Priests grilled about paedophilia within the church
"WHY are so many priests paedophiles?"
This was just one of the tough questions posed to a group of priests as part of ABC's program You Can't Ask That, where each episode the Australian public get the chance to ask burning questions to different groups.
This week the spotlight is on priests and, along with their sex lives and how they feel about the gay community, one of the main questions Aussies wanted an answer to was about why child abuse is so prolific in the church.
Reverend Roger Dyer, from the Anglican Church in Ballarat, said it was the power that comes with the priest position that attracted paedophiles to the church.
"Priests aren't paedophiles. Paedophiles get access to the priesthood and inculcate that within the priestly community for their own selfish ends and purposes," he said.
"People have seen the way priesthood is being presented as a powerful position - and indeed it was in the past - and that's where these people used it."
He said abuse has been allowed to become so rampant because the church was more worried about protecting its image than facing the problem.
"I've had four parishes in succession where there's been abuse," Rev Dryer said.
"I don't think there was a child that went through Wallsend parish that hadn't been affected by Peter Rushton."
Rev Dryer was one of the priests who spoke out about the abuse children suffered at the hands of Rushton, a prolific paedophile Anglican priest in Newcastle.
"I said that the church had to come to grips with the allegations of sexual abuse - it had to fess up. The institution curled up into itself and tried to remove me," he said.
"I stood alone. I can't describe the disappointment, the sadness and the alienation."
Perth Anglican Reverend, Chris Bedding, said he was constantly aware of the stigma that came with being a priest.
"I take off my collar in public just to avoid odd questions and stares. You are constantly aware that the image of priests has been tarnished," he said.
"When a priest abuses they betray everything about what they claim to believe and exploit those who they're supposed to care for."
"People are not rocking up in droves anymore." - Priests reflect on how the role of the church has changed. New episode of #YouCantAskThat tonight at 9pm and the full series on @ABCiview | https://t.co/QUUiHhYete pic.twitter.com/mqmrhRMLB3— ABC TV Australia (@ABCTV) 28 August 2018
When the group was asked if they believed that "all gay people are going to hell", Rev Bedding's automatic response was a definitive "no".
"There are so many people that have been hurt by Christians that say that because of who you're attracted to that means God automatically rejects you and is sending you to burn for all eternity," he said.
"I wish the churches generally around marriage equality had just shut up, rather than this aggressive, negative, ill-informed voice that has made people feel anxious and afraid to even have anything to do with Christian people."
Rev Dyer admitted he was one of the priests that used to preach that homosexuality was a sin until his own son came out as gay.
"I was very good at preaching hell fire on these subjects until my son came to me and said, 'Dad, I'm gay'," he said.
"And I remember my exact words to him, 'Son, I'm a divorcee and if you're going to hell, I'm going with you."
Uniting Church Reverend, Denise Champion, the first Aboriginal woman in South Australia ever to be ordained, shares the same view as the others that people don't go to hell for their sexuality.
"Gay people are like me and millions of other people who are fighting to be recognised," she said.
"As an Aboriginal person I know what that feels like."
Another aspect of priesthood that people were particularly interested in was if any of them had a sex life.
"I am a celibate, so I think the ideal is no. We are giving our hearts to God himself and God alone and that includes the body," 25-year-old Father Marcus Goulding form the Sydney Catholic Church said.
"There is always temptations there but for me the thing that sustains my celibacy is prayer. If I spend an hour a day I find that I live celibacy very easily."
Rev Bedding said the good thing about Anglicans was they "don't have any hang-ups about masturbation".
He added that the church definitely has a big problem with the way they view sex and it can often scare people away from the religion.
"Instead of having a healthy sense that sex and sexuality is something beautiful and something that's to be openly discussed we tend to shut down anything to do with sex out of fear," Rev Bedding said.
The season finale aired last night on ABC at 9pm. It now can be accessed via ABC iview.
To apply to appear on the show or to submit questions for any of the new subjects - go to www.abc.net.au/youcantaskthat or email firstname.lastname@example.org