The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has issued a statement responding to a controversial retired bishop for his new book that doubts Catholic teachings.
In 2007 Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, retired Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Sydney, published a book titled “Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus.” According to The Age, Bishop Robinson argued in his book that the Church’s refuses to examine Catholic teachings on extramarital sex, women priests, homosexuality, and papal power this means the Church is not serious about responding to clerical sexual abuse but is only “managing” it.
The 71-year-old Bishop Robinson headed the Australian church’s efforts to address sexual abuse for a decade. The bishop, who says he was a victim of abuse as a child, retired in 2004 because he was reportedly disillusioned by his work.
He is presently in the United States on a lecture tour for the activist group Voice of the Faithful, which formed in response to the clerical sexual abuse scandal in Boston. His book has sold more than 8,000 copies in Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
At the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the 38 bishops in attendance issued a May 8 statement regarding Bishop Robinson. It is their first official response to his writings.
The bishops said they were grateful for Bishop Robinson’s contributions to the life of the Church.
“We are deeply indebted to him for his years of effort to bring help and healing to those who have suffered sexual abuse and for what he has done to establish protocols of professional standards for Church personnel in this area,” the statement said.
Despite Bishop Robinson’s contributions, the statement said, “people have a right to know clearly what the Catholic Church believes and teaches,” and that they as bishops had the duty to teach such belief.
The bishops’ statement said that “doctrinal difficulties remain” even after correspondence and conversation with the retired bishop. A central difficulty, according to the statement, was Bishop Robinson’s questioning of the authority of the Catholic Church “to teach the truth definitively.”
This questioning, the statement said, is connected to Bishop Robinson’s “uncertainty about the knowledge and authority of Christ himself.”
The doubts expressed in Bishop Robinson’s book, the statement said, lead to Robinson’s other doubts about the nature of Tradition, the inspiration of Holy Scripture, the infallibility of Church Councils and the Pope, the nature of the priesthood, and “central elements” of the Church’s moral teaching.
“The authority entrusted by Christ to his Church may at times be poorly exercised, especially in shaping policy and practice in complex areas of pastoral and human concern. This does not, in Catholic belief, invalidate the Church’s authority to teach particular truths of faith and morals,” the statement said.