The bishop of Parramatta has made an impassioned plea for the Catholic Church to become less “elitist” while revealing he was sexually abused by clergy himself.
Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen was applauded during his evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Tuesday.
Survivors of sex abuse and their loved ones approached afterwards and some cried as they spoke with him.
“I was also a victim of sexual abuse by clergy when I first came to Australia, even though I was an adult,” the former refugee said towards the end of his testimony in Sydney.
“That had a powerful impact on me and how I want to … walk in the shoes of other victims and really endeavour to attain justice and dignity for them.”
Bishop Long, who is the first Australian bishop of Vietnamese background, said titles, privileges and the church’s institutional dynamics “breed clerical superiority and elitism”.
He says he cringes when parishioners call him “your lordship” and the church needs to review mandatory celibacy – which he thinks separates the clergy from parishioners.
Archbishop of Hobart Julian Porteous and Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn Christopher Prowse said they would not insist on someone calling them by a title but would also not demand honorifics be dropped.
“When they (faithful Catholics) come to see me, they kiss my ring,” Bishop Long said.
“I’m not very comfortable with these sorts of practices because they encourage a certain infantilisation of the laity.”
The royal commission’s final hearing into the Catholic Church has been investigating how a culture of clericalism could have contributed to ongoing sexual abuse in the church.
Bishop Long said clergy were only accountable to the person above them, meaning a priest was safe as long as he was supported by a bishop.
“There’s no accountability that reaches outwards or downwards, and that’s the critical problem,” he said.
“The laity have no meaningful or direct participation in the appointment, supervision and removal of the parish priest. I think that needs to change.”
Bishop Long was part of a panel of six bishops and archbishops giving testimony at the hearing on Tuesday.
The three-week hearing is expected to continue on Wednesday.