Before The Cock Crows, Thrice You Shall Deny Me

I am proud of the Australian judicial system, particularly their independence and separation from political and other corrupt powers attempting to influence decisions. Law is to serve people, to ensure justice and my passion for this righteousness was the reason why I studied human rights law. I have never been more proud then when I heard that Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s most senior Catholic Church representative and now former prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy for the Vatican once making him one of the most powerful religious figures has been found guilty of sexually abusing young children. What does this precedent now mean for not only all the victims of sexual abuse but also for Catholicism?

As a manager, I have worked with my team about breaking down misconceptions on leadership and challenging outdated hierarchical systems that most of us have grown accustomed to accept as unquestionable, systems I believe have been built both from the desire for power and the fear and distrust in people. I choose to foster accountability and honesty because I see myself a part of a complex whole and it is our duty to respect, care and support one another to enable productivity and happiness in the work that we do. I give them the liberty to manage themselves, to support them with their workloads, and above all I trust and respect them.

I was given funding for my own training and development, for instance, that I instead shared with my team so that they can attain leadership training and develop the skills to professionally improve. If a hierarchy must exist, then as a manager I am subservient to my staff as it is my duty to protect and support them, to act as a conduit for innovation, participation and empowerment and that is only possible when I am held accountable, when I have an openness and honesty about my flaws and embrace my vulnerabilities. To not desire control and power through a fear that I will be rejected and undermined.

Authoritative styles of leadership only show that while it may seem like it is generating fear to ensure productivity and control, on the contrary it is actually coming from a place of fear, a place of distrust, and a desire for power.

Rape and sexual abuse, violence both verbally and physically, they are examples of this desire for power and an autocratic system breeds weakness. When people are educated and threatened to obey and follow this hierarchical system, it enables people like Pell to appear moral and good depending on where he is sitting on this hierarchy rather than authentically deserving to be there. He did not care about people, he cared about power, about maintaining a system that seeks order and control and that views money to be more important over human life. Without offering an accountable, honest and participatory community that cares for the well-being of its members only shows to me that the Church is undermining the capacity of Christians to learn and understand the teachings of Jesus for themselves.

The stories and experiences of Jesus, indeed of all prophets and saints, is to teach us love. Love, to me, being moral consciousness, to care for and respect all people, not undermine them and try to control them, not threaten to ostracise them if they do not follow strict regulations, not subtly tell them what they should be thinking, but sharing knowledge within a respectful, unified manner that affords connectedness with our neighbours and friends.

The “Melbourne Response” headed by Pell protected the finances of the church and not the victims, it capped compensation to the numerous claims that came forward regarding sexual abuse by clergymen. There was denial, no genuine accountability, no real or authentic acceptance that there is a systemic problem to address. As I read the claimant explain the vile acts committed by Pell, all it indicated to me was his lust for power and authority and in this case he used his sexual organ as his weapon to explain that power.

It is for this reason that the church as an institution needs to be completely restructured, to change how they approach their role as leaders in an archaic system that permeates a continuity of pagan traditions left from the Roman Empire, as well as a residue of medieval patriarchy that developed the pedagogy to incorrectly educate us on how to read, interpret and understand history. We have been taught to follow and see the world in a prejudicial way, completely blinded by a system that we think is an unquestionable reality.

I question this reality. As a believer in God who loves Jesus but is not attached to any religious institution, who believes in moral goodness and welcomes diversity, who genuinely has the courage to hold herself accountable when shown to be in the wrong, I am not seized with this prejudice.

The Church is a structure, a building, a place for Christians to congregate and together show their commitment to the teachings in the Bible. Culture and languages are fluid, changing, dynamic and the system itself needs to be engineered to be flexible and resistant to this dynamism; a foundation solidified to human rights with a core skeleton fortified by freedom and moral consciousness that will tighten a structure – like a skyscraper – yet constructed to sway with the wind. Prejudice is to believe that there is some place in history that was ‘better’ and that we need to revert back to the old ways, of patriarchy, strict codes of conduct, punishment, but that is usually an indication of fear and resistance to a dynamic that challenges power and control, to a system that embraces equality and destroys hierarchies.

“Jesus said unto him, verily I say unto thee, that this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.”

If we think of this differently, maybe the Apostle Peter’ denial – who is known as the father of Church – is the Church’ denial of the teachings of Jesus. I am glad that justice has been served against Pell and that the victims – not just those he has directly affected – but all victims of sexual abuse by the thousands of clergyman across the world, and that Australia has been the one to set a precedent that justice, human rights, and indeed morality cannot be protected by a hierarchical system. We are all equal in the eyes of righteousness.

It is not an indication that one needs to completely abandon their faith or the Church. It is just an indication that the system needs to change and that we, as people, need to be the ones to do that, to remind the leaders that they are subservient to us and not the other way around and for them to remember the purpose of why the Church exists in the first place.

Maybe it is time for a new beginning.