyone could become a priest " and he answered he was really interested in liturgy, which showed his academic leanings.
As a Christian, I have had many instances of feeling I should “do something about it” and then thinking “is this God leading me or is it just my will?" My wonderful father (earthly) said to me once: “It doesn't matter if you set out to do something and fail but it matters a lot if you don't even try".
I used to feel guilty about getting cross over someone being treated unfairly until I heard the story of Jesus throwing over the money-changers' tables in the temple and I realised even Jesus got angry when it was warranted. So I have just gone through life doing what I thought was right, apologising if I was wrong, accepting whatever happens because God knows better than I do what is right and I just have to accept that and move on. And at this ripe old age, I have found that, with faith, anything is possible.
I realise that, as a priest taking confession, which has always been as private as a doctor's records for instance, Bishop Mulkearns would have found himself torn between his priestly vows and God's will if he was expected to report to police what he heard at confession.
After all, there were officers of the Education Department at the time doing the same thing and no one is now subjecting them to a commission for what was done to the victims of their crimes. In moving teachers around, they were “only doing their jobs” and I'm sure gave no thought to the victims of those teachers. It was very much an era of “children should be seen but not heard”.
I believe the Bishop when he says he is “terribly sorry” and for saying “he didn't know what to do or how to do it”. I can only start to imagine the mental torment he also went through which, to this generation in this day and age, seems unreal but I have put pen to paper in the hope I can put at least some things in context.
My husband and I adopted an orphaned granddaughter. Only today, on a completely different issue, she let out one of those long suffering sighs and said: “Yes Nan, I know it was different in your day but we're not in your day today”. That goes for Bishop Mulkearns too.
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