THE Sydney bishop who helped write the Catholic Church's sex abuse policy in Australia has urged a fundamental reshaping of the church's power structures, warning papal authority has gone too far and calling for a review of compulsory celibacy for priests and the church's teachings on sex.
Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, who retired three years ago and who was once touted as a possible candidate for the job of archbishop of Sydney, says the church has to get more serious about confronting clerical abuse and change must start at the top.
In an explosive critique of the church to be published tomorrow, he has directly criticised both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI for Rome's reluctance to take stronger action to tackle sexual abuse.
The breadth and scope of his stance is extremely unusual in the Catholic Church, where bishops usually observe an oath of silence in retirement.
Bishop Robertson said he did not expect immediate change but wanted to start a robust "conversation" in the church about the need for reform of power structures and sexual ethics.
He also says in his book that he was the victim of an abusive stranger, not a priest, as an adolescent. The experience shaped his response to abuse victims and led to significant disenchantment with the church.
In the book, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church, Bishop Robinson says papal authority has gone too far, local bishops have been marginalised and the faithful of the church rendered powerless.
John Paul II had left the church to deal with "one of the ugliest stories to emerge from the Catholic Church" without appropriate levels of direction or guidance.
Pope Benedict's failure to even consider a review of priestly celibacy was to "lose credibility even before the discussion has begun".
There was a need for the church to review its commitment to priestly celibacy and its "extreme" teachings on sexual ethics, in which the church treats as a sin sex before marriage between committed couples.
And the attire of bishops and priests needed to be modernised - the bishop's mitre abandoned because of its "bad body language" and the priestly collar replaced in some circumstances with a distinctive tie.
Priests and bishops should be appraised every five or six years, as was normal in every workplace, and parishes would get a say in the priests appointed.
Specifically, Bishop Robinson has called for an elected parliament of bishops to be established, from which properly representative church leaders would elect future popes.
The tradition in the Eastern Catholic Church of appointing patriarchs to lead national churches could be adopted by the Roman Catholic church to remove hierarchical confusion.
But Bishop Robinson's powerful case for reform was likely to be resisted by those with a vested interest in not seeing any radical change within the church, said Father Michael Whelan, the principal of the Aquinas Academy and a founding member of the group Catalyst for Renewal. The Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, declined to comment.
[This guy is nuts and should be defrocked. The funky hats are the only thing separating us from the godless heathens. This excerpt from a Seinfeld episode illustrates; it's The Conversion, where George is converting to Latvian Orthodoxy to get some girl:
FATHER-PRIEST: Why do you want to accept the Latvian Orthodox faith?
GEORGE: (ahem) In this age of uncertainty and confusion, a man begins to ask himself certain questions. How can one even begin to put into words something so um… (trying to think of a word)
FATHER-PRIEST: Vast? (he pronounces it as "vost")
GEORGE: No not vast (he pronounces it as "vost")
FATHER-PRIEST: Well whatever it is, basically you like the religion.
FATHER-PRIEST 2: Is there one aspect of the faith that you find particularly attractive?
GEORGE: (he thinks) I think the hats. The hat conveys that solemn religious look you want in a faith. Very pious.
PS, George did not get the girl.]