This is the final Australian News for the year. It will recommence on 14th January 2015.  We take this opportunity to extend to all our readers Best Wishes for a Happy and Holy Christmas and an abundance of God’s richest blessings throughout 2015.   


The vow of celibacy may have contributed to decades of child sex abuse committed by Catholic priests and clergy, according to a landmark report from the church’s leaders.  For the first time, the church establishment within Australia says “obligatory celibacy” may have resulted in the abuse of thousands of children and that priests should undergo “psycho-sexual development” training as a result. In a report released last week they also criticise a church culture “geared to power over others” and call for “greater clarity around the role of the Vatican and its involvement with the way in which church authorities in Australia responded to abuse allegations”.


By publicly acknowledging the potential role of celibacy in this way, the report sets an international precedent. Issued by the Australian church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council, whose supervisory group includes the archbishops of Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Canberra and Adelaide, its findings are in stark contrast to a recent US study that said celibacy could not be blamed for the epidemic of abuse. In Australia, Catholicism is unique among the mainstream Christian churches in demanding its priests and other religious leaders take a vow of celibacy, entirely renouncing sex.


Francis Sullivan, the council’s chief executive, said the church must now examine “how individuals who have chosen to be celibate, how they can remain healthy and not begin acting out of a dysfunctional sense of self.  We’ve got to ask the question about whether celibacy was an added and an unbearable strain for some,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that celibacy needs to be eradicated – let’s not turn the church on its head – but we are saying you can’t have an honest and open discussion about the -future without having an honest and open discussion about celibacy. We are placing celibacy on the table.” 


The council’s “Activity Report” also details its involvement with the ongoing Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse over the past two years. The commission has held eight separate public hearings into the Catholic Church to date, including into the operation of its “Towards Healing” and “Melbourne Response” protocols for dealing with reported abuse. It is examining more than 160,000 church documents, including material provided by the Vatican itself, while commission figures released this year suggest abuse took place at more than 700 different Catholic institutions nationwide. 


Further public hearings, including one into the Diocese of Ballarat, are expected to take place over the next 2 years, with Mr Sullivan expecting the church ultimately to be the subject of about one third of the commission’s inquiries over its 5 year term. Last week’s report identifies a culture of “obedience and closed environments”, as well as the way candidates for the clergy were selected, as playing a potential role “in the prevalence of abuse within some orders and dioceses. Obligatory celibacy may also have contributed to abuse in some circumstances,” it says, and that “ongoing training and development, including pyscho-sexual development, is necessary for priests and religious figures in the church” as a result.


While critics outside the church and a number of individuals within it have linked obligatory celibacy to child abuse, this is the first time the church’s leaders have come out publicly to make the connection. In doing so, they mark a radical departure from the findings of the five-year enquiry and subsequent report presented to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2011. “It is not clear why the commitment to or state of celibate chastity should be seen as a cause for the steady rise in incidence of sexual abuse,” that report’s authors found. “The most significant conclusion . is that no single psychological, developmental, or behavioural characteristic differentiated priests who abused minors from those who did not.” 


The Australian report is unique in its open criticism of “the impact of ‘clericalism’, which can be understood as referring to approaches or practices involving ordained ministry geared to power over others, not service to others.  Church leaders, over many decades, seemed to turn a blind eye, either instinctively or deliberately, to the abuse happening within their diocese or religious order, protecting the institution rather than caring for the child,” it says. Mr Sullivan said “The first thing you do about it is have the guts to name it – it’s an abuse of power. This would be a universal element anywhere in the church in this regard”. 


In recent years, Australia’s Catholic leaders have done much to acknowledge the church’s history of child abuse, including making apologies at the royal commission, and supporting the call for an independent, national body to determine what compensation victims should receive. In July, Pope Francis estimated 2 per cent of Catholic clergy worldwide were child abusers. “I would be absolutely certain that in Australia the proportion of child abusers and pedophiles in the church would be at least double that,” Mr Sullivan said.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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Editors note: This is an edited version of an article distributed by the International Press Agency in response to the recent Sydney siege.


Australia, the self-styled lucky country, is joining the rest of the world in having to face up to Islamist terrorism. Last week an ex-Shia-turned-Sunni Muslim, Man Haron Monis, took 17 hostages in a cafe in Sydney. A sixteen hour siege followed, during which he issued a list of demands, including that police deliver to him a flag of the Islamic State. After the gunman shot one hostage, police stormed the cafe and in the ensuing firefight, the gunman and a further hostage were killed, with several others wounded. When the siege began, Sydney Muslim community representatives lost no time issuing statements condemning the gunman and declaring that such terrorist actions had nothing to do with the religion of Islam.  


With concerns of a backlash against the local Muslim minority community, many Australians joined a social media campaign offering to travel with Muslims on public transport. This terror drama has been reported on ad infinitum by experts and journalists. Among the mass of commentary, it is striking that there is one area of discussion where the commentators have dared not tread. One caller in a talk-back programme on radio hinted at this unmentionable topic when he claimed that in fact there was support for terror activity in the Qur’an. The radio presenter quickly cut him off, declaring that such statements were inappropriate and, besides, the non-Muslim caller was not qualified to speak about the Qur’an. 


In fact, the censored caller was making an important point, about which there has been little mention in the flood of commentary taking place about this incident. That is the question whether the violent actions of radical Islamists have any foundation in the religion of Islam. History reveals that intimidation and violence are solidly grounded within Islam. Such a claim should be discussed — but strikingly it is not getting the airplay it deserves. Islamist radicals do not look back to Napoleon as their model, nor to Julius Caesar, nor Genghis Khan. But they do look back to the roots of Islam in which they can find many expressions of militant activism. 


According to the primary Islamic texts themselves, and also in the written history of Islam, a clear window is provided into the model of Jihad upon which Islam was founded. The early followers of Islam were instructed on occasions to liquidate key opponents; a process that led to the beheading of at least 600 Jews; and the taking of certain wives of their opponents as concubines, serving as booty from war. So when we read that in Iraq warriors of the terrorist Islamic State expand their domains through military action, murdering their opponents, beheading captives, and taking the women from conquered Yazidi and Christian groups as war booty concubines, there can be little doubt where these Islamic State warriors are getting these ideas from. 


Furthermore, so-called “lone wolf” attacks by radical Islamists, such as the recently concluded terror incident in Sydney carried out by Man Haron Monis, take their inspiration from the warriors of the Islamic State, who in turn take their inspiration from the history of Islam.  In Australia, which is just beginning to experience the challenge of radical Islamism it is not politically correct to discuss the link between today’s radicals and the past history of Islam. In order to have any hope of addressing the problem of rising Islamic radicalism, that discussion will have to take place. And moderate Muslims will need to be willing to join in the discussion in order for there to be any progress in the campaign against radical Islam.


Source: International Press Agency

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At the time of writing this newsletter a human understanding of how and why this tragedy occurred has still not been revealed. Following on from the Sydney siege and the massacre of so many Pakistani school children, it marks another chapter in a remarkably distressing week of unexplained violence that has shattered the lives of those involved and shaken the complacency of our nation and the world and raised the question “what on earth is going on”.  When such events occur in quick succession one needs to look beyond the events themselves to see it as part of a major spiritual battle that is being fought over the hearts, minds and lives of ordinary people.


There can be no question that in each of the 3 devastating events that occurred last week, that evil, (a spiritual force that captures hearts given over to its seduction and which then expresses itself through depraved human action), was a major motivating force in the actions of all the perpetrators of each crime. The Bible teaches us that the only weapon that can destroy evil is a change in the condition of the human heart which occurs through an encounter with the love of God which brings forth repentance, leading to forgiveness, and ultimately to salvation through Christ. No human attempt to deal with evil through changes to laws etc can ultimately succeed without the root spiritual cause being recognised and dealt with.


In Cairns the Churches are working together to present a united front to their community by reaching out to all impacted by this tragedy. Christians from across the Churches are providing pastoral care to the grieving community as well as providing practical help such as provision of meals etc for families and emergency service personnel directly impacted by the event and the subsequent investigations. As news of the tragedy reaches more and more of the Torres Strait Island communities more and more of them are expected to descend on Cairns raising the need for even more emergency relief services. In coming days funerals and the process of mourning common to Indigenous communities will also have impact.


As well as those directly impacted by the tragedy there are those indirectly impacted and there are grave concerns for other children living in close proximity to the murder scene. Approximately 50% of those living in the street where the murder took place are under the age of 19. In coming days they will become a major focus of the community care and pastoral ministry being offered by the Churches of the city. Church services being held across the city at different times are also providing an opportunity for those within the Torres Strait Islander and wider community of Cairns to express and deal with their grief as are individual counselling opportunities being offered to any who need that assistance.


Please pray:


* for the Torres Strait Islander community seeking to come to terms with this tragedy and what it means. Pray too for the mother who has been arrested for the murder of her children. One cannot begin to imagine what lies behind such an act of violence perpetrated against her own flesh and blood.

* that the Churches in Cairns will continue to rise to the occasion and become, and be seen to become, a beacon of light and hope within the community at large.     


* that many would encounter the love, compassion and healing grace of God through this tragedy, and find Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. 


Source: Australian Prayer Network from on the ground reports

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