TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: "True culture change requires changes in environment, values, attitudes, relationships and behaviours."

You would have to admit that the past week has been a big week for the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, for those who have appeared before the Royal Commission, for the broader community and most especially for those who have been harmed by the perpetrators of child sexual abuse and a system which failed to act.

I have to confess that I am struggling to write a message for this week, given this context, and the emerging theme for me is one of cultural change. For those, who have studied organisational theory and change, there will be knowledge that cultural change, whether intentional or forced on an organisation by external circumstances, is the most difficult of changes to manage and achieve and yet this is what we are in the midst of. This will likely prove to be a painful process, and may still be met with some resistance and struggle, as many in our community process the terrible facts of our Diocese’s past in the region. I recall growing up in the sixties when some of my older siblings were teenagers. The sixties was the time of a great cultural, social revolution. Some of the changes impacting on our family household at the time were: males with long hair, greater freedom, ‘pop’ music, sexual liberation, the ‘mini’, more questioning of parents, public display of intimacy, the bikini etc. I recall watching and listening to my brothers and sisters who were definitely stretching the boundaries, but most of all I recall the tension, chaos and distress in our household, as my parents attempted to control this changed behaviour. My siblings were seen as disrespectful, disobedient and ungrateful. Eventually some of them were ‘disowned’ because my parents were not able to cope with this new and very different reality.

It was into this fast-changing world that Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council. He knew the church had not kept up with the changes the world was facing and he called together people to discuss how the church would respond to this changing culture. Fifty years on from these discussions and we are still struggling with the work begun by this Council.

I will share with you some of what George Bradt wrote on Culture Change and the Catholic Church: What Pope Francis Can Learn From Past Leaders


In light of the church’s slow response to political, social, economic and technical changes around them, one of the first things Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli did when he became Pope John XXIII in 1958 was to call the Second Vatican Council “to open the windows of the Church to let in some fresh air.” The council lasted a little over three years and resulted in changes in thinking and behaviours around the church itself, the liturgy, the roles of scripture and bishops.

Vatican II was an important step in the journey, not the be all and end all. Merely laying out a new direction is not enough to get people actually to change direction. True culture change requires changes in environment, values, attitudes, relationships and behaviours. Pope Francis will need to complete the change by focusing on relationships. Let’s look at how this has been done in the past:


Vatican II made fundamental changes in the environment of the Mass in having services conducted in the language of each congregation (instead of in Latin for all), and having the Mass celebrants turn around and face the congregation.


The change here was more a re-commitment to the values in scripture than in imposing new values. But that was different than what people had been doing immediately before then.


This was a big change “to open the windows of the Church to let in some fresh air.” There’s evidence that opening the windows without putting in screens let some unwelcome creatures fly in with that fresh air. Corruption and child abuse are never welcome creatures.


This is the next step in the change. Given the new environment, the re-commitment to core values and the new attitude, strengthening relationships by strengthening communication, encouraging more in-depth debate, and tackling conflict is critical to making Vatican II’s intended changes real and sustainable.


While behaviours have evolved, the change in relationships can help people encourage the positive behaviours the church needs and root out the negative behaviours that are getting in the way.

Key Takeaways for Pope Francis:

Build on the positive momentum your predecessors have created. Cut off the bad things. Focus on relationships both in the church and between the church and the rest of the world.

Culture matters. For most of us, culture is the only sustainable advantage

In general, start a culture change with an attitude change

Treat culture change as a marathon, not a sprint

It won’t be as hard to change the culture of your organization as it is to change the culture of the Catholic Church. But it is hard. Prepare in advance. It’s worth it. Implement, likely starting with an attitude change. Then, follow through with ongoing communication for as long as it takes.

I note the following from the Editorial in the Newcastle Herald of Friday 2nd September:

The question, now, is this: to what degree has the church accepted that the game is up, and that the only way it can properly protect what reputation it may have left is to fully embrace the survivors its priests have vilely betrayed, and to make what reparations are necessary, as fully and as quickly as possible.

That said, the Herald acknowledges that Bishop Malone, both as an individual and as a leading cleric, has done a substantial amount – much of it behind the scenes – to push the church in the right direction.

Importantly, he played a leading role in the apology that Pope Benedict XVI gave in Sydney in 2008.

But the heart-rending testimonies of two of Ryan’s victims to the commission show – and he was just one of more than 30 perpetrators in the diocese – the church has a lot to apologise for. (Issue: 48,328)

Bishop MichaelI remember walking across the Harbour Bridge with Bishop Michael and our WYD pilgrims during WYD in 2008. Bishop Michael made the decision to walk with ‘his people’ and not to gather with the other bishops who were with Pope Benedict. He had chosen to give voice to and to take a stand on the matter of child sexual abuse he had dealing with in the diocese since he became the bishop here in 1995. This does not sound like a brave step, but indeed it was because he chose not to be in step with the other Australian Bishops. He recognised that things needed to change.

Upon reflection, I personally feel I can now name his stance as that of a ‘prophet’, a person who challenges the status quo, and proclaims a new way of honouring the covenant between God and the people, and prophets do this at great cost to themselves.

While we now name this as the ‘sexual abuse crisis’, this is a complex, tragic and ongoing issue for our church, and one for which there is no one solution. Other problems presently facing our world are – climate change, refugee and asylum seeker issues, ISIS, poverty and the poor, inequities of living standards…….Generally they are new problems which we have not previously faced and they are multi-layered.

Bishop Michael has previously admitted that he ‘stuffed-up’ in his first years until he had an epiphany, in which he had to choose between being loyal to the church or supporting those who were coming to him disclosing their abuse and subsequent broken lives. In choosing the latter he was shunned and ostracized by some of his fellow bishops and clergy and certainly by people within the diocese. He struggled and felt isolated in walking alone and naming the reality of the betrayal of the church by clergy and others.

This call for him to change was massive as he moved from the cultural loyalty that formed part of who he was and that of many who called the church ‘home’, to taking a different stance and path. I recall his pain, questioning, disappointment and sometimes despair. What was this priesthood all about, something he had given his life for? Many others were also asking the same questions of themselves and of course thousands walked away, not able to cope with the hypocrisy and secrets.

I know that to bring about cultural change requires us to participate, to remain inside the rim of the organisation that is undergoing change. For some this becomes too difficult and they must walk away with despair in their hearts, wishing things were different. For others they resist the change and fight to keep things the same. Like my family in the sixties it is stressful and very unpleasant. And yet the evidence is there that change, reform and renewal is critical and possible.

The Chairman of the Royal Commission, Justice Peter McClellan, asked some hard-hitting questions of those who were before him this week. Bishop Bill gave a heartfelt apology at the Royal Commission. I recall the public apology from Bishop Michael in the Cathedral in 2008.

I noted this piece, It’s About Compassion, written by Rev. Paul Robertson in the Letters to the Editor in the Newcastle Herald on Saturday 3rd September.

On Tuesday, August 30, and incident occurred at the Newcastle court, immediately prior to the morning session of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle.

I was speaking with survivor CKA, when CKA’s attention was drawn to Archbishop Herft who, with others approached him.

It was a chance, unplanned encounter.

More people gathered, including commission staff. There was an atmosphere of interest, mixed with concern.

The Archbishop attempted to speak, but no words came from his mouth.

Survivor CKA reached out with his hand, and touched the Archbishop’s arm.

CKA then spoke: “Bishop, it’s OK. It’s about compassion. The Church must show compassion for those who have been damaged by the actions of a few.”

Here was an act of grace, meeting mute distress.

Sensing a spirit of forgiveness, a step towards healing, it was for me a profound moment.

Richard Rohr said the following regarding forgiveness at the end of his weekly message:

Forgiveness is an act of letting go. When we forgive we do not forget the harm someone caused or say that it does not matter. But we release bitterness and hatred, freeing ourselves to move on and make choices grounded in our strength rather than victimization. Forgiveness opens our closed hearts to give and receive love fully.

So I go back to the cultural change in my family during the sixties and indeed the ensuing decades. My parents wished for an apology from the many children who they determined went astray, who dared to do it differently to them. This apology was given in time and in their wisdom my parents were gracious enough to accept and to have our family whole and complete again. This required all parties to be gracious, compassionate and forgiving. There is no point to saying you are sorry if the other party does not offer forgiveness and in doing so can see their part in the drama that has unfolded. Initially relationships were strained but the passage of time enabled healing and acceptance.

It is difficult to see these moments as times of grace but it seems that our disgraceful history may lead to a renewal, a cultural change and hopefully new life. We have to want this, pray for it and enable it.

On Saturday I facilitated Unit One in the Integrity in the Service of the Church program we are running for those involved in parish ministries. The eight units for this course are based on The Word and I share with you our prayer which calls us to be wrapped with the cloak of integrity:

Litany of Integrity

Leader: As disciples we have listened to God’s word and pondered it in our hearts.

            Let us pray for the grace of integrity to follow in the path of Christ.

Leader: Act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly with God. (Micah 6: 8)

All: Wrap us in the cloak of integrity, loving God.

Leader: Set your hearts on God’s coming reign. (Lk 12:31)

All: Wrap us in the cloak of integrity.

Leader: Be merciful as God is merciful. (Lk 6:36)

All: Wrap us in the cloak of integrity.

Leader: This is my son, the chosen one, listen to Him. (Lk 9:36)

All: Wrap us in the cloak of integrity.

Leader: Take up your daily cross and follow Him. (Lk 9:23)

All: Wrap us in the cloak of integrity.

Leader: We, too, should wash each other’s feet. (Jn 13:15)

All: Wrap us in the cloak of integrity.

Leader: Love one another as God has loved you. (Jn 13:34)

All: Wrap us in the cloak of integrity.

Leader: A peace the world cannot give is my gift to you. (Jn 14: 27b)

All: Wrap us in the cloak of integrity.

Mother TeresaOur scriptures invite us to be people of integrity. This integrity, as Bradt wrote must be based on relationships. Bradt notes that we must work on relationships as our next step in the cultural change brought about by Vatican II. He says:

Given the new environment, the re-commitment to core values and the new attitude, strengthening relationships by strengthening communication, encouraging more in-depth debate, and tackling conflict is critical to making Vatican II’s intended changes real and sustainable. Focus on relationships both in the church and between the church and the rest of the world.

So as we celebrate the beginning of Spring, Father’s Day, the beatification of Mother Teresa and the 133 years since the arrival of Sisters of St Joseph’s in our diocese let us embrace the change we wish to realise with God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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