Dear community of Mentone,
I am writing to address an issue that is impacting our local community.
Last week a member of the community spoke to me about a story regarding a local Catholic priest in Mentone, which is being reported in the media. Both the Herald Sun and The Age have run update stories today (Feb 10).
As many people will be aware, I live in the local area of Mentone/Parkdale, and I am a father of 3 children who attend a Mentone school (not the two schools mentioned in the media), and I Pastor a Church in Mentone. To hear any story of abuse in the community concerns me because I am a parent, and because I am a Pastor, and because Mentone is my home.
I ought to preface the statement with these two points:
i. Apart from media reports, I am not privy to the particulars of what has taken place with the accusations levelled against John Walshe.
ii. Even though I am a Minister in Mentone, I don’t know John Walshe (Priest at St Patrick’s, Mentone), and have only spoken to him once, about 9 years ago, albeit briefly on the phone in relation to a school Christmas event.
The issue concerns an incident that took place in 1982, when Walshe allegedly abused a seminarian, shortly after Walshe had been ordained. News of this incident has caused concern and outrage amongst many parents at the two schools under the jurisdiction of St Patrick’s parish, St Patrick’s School in Mentone and St John Vianney’s School in Parkdale. It should be added, there are other parents expressing support for John Walshe, and both school councils have indicated ‘unanimous support’ according to The Age.
In reading the media’s report, parental concerns become clearer because of a contradiction between what John Walshe says took place, and what the ArchDiocese of Melbourne determined.
According to an ABC report, John Walshe, said “while his conduct was contrary to his religious beliefs, the encounter with X was completely consensual.”
The Catholic ArchDiocese of Melbourne however concluded that the victim was sexually abused and gave him compensation. Given that this is the case, it does appear incongruous that Walshe is permitted to remain in the ministry.
First of all, I want to ensure Mentone (Baptist) that we hold extremely highly the qualifications set out in Scripture for church leaders.
As I said before, I am not privy to all the information regarding the alleged abuse case, however I know that at Mentone Baptist Church, should a pastor (or any one at the church for that matter) sexually abuse anyone, their tenure would be terminated, and the authorities contacted. And should any of the Church’s leaders engage in sexual immorality (having sex with a person to whom they are not married), they would also be required to step down.
Sadly, I understand how many people have become suspicious of ecclesial organisations, given the lack of transparency that exists among some. Many are not like this, an example of humble transparency and honesty is that of Peter Jensen, the Former Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, who gave testimony at the Royal Commission last week. But the offering of silence, as seems to be the case here, when there are legitimate concerns, is as helpful as clanging cymbals being hit half a beat behind rest of the band (1 Corinthians 13:1-2).
Second, I have lots of empathy for the concerned families of these schools. After all, this is my community where my family and I live, and it grieves me to see this situation unfolding over the neighbours fence, so to speak.
I am happy to meet with concerned parents, should they think it helpful (email is firstname.lastname@example.org)
Finally, we are praying for all concerned. As we pray, we do so trusting that godly resolution will come soon.
I don’t know John Walshe’s heart, and it is not for me to doubt the sincerity of his apology. I understand that the event took place over 30 years ago, and following the incident he sought counselling. But I also know that time doesn’t equal repentance, and time doesn’t heal all wounds.
I am reminded of the words of Jesus, who said,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
In other words, Jesus both judges and comforts, he brings justice and he exercises mercy. Jesus Christ does not offer cheap formulaic remedies like we find in the self-help section of a book-store, but these are words of the God who became man and took onto himself all the pain and sin of the world in order to bring healing and peace. The cross is a picture of ugliness and suffering, and for that very reason it is also a story of forgiveness and hope.
Moral failure in leaders disappoints, hurts and can lead to a hundred questions and doubts. It is not wrong to set the bar high for those who would oversee a church or ministry, but even with that justified high standard we must rest our hope in Jesus, not in people, for only in Him will we find what we most need.