Australian bishop who was victim of sex abuse speaks on U.S. church’s crisis

Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen of Parramatta, chairman of the Australian bishops' social justice council, is pictured in a 2014 photo. (CNS photo/courtesy Australian Catholic Bishops Conference) 

Bishop Vincent Long is the Bishop of Parramatta, a diocese northwest of Sydney. A former Assistant General of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, he is Australia’s first Asian-born bishop and the first Vietnamese-born bishop to head a diocese outside of Vietnam.

In 2017 Bishop Long testified before Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. In his testimonyhe revealed, “I was also a victim of sexual abuse by clergy when I first came to Australia, even though I was an adult, so that had a powerful impact on me and how I want to, you know, walk in the shoes of other victims and really endeavour to attain justice and dignity for them."

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This is the third in a series of interviews Jim McDermott, S.J., is conducting on the sexual abuse crisis. This interview was conducted by e-mail.

Bishop Long, what are your reactions to the events of the last three weeks in the United States and beyond? What do you see happening in the church right now?

The events in these last few weeks, including the sensational accusations against Pope Francis himself by the former nuncio to the U.S., has caused great turmoil in the church. The sexual abuse crisis is inundating the whole church like a tsunami and it has the potential to cause long-term damage, chaos and even schism. It is the biggest crisis since the Reformation and it exposes the ideological conflict that runs deeply through the length and breadth of the universal church.

The anti-Pope Francis forces...have accelerated their frontal attacks against him in a coordinated and virulent manner. The gloves are clearly off and they have seized this moment of turmoil as an opportunity to undermine his papacy and derail his reform agenda. What is interesting, too, is the number of bishops who have chosen to sympathize with these forces and therefore shown their not-so-subtle disapproval of the way the pope is leading the church.

“I was also a victim of sexual abuse by clergy when I first came to Australia."

Clearly, Captain Francis will have to weather both the storm and the mutiny onboard. I just hope and pray that he stays the course because nothing less than a deep and comprehensive reform will restore confidence and trust in the church. It is time for the church, especially its leaders, to listen with great humility and embark upon a journey of radical conversion. I firmly believe that we must seize this time of crisis as a catalyst for change and not as a temporary aberration. We must have the courage to do whatever is needed to bring about the church that is worthy of Christ and his Gospel.

We should not fear this time. For it can be a great opportunity and a tremendous blessing in disguise.

The church in Australia seems to sit in a somewhat similar position to that of the United States right now, with the Royal Commission and the Pennsylvania grand jury both begging the question of next steps. What do you see as the next major steps the episcopacy must take?

They say culture eats strategy for breakfast. Any attempt at ridding the church of child sex abuse by clergy will have to deal with its root causes. I believe the clerical sexual abuse crisis is a symptom of a dysfunctional, corrosive and destructive culture in the church. Pope Francis often denounces clericalism, which is endemic to many aspects and levels of the institutional church such as the Roman Curia, the Diocesan structures, seminaries, etc. Ultimately, it is not a question of individual manifestations of clericalism. It is a question of clericalism inherent in the very culture of the church, which we must look at very honestly.

If we are to make the church a safe and healthy environment for children and vulnerable adults, we must not only hold the perpetrators and enablers to account but also explore the cultural and structural reforms needed to move the church forward.

Critical among these is the exercise of power. Abuse of a sexual nature is often a manifestation of abuse of power. An effective response to the crisis must include, therefore, an examination of the exercise of power in the church, not only among the clergy but also in the very structure of the church. A healthy approach to and exercise of power is grounded in an understanding of power as relational and intended for service, rather than as dominance, entitlement and privilege.

Any attempt at ridding the church of child sex abuse by clergy will have to deal with its root causes.

These are the major steps I believe are needed for the church leaders to take: enabling survivors to attain truth, justice and healing; creating a safer and healthier church environment for children and vulnerable adults; and facilitating the faithful, particularly women, to participate with full citizenship in the church’s life, governance structures and decision-making processes.

In all these steps, it is necessary to have a body equipped with expertise, experience and independence in order to investigate, review, recommend standards, governance and management structures of dioceses, parishes and institutions, including in relation to issues of transparency, accountability, consultation and the participation of lay men and women.

It is very hard for people to understand how the culture of the church continues to allow for obfuscation, cover-up and at times a refusal to take responsibility for serious mistakes. How do you see these matters? Why even now, and even among leaders who have done so much good otherwise, do they persist? What will it take, in your opinion, to change the culture of the church?

The culture of clerical hegemony has been solidly entrenched in the Catholic Church since it began to take center stage in the Roman Empire. It is a by-product of the model of church, which sees itself as self-sufficient, superior to and separate from the outside world. Its security, reputation and internal relationships are the center of attention. The church in this model becomes the church of the ordained at the expense of the baptized. As a result, the ordained becomes an exalted and elitist club that protects the interests and privileges its members. This explains the obfuscation and cover-up, which is so endemic to this club mentality. It is a far cry from the model of the Humble Servant at the Last Supper and it is a powerful ingredient and ideal condition for the disease of clericalism to fester.

In my opinion, we really need to, once and for all, jettison that clericalist model of church. It has served us well beyond its use-by date. The church as understood and articulated by the Second Vatican Council sees itself as a pilgrim People of God, incarnate in the world. It is a new paradigm—one that is based on mutuality not exclusion, love not fear, service not clericalism, engagement with the world not flight from or hostility against it, incarnate grace not dualism. The time has come for us to embrace and implement unambiguously and decisively the vision of the pilgrim church that the Second Vatican Council entrusted to us. The time has come for the church to be truly the church of the baptized and together with the ordained, all the People of God can create a new culture of humility, accountability and service.

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Stephen de Weger
3 months ago

Yeah. good response to questions but still no discussion on clergy sexual activity in general, including what Vincent himself experienced - against adults. I'd love him to talk about that in relation to concepts of celibacy and sexual activity in seminaries etc. It is this issue (McCarrick) that started the current intense debate, so we need to keep refocusing on that aspect of the clergy abuse scandal. Clergy abuse stems form clericalism, yes, but it also stems from a liberal attitude towards sex and sexuality in general amongst clergy which has increased the levels of tolerance clergy sexual activity. According to Sipe, http://www.awrsipe.com/Docs_and_Controversy/blackmail.html , it is this culture, not the clericalist culture alone, that contributes to sex abuse of children and adults. These realities just must not be skirted around. As well, the whole issue of 'vulnerable' adults is desparingly misunderstood. All adults are potentially vulnerable, both poistionally and in regard to personal issues that we all go through. Anyway, abuse of anyone does not depend on the status of the abused person, but on the behaviour of the abusing cleric. W have a long way to go yet.

Trent Shannon
3 months ago

Mate these abuse cases go back DECADES. They didnt happen in the last couple of years

And you need to get this through your mind - CHILD ABUSE IN ALL ITS FORMS IS ABOUT POWER, CONTROL AND SUPPLY!

How do you explain physical abuse? Emotional abuse? Neither have anything to do with sex or sexuality yet they happen too!

Im a child sexual and emotional abuse survivor. Skip your "blame sexuality" tangent and come into the real world where the are abusers in all walks of life, using kids in ways not meant to be, and causing lifelong effects.

If you dont, or won't, understand how ABUSE (the hint is in the word, USE) actually works, go take a running jump with Sipe

Stephen de Weger
2 months 4 weeks ago

Trent, I agree with everything you've said here but I fear you have too readily lumped me into a category. I fit no category. I acknowledge both gay and straight abuse in the church and my are of research is of clergy abuse of adult which requires a lot of power manipulation. If you read my material elsewhere you will understand that I agree with you. By the way, I, too am a survivor of both child and adult sexual abuse. I will ignore the final anger-based verbal abuse of me. If you are interested in what I've written, you can go here (on my website). https://www.catholicmetoo.com/links/
I think you also deeply misunderstand Sipe and would do well to do some reading of his work. He would have only ever defended you and your comments here. However, I also fully understand the anger with which you write.

James Riley
3 months ago

Times up; Church is ready for married priests, female priests, absence of preoccupation with matters of gender and sexuality other than elimination of predation by clergy which term includes bishops; bishops and clergy in present celibate state constitute obsolete, antiquated, out of touch and anomalous “old boys club”

John Mack
3 months ago

When posting, wait a good deal of time before your post is up. Do not hit the Save button again.

James Riley
3 months ago

Times up; Church is ready for married priests, female priests, absence of preoccupation with matters of gender and sexuality other than elimination of predation by clergy which term includes bishops; bishops and clergy in present celibate state constitute obsolete, antiquated, out of touch and anomalous “old boys club”

James Riley
3 months ago

Times up; Church is ready for married priests, female priests, absence of preoccupation with matters of gender and sexuality other than elimination of predation by clergy which term includes bishops; bishops and clergy in present celibate state constitute obsolete, antiquated, out of touch and anomalous “old boys club”

Barbara Knorr
3 months ago

I am so excited to hear these words. I feel supported in my need and search for the Vatican ll documents to be acknowledged.
Are we, or are we not baptized into the priesthood of Christ?
I need to get over my own reservations and uneasiness to see the injustice in failing to fully support the ordination of women.
In all humility we have created the vocation crisis by discounting even the possibility of ordination of Roman Catholic women.
The sexual abuse crisis is a symptom of the disease of
male clericalism. When we ignore half the population, life is bound to become unbalanced.

John Mack
3 months ago

No cleric should ever undertake to investigate an alleged crime that ought to be investigated by a secular police force. On the other hand it looks like Catholics will just have to put up with being ruled by criminal bishops who are criminals by actively, not just passively, abetting by heinous crimes.

gerald nichols
2 months 4 weeks ago

This "interview" has the "scent" of a false-flag operation. First, the cleric makes known he is a victim of clergy abuse (as an adult) and quickly defends Pope Francis.
I tend to assume he also would defend the Popes close advisors who are also under fire in the Vigano letter.I noted the clever use of "the anti-Pope Francis forces" phraseology which casts PF's critics as "anti-Pope."
My unease about the case is that it appears the Pope may be under the influence of the so-called Lavender Mafia and/or homosexual network.

Gerry Freer
2 months 4 weeks ago

Bishop Vincent is a man of service and integrity....what you see is what you get.

Stephen de Weger
2 months 4 weeks ago

I agree, Gerry. In Australia, he is probably one of the most respected Bishops we have at the moment, at least by the victim/survivor community.

Simon Spacy
2 months 4 weeks ago

This situation is indeed shocking but unfortunately, it's not uncommonly. We at Kangarooassignmenthelp.com often get an order to write an assignment on religion where we discuss current issues that are related to the religion in Australia and worldwide.

Will Niermeyer
2 months 4 weeks ago

You were an adult when you arrived in Australia and sexually abused. I find that hard to believe that an adult would get himself in that situation.

Douglas Fang
2 months 4 weeks ago

People choose to believe what they want to believe...

Stephen de Weger
2 months 4 weeks ago

Well, Will, you better believe it. Do you find it hard to believe that women (and men) are raped? Perhaps you need to read up on the issue first. What happened to Vincent happened to many of the participants in my study of clergy abuse of adults. It happened to me as well. For many men, no, they just wouldn't let it happen but those type of men are usually not targeted. For others, especially when clergy are involved, there is so much subtle manipulation, and the victim can be very vulnerable (as Vincent would have been, and as I was) for many different reasons. You can read about the whole process it here: https://eprints.qut.edu.au/96038/. We all need to get far more educated on this. I hope this helps a little.

A Fielder
2 months 4 weeks ago

I also believe it. Some clerics pursue relationships with adults expecting that the age of the victim they exploit, blackmail, or assault will provide cover from judgment or prosecution at long as there is no proof of the crime. This happens at some seminaries, and I spent 2 painful years with PTSD to provide this testimony.

Stephen de Weger
2 months 4 weeks ago

A. Fielder, I hope you have found someone to help you through your PTSD preferably someone who uses EMDR as part of the treatment method. I also hope you can keep an eye open for an invitation for participants for my study. I have found it difficult to get male participants (if you are male, that is). I will be inviting people in around January, after I receive ethics approval. My study is particularly on how victims/survivors are responded to when they report the abuse. Take care.

A Fielder
2 months 3 weeks ago

Thanks, Stephen. My allegation was in 2007 and yes I found a great therapist with 20 years of experience helping both victims and offenders. I’m not male, but would love to participate. The then bishop of Oakland, Alan Vigneron, suspended the man’s faculties quickly and I was served well by my parish priest and the (female) Chancellor of the diocese. Eventually the Society of Jesus agreed to pay for the therapy.

Stephanie Barrett
2 months 3 weeks ago

1 sec ago
To all who assume that
a “vulnerable adult woman abuse”
is an impossible statement?
Please understand that this
has occurred in the Church
in the past.

To widen the scope of harm
done. I was an adult Mom,
who in a counseling situation
was raped. This is one of
the issues that is not ever
considered.
My abuse happened in the late 70’s.
Years later I was fortunate
to receive great counseling
from a Friar.
I was treated for PTSD with EMDR
I only speak up publicly after all this
time because this is an issue that
needs to be looked at in
all people. This was not just
a child abuse issue. I must
admit that the younger you
were the greater your shame
and suffering.
I was raped, it was not
an affair. I suffered greatly
after this occurred. And do suffer
flashbacks to this day. I was
in Cardinal McCarrick’s diocese
when I was abused by a diocesan
priest.
My family is unaware of those
happenings that scarred my life
so long ago.

Phillip Stone
2 months 3 weeks ago

Do we really need a bunch of -ism words to discuss these issues?

First, the initiative and the power and the timing of events within the faithful on earth is in the hands of God as Jesus - Matthew 16:18 - where He renames Simon and then appoints him "thou art Peter and upon this Rock I will build my ekklesia "
Note - ... I, I will build MY ...

Now what did we see unfold - multiple fellowships splitting up over extremely important issues because they were mysteries that confounded common sense and at the time were stumbling blocks to many.
Our sovereign Lord has presided over the development, growth and spread of numerous alternate ways of being a follower of His and only some of these withered and disappeared as dead ends.
None of them is flawless and no person within each is flawless - the followers of Jesus are sinners - that means us. And the gates of hell have yet to prevail.

So enough virtue signalling. Are any of us without sin that we may cast cruel and deadly stones at someone else?

The central bureaucracy and this current pope canonised two popes at the same time - one I was jubilant about and one I was dismayed by. In my estimation Good Pope John moved in the right direction, Pope John Paul the Great opposed it if the topic in question is humility, goodness and institutional improvement. Just goes to show that it is much better that Jesus is Lord rather than I.

Anyone here who fancies that they can solve the mystery of iniquity and purge the fellowship of pride, passion, violence and strife is fooling themselves.

Can we discuss the issues properly separated? Sex and violence and might I add, dependency. Three primary social drives.

Sex pertains to us all, male and female pre and post puberty.
Let us remind ourselves, the children in early primary resemble each other a great deal while girls and boys differ in preferences there is a great deal of overlap.

Then the most powerful mind altering drugs flush into the systems of these little lambs and they are transformed, sometimes almost beyond recognition - it is puberty. We all have no choice, the biological timer in the brain chimes, and the switch is thrown.

It happens on the average earlier in girls and Christendom deemed it wise to separate the boys from the girls as the girls began to manipulate, dominate and control the bewildered male children not yet primed for the change. In my day, we boys mostly went to male only schools in fifth class and were dealt with appropriately to our sex when the time came.
Notice how sexual maturity and power are intertwined.

Now, add to this observation the intoxication of power possessed by reason of beauty or wealth or size or strength or social status.
Inequality rules.
Then we notice hero worship, devoted followers, in-group membership and the like in so many convinced of their own littleness and powerlessness and uselessness, timidity and vulnerability and eager to follow and identify with leaders and role-models and highly competent operators or protectors.

The Mother of Christ recommends we operate within this complex maze with prayer and penitence, humility and sacrifice.

Paul Pearce
2 months 3 weeks ago

As a priest of 25 years standing and a survivor of abuse I would like to see how many people like me have suffered abuse (in my case not by a church person) and yet remain the subject of indifference. I have not had any inquiry ( from my superiors) about how I am dealing with what happened to me (possibly because I am not a bishop). I mean no disrespect the Bishop Long but the reality is that there are many of us who have had to suffer in silence without being given the opportunity to have our say. All to often is it the case where the views of the hierarchy mean more than those at the grass roots level.

Paul Pearce
2 months 3 weeks ago

As a priest of 25 years standing and a survivor of abuse I would like to see how many people like me have suffered abuse (in my case not by a church person) and yet remain the subject of indifference. I have not had any inquiry ( from my superiors) about how I am dealing with what happened to me (possibly because I am not a bishop). I mean no disrespect the Bishop Long but the reality is that there are many of us who have had to suffer in silence without being given the opportunity to have our say. All to often is it the case where the views of the hierarchy mean more than those at the grass roots level.

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