IN the Gospel according to Matthew there is a famous statement by Jesus about children.
“If anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea,” is how the Christian Bible records it.
They are harsh words from the Son of God, but they reflect how those who follow the Christian religion are supposed to see their relations with children. Christ said, very clearly, that children are vulnerable and any assault on that vulnerability should be harshly and permanently dealt with.
This vast gulf between the teachings of Christ on children, and the crimes committed by church representatives against them over decades, explains why the community condemns child sexual abuse by religious representatives so severely. It is why people have lost faith in faith itself.
Bishop Greg Thompson was elected to the position of the Hunter’s Anglican leader in late 2013, and took up the role in February, 2014. He returned to the region of his birth and confronted child sexual abuse in his own past, and in the diocese’s past.
It can truly be said that he walked in the footsteps of Christ when he confronted the culture that allowed more than 30 Anglican child sex offenders to commit crimes on children over decades. The offenders caused the little ones to “stumble” – to experience devastating and profound assaults – and the bishop recognised his duty to those child victims as a follower of Christ.
We don’t drown any criminals in the depths of the sea in contemporary Australia, but we do investigate and prosecute them.
The problem is that in Newcastle, as in many parts of Australia and across the globe, the churches that gave child sex offenders authority over children, protected the offenders and failed to follow Christ’s teachings.
Bishop Thompson has paid a very high price for standing up for adults who were appallingly abused by his church. He is rightly being honoured on Sunday at a service in the cathedral where he was made to feel a stranger.
In the next week the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is expected to release a damning assessment of the diocese and its leaders.
Bishop Thompson will be remembered as the church leader who restored faith in his Christian faith.