WITH few true leaders among us, it was refreshing to hear from Newcastle’s Anglican Bishop last week, who delivered an apology with grace and compassion.
Too often those who become leaders seem to arrive at the top of the pile by virtue of arbitrary succession, internal political machinations or by other means entirely separate to their worth as a leader.
After so long, and after what I regard as such a glaring lack of accountability from others addressing failures in their communities, organisations, and congregations, Anglican Bishop Greg Thompson’s remarks in relation to evidence gathered for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse seemed heartfelt and true.
At times struggling to contain his emotions, Bishop Thompson reportedly told those gathered in a church hall how sorry he was for the terrible harm done by perpetrators of child sexual abuse, by those that protected them, and by a culture that would not listen.
Marking his 500th day in the position, he spoke frankly not only about the distant past, but about recent threats which he said had been made against him by bullies within the church.
‘‘If they are prepared to try it on me, what are they doing to other people in the community?" he said.
‘‘I won’t be silent about it.’’
In a separate interview later that day, Bishop Thompson said he was horrified and appalled at what’s been revealed to him since coming into office, and the ‘‘aching matter’’ of the lack of reports of sexual misconduct by clergy.
After a frank and lengthy interview with Bishop Thompson in February, albeit on another topic, I came away with the same feeling of respect for a leader with his feet on the ground, with a street-level view of the world we live in, and of the challenges we are facing.
Bishop Thompson talked about opening the door to change.
‘‘We have got to open the wind of fresh perspective, new energies, we’ve got to deal with unsettlement as it comes, but if we keep the door shut on life outside, then we’re dead,’’ he said.
Bishop Thompson was not talking about the church and child sexual abuse, but about the sale of a house on the hill (Bishopscourt) which he and his wife had decided, controversially, not to live in.
‘‘It would be great for tea parties, but my life is not a tea party,’’ he said, and the $75,000 per year it would cost to maintain the property could be better spent elsewhere.
Again, Bishop Thompson seemed to me to be putting the community first. Time will tell.
The day before that interview, I spent more than an hour at a session of the Australian Catholic Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council in a building near the Sacred Heart Cathedral at Hamilton.
In his address, Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Bishop Bill Wright used what I regard as some interesting language when talking about the failings of the Catholic Church and its dealings with child sexual abuse.
Where I would have weighed every word, and tried to deliver them with as much reverence and sincerity as I could muster, he used what I would call fillers, sometimes stopping just short of saying ‘‘etcetera’’ in my opinion.
Maybe the bishop was working from memory or notes rather than a complete speech but when referring to the council and commending the work of its chief executive officer, Francis Sullivan, he said:
‘‘Over the time it has existed, Francis in particular has gained something of a reputation for being frank and open and honest about matters where the church has failed, and the things that we need to address, and all the rest of that ...’’
And then: ‘‘We continue to, through Zimmerman services and so on ... to be engaged with many survivors of abuse, and also through the processes which, where people are seeking compensation and so on, and we are by no means thinking we are at the end of a road ...’’
I too believe we are a long way from the end of that road.
And it seems to me we are receiving different directions on the best way to get there.