Bishop Vincent Long of Parramatta at the Royal Commission into Institutional response to child abuse in Australia.,-february-2017,-sydney
Bishop Vincent Long of Parramatta diocese has been giving evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to child abuse in Australia.
A full transcript is available at the link above but he had some very interesting things to say in the course of his evidence.
BISHOP LONG: My name is Vincent Long Van Nguyen.
MS FURNESS: You’re the Bishop of the Diocese of Parramatta?
BISHOP LONG: Yes, that’s correct.
MS FURNESS: What did you do before your appointment in Parramatta?
BISHOP LONG: I was an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne for nearly five years, from June 2011 till my appointment to Parramatta, which was in June last year.
MS FURNESS: When were you ordained?
BISHOP LONG: I was ordained an auxiliary bishop on 26 June 2011.
MS FURNESS: And as a priest?
BISHOP LONG: As a priest, I was ordained in December 1989, also in Melbourne.
MS FURNESS: Thank you. I think you have the status of being the first bishop of Vietnamese background; is that right?
BISHOP LONG: In Australia, Ms Furness, yes.
MS FURNESS: Yes. You were born in Vietnam?
BISHOP LONG: I was born in Vietnam. I was a boat person in 1980 and I transited in Malaysia. I stayed in a refugee camp for 16 months before I came to Australia.
MS FURNESS: How old were you when you came to Australia?
BISHOP LONG: I was one day short of my 20th birthday. That was in December 1981.
MS FURNESS: You, soon after, went into a seminary here or you had been involved before?
BISHOP LONG: I was in a minor seminary in Vietnam, which was still in operation prior to the communist takeover, so I was trained as a minor seminarian, but in a diocesan jurisdiction, not a religious institute.
MS FURNESS: In your diocese, do you receive applications or approaches from priests overseas, including Vietnam, to come to your diocese?
BISHOP LONG: Not from Vietnam but from other countries, especially from India. We have a number of mostly religious priests who applied to minister in our diocese and some of them were accepted, so we have some overseas-born priests working in our diocese.
MS FURNESS: You heard Bishop Hurley’s evidence about not accepting seminarians and accepting only those who have been ordained elsewhere and following a process of interview, and the like. Do you follow any similar process?
BISHOP LONG: No. The fact is that we do have some, not a great number of overseas-born seminarians. We apply a very robust system of screening and monitoring in order to ensure that these candidates who are sourced from overseas are fit for our diocese.
MS FURNESS: Do you use the facilities Bishop Hurley referred to in Sydney?
BISHOP LONG: No, we have our own seminary. In fact, only last Sunday I blessed and opened our new seminary, called the Holy Spirit Seminary, in our own diocese.
MS FURNESS: By opening that, do we take it that you have a sufficient number of priests coming forward to require a new seminary?
BISHOP LONG: Yes, well, in fact, we had our own ‘seminary’ for a number of years even before I came into the diocese. They were housed in different locations because we didn’t have the facility to accommodate all of them. So we were able to build our own seminary and thankfully we have a large number of native-born, home-grown candidates in addition to some who were overseas born.
MS FURNESS: The Royal Commission has heard a deal of evidence about the diminishing numbers of young men coming forward to be a priest or religious. That’s not your experience in your diocese?
BISHOP LONG: I think there is also a reduction in the number of candidates coming forward. I think it’s a universal phenomenon. We have seminarians – the latest count is 16, but that’s in no way sufficient in terms of the replacement rate. So I wouldn’t say that we buck the trend as such, although thankfully in comparison to other jurisdictions, certainly to similar-sized dioceses in Australia, we have more candidates to the priesthood.
MS FURNESS: You will have heard evidence this morning about some seminarians in some seminaries wishing to adopt a more traditional approach to wearing the garb, et cetera. Is that an experience that you’ve had?
BISHOP LONG: It is my concern that there is a trend not only in certain seminaries in Australia but I think it’s a by-product of the two pontificates before that of Pope Francis which encouraged a certain restoration, you might say, of the traditional model of Church, and therefore the seminarians who were trained in that period, I would say, were by-products of that kind of culture in the Church.
MS FURNESS: You’ve also heard evidence that clericalism has been described as a factor or playing a role in the abuse of children and the response to that abuse and the connection between the deference and power that is part of clericalism and the more traditional approach of some seminarians. Now, do you see it like that?
BISHOP LONG: I do, and I see the clericalism as a by-product of a certain model of Church informed or underpinned or sustained by a certain theology. I mean, it’s no secret that we have been operating, at least under the two previous pontificates, from what I’d describe as a perfect society model where there is a neat, almost divinely inspired, pecking order, and that pecking order is heavily tilted towards the ordained. So you have the pope, the cardinals, the bishops, religious, consecrated men and women, and the laity right at the bottom of the pyramid.
I think we need to dismantle that model of Church. If I could use the biblical image of wineskins, it’s old wineskins that are no longer relevant, no longer able to contain the new wine, if you like. I think we really need to examine seriously that kind of model of Church where it promotes the superiority of the ordained and it facilitates that power imbalance between the ordained and the non-ordained, which in turn facilitates that attitude of clericalism, if you like.
I think there’s a link between compulsory or mandatory celibacy and clericalism in that compulsory celibacy is an act of setting apart the ordained. It’s creating that power distance between the ordained and the non-ordained. Insofar as it is an instrument of subjugation or subservience, if you like, of the laity, it is wrong and it has to be reviewed. It has to be looked at, I think, very seriously.
Again, in my culture, my home culture, the parishioners, the faithful, address the priest as “father”, as they do across the world, except that the form of address on the part of the non-ordained is a bit more drastic, in that if you, who are a non-ordained person, address me as a priest, you have to use a certain personal form of address that identifies you as subservient, as a lower-ranking person, like a daughter.
So I would say that in order to dismantle clericalism, we need to look at also the issue of examination and maybe abolition of those honorific titles, privileges and institutional dynamics, if you like, that breed clerical superiority and elitism.
People still address me, especially the faithful Catholics, as “Your Lordship”, and I sort of cringe at that. Or when they come to see me, or they come to meet me, they kiss my ring. I’m not very comfortable with those sorts of practices because they encourage a certain infantilisation of the laity and that creation of the power distance between the ordained and the non-ordained, and I think we have to look at these things seriously.
MS FURNESS: Have you observed any change in that area towards being more relaxed?
BISHOP LONG: I think Pope Francis is certainly leading the way in that direction. Whether or not it’s being filtered down the ranks I’m not quite certain. For my part, I know – or I feel that, especially as a bishop, I need to lead the way in promoting the Church as a communio, as a discipleship of equals, that emphasises relationships rather than power. I feel that’s where we should be headed to.
COMMISSIONER FITZGERALD: Could I just take it to a more significant level, and that is if we do believe in a discipleship of equals, which was, in many senses, fundamental to the Second Vatican Council’s teachings, the rubber hits the roads when you are prepared to share governance arrangements equally both at parish and at diocesan level, doesn’t it?
At the end of the day, what we call each other in any of the Church environments we’ve spoken to is one thing, but isn’t what we’ve heard in the last couple of weeks calling into question the commitment of many leaders in the Church, at both parish and diocesan level, the willingness to actually embrace a shared governance model between men and women, priest and religious alike? Without affecting the canon law as it is for the moment, isn’t that really the difficulty?
I was wondering, Bishop Vincent, isn’t the point that you get to that if you believe in what you’ve just said about the discipleship of equals, there is a need to look at the governance arrangements within parishes and dioceses that we currently operate under?
BISHOP LONG: Yes, Commissioner, I do believe that the marginalisation of women and the laity is part of this culture of clericalism that contributes not insignificantly to the sexual abuse crisis, and I think if we are serious about reform, this is one of the areas that we need to look at.
Accountability in that perfect Church model only works upwards. You’re accountable to the person above you. As long as the bishop has the backing of the Pope, he’s safe. As long as the priest has the backing of his bishop, he’s safe. There’s no accountability that reaches outwards or downwards, and that’s the critical problem, as far as I see. That discipleship of equals calls into question that upward accountability that is in operation as a result of that ecclesiastical model of a perfect society where everyone knows their place and the pecking order is strictly dictated by ordination.
The laity have no meaningful or direct participation in the appointment, supervision and even removal of the parish priest. I think that needs to change. Or even at the episcopal level, the appointment, supervision and removal of a bishop is virtually excluded from the faithful. The Morris affair is a typical example of that. There’s no accountability to the faithful there. So that needs to be examined if we are serious about creating a new culture of accountability in the Church today.
COMMISSIONER FITZGERALD: Could we just extend it one step further, and I’m mindful of the time. Would it not have served the Church well had parishes and dioceses adopted that which was sought to be adopted after the Vatican Council, that is, parish councils and pastoral councils which may have in fact informed and kept informed the leaders of the Church as to what was going on and also assisted in the way in which they might have responded to those claims?
So it’s not just about accountability to the faithful; isn’t one of the missing links today and in the past the absence of a robust governance arrangement, including the laity, which would have in fact enabled leaders to understand what was going on and given guidance as to how to respond, and is that still a problem within the modern Church?
BISHOP LONG: I think it is, Commissioner. I think it is still a problem within the Church. A parish priest, even today, can unilaterally dismiss the parish council. And many did. Many have. To me, that’s the glaring gap that we need to really examine seriously. And, really, what do we do in terms of empowering the people? What do we do in terms of addressing the power imbalance between the ordained and the non-ordained? What do we do about the full participation of the faithful, and women in particular, in the governance structures of the Church?
I think these are serious issues that need to be addressed if we are to come clean of this abuse crisis, because it’s not just the symptoms on the surface but what lies underneath it, and I think it’s harder to address what lies underneath the phenomenon than to address what’s on the surface.
COMMISSIONER FITZGERALD: Bishop Long, you represent one of the fastest growing areas of Sydney, in fact of Australia, in terms of the Church and young people in the Parramatta Diocese. You would be aware that the Vatican has signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which says that the best interests of the child must be paramount in organisations that have signed, and it is consistent with much of the statements by the Pope, Pope Francis.
Yet it is not a language that we have heard in many of the panels or even this panel at all, and much of the discussion has been about the priests and their slow acceptance of these matters, but in a way that I understand, and we’ve talked about the Church’s response.
Do you have any thoughts about how the Church will actually frame itself as a Church that puts the interests of children genuinely ahead of other competing interests within the Church?
BISHOP LONG: Yes, I think, Commissioner, if the Church is a good global citizen, then it has to show that the safety and protection of the innocent children must be of paramount interest, of absolute priority.
In order to make it happen, I do believe that there needs to be a holistic, comprehensive approach. In other words, it has to be at all levels of the governance structure of the Church, be it local, diocesan or universal.
For instance, as I alluded to before, the problem of clericalism can’t just be addressed at a diocesan level. It has to be addressed as the whole Church because the whole Church is embroiled in a certain model of being Church, whether Church as a communio, which Vatican II enunciated and pointed to, or the Church as a perfect society, which is not just no longer relevant but can contribute to the abetting of the sexual abuse precisely because of the attendant issue of clericalism, which is integral to that model of Church.
So we need to have a holistic and comprehensive approach in order to move forward. My hope is that we would come to the model of Church that is not only relevant for today’s society but also life giving and, above all, consistent with the message of the gospel.
MS NEEDHAM: Do you take the view that your own personal experience, which we have heard about, as a refugee transiting through a Malaysian refugee camp – has that informed in any way your response to the victims of child sexual abuse?
BISHOP LONG: I think it does. I think we are all products of our life experiences and being a refugee provides me with that particular vantage point through which I form relationships with people, I evaluate their individuality, their personal stories, their dignity.
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.
MS NEEDHAM: Thank you, Bishop Long. No further questions.

Similar Posts


  1. This is an excellent contribution by Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen clearly stating the changes we need in our church organisation. I hope some of our Irish bishops will have the courage to follow him as he is following Pope Francis!
    These two points stand out for me from Bishop Vincent’s contribution:
    (1) “I think we need to dismantle that [pyramid] model of Church.”
    (2) “The laity have no meaningful or direct participation in the appointment, supervision and even removal of the parish priest. I think that needs to change.”

  2. Wao! What an honest, courageous, thoughtful, though-provoking and forward looking response by bishop Long.
    If only we had many more bishops and cardinals thinking like him the reforms envisaged by Vatican 11 would long since have come about and the mass exodus of people from the Catholic Church might not have happened. He hits the nail on the head when he says that deep-seated reform and two-way accountability must come from the top and permeate the whole Church and all its structures.
    Ireland, both north and south, has a long, long way to go to be even close to bishop Long’s vision of Church.

  3. A refreshingly honest statement from a bishop. A more forthright indictment of clericalism than that of Pope Francis himself. Sad that the context is so painful and so tragic.

  4. Eugene Sheehan says:

    I concur with Bishop Long’s comments on the urgent need to dispense with the model of Church built on clericalism & underpinned by the celibacy law. I believe we need to develop the sense of the priesthood of the people of God, a priesthood that is grounded in a life that attempts to live the incarnation, the model of our true humanity. How much of our understanding of the “ontological” differences of ordained priesthood are cultic – culturally conditioned through history? If that was then, this is now! I find so much of our Catholic ritual to be meaningless babble, yet those prophets among us who are calling us to find love, truth, beauty – the true image of God – in “the bits and pieces of everyday” are often maligned by the institution. As followers of the person and teaching of Jesus, we need trained facilitators who will help us to recognise Jesus “in the breaking of bread” & guide us in the breaking of His Word.
    Anyone can apply!

  5. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Well someone obviously is drinking from the Francis cup. It’s nice to see a bishop who obviously reads his memos. That is important. If you don’t follow Francis, then you are establishing your own kingdom I believe.
    I think that if English were Francis’s first language, we might be surprised at what he says off the cuff. He knows the church is dripping in clericalism and it’s rotting its very foundation – as it is our societies. We are plugging away at the daily grind of eliminating ourselves from the food chain in our own special way.
    Is cleresy a word yet? We in Canada are about to partake in another controversy of a now Cardinal Lacroix being named in an abuse suit against the Pius X Secular Institute.

  6. Phil Greene says:

    AJR , you said it all for me!
    Sometime ordained men and women , married or not, will stand on the shoulders of giants like Bishop Long, let’s all help get them there sooner !

  7. Eddie Finnegan says:

    “No Tigers in Africa – No Lions in the Hierarchy – very few Boat People in the Bishops’ Conference, unfortunately.”
    But let’s give the current Irish bishops a rest, for a change. It’s the Parish Priests we need to lay into. An A.O.B. item for ACP’s Regional Meetings in March, perhaps?
    The legendary curial wag at Vatican Council I who opined that the Irish Bishops’ contingent would be a push-over for the declaration of Papal Infallibility as even their Parish Priests were unanimously held to be infallible, spoke a truth whose significance transcended the borders of Ireland and of the late 19th century. No doubt Paul Cardinal Cullen, who had crafted the Declaration, and his Rome-domiciled ‘peritus’ nephew, Patrick Francis Moran (Bishop of Ossory a year later and Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney 1885-1911) would have agreed heartily if the apocryphal crack had reached their Roman ears. After Cullen had passed to his eternal reward, Moran had a good 25 years to ‘irishise’, romanise and ‘cullenise’ the Australian Church.
    How much of the low-level and high-level clericalist problems that Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen has found himself coping with since his arrival in 1980 can be traced right back to the imperial longings of Patrick Moran, his uncle Paul Cullen and their Roman sojourns between 1820-1850 and 1842-1872?
    Well praise the Lord, at least Maynooth can’t be blamed for nurturing or exporting that particular strain of Roman-Kildare&Leighlin virus!

  8. Kathleen Faley says:

    If Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen of Parramatta Diocese, Australia was 20 years of age in 1981 (as he states above) that means that he is well within age to quite possibly become a ‘safe pair of hands’ Pope in Pope Francis’ style if he is selected to become a Cardinal in the meantime.

  9. I have just come from Cardinal Des Connell’s funeral in Dublin. While he was a gentleman and a very serious academic he had no pastoral experience whatever before becoming archbishop of Dublin. He made quite a few mistakes in his ministry – for which he very sincerely appologised and for which he was deeply upset.
    Bishop Long had a lot of pastoral experience before he came to Paramata and it shows. His evidence and message to the Commission should not only be seen by all bishops clergy and laity but should give rise to another Commission here in Ireland – which we are well used to in Government and para statal circles

  10. Eddie, the depth and breadth of your knowledge never fails to amaze me. But really !!, was our compatriot Paul Cullen the man responsible for crafting/drafting the Declaration of Papal Infallibility.

  11. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Paddy@10, yes but then Paul Cullen had been a very high-flyer in Rome for 30 years till 1850, greatly admired by Popes and future Popes from Leo XII and Gregory XVI to Pius IX and the future Leo XIII; and a very ‘frequent flyer’ from Armagh and Dublin to the Vatican in the following 28 years. According to the 1907-1912 ‘Catholic Encyclopedia’s very full and fulsome entry on Cardinal Cullen (contributed, surprise-surprise, by his nephew Cardinal Patrick Francis Moran of Sydney, who had been secretary and ‘peritus’ to his uncle at Vat I but had also taken part in the Council as stand-in for the absent Bishop Murray):
    “Towards the close of the sessions of the Council at the express wish of the Central Commission, conveyed in person through its Secretary, Archbishop Franchi (later Cardinal Secretary of State), Cardinal Cullen proposed the precise and accurate formula for the Definition of Papal Infallibility. It was a matter of great delicacy as promoters of the definition were split up in various sections, some anxious to assign a wider range to the Pope’s decisions, while others would set forth in a somewhat indefinite way the papal prerogative. All accepted the form of definition proposed by Cardinal Cullen, and thus it became the privilege of the Irish Church to have formulated for all time the solemn definition of this great article of Faith.”
    So Paddy, if you wish for immortality or even a moderate level of infallibility, make sure your nephew helps you with it and then is in a position to write it up when you’re gone. Ecclesiastical spin is best practised within the family!

Join the Discussion

Keep the following in mind when writing a comment

  • Your comment must include your full name, and email. (email will not be published). You may be contacted by email, and it is possible you might be requested to supply your postal address to verify your identity.
  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger. Comments containing vulgarities, personalised insults, slanders or accusations shall be deleted.
  • Keep to the point. Deliberate digressions don't aid the discussion.
  • Including multiple links or coding in your comment will increase the chances of it being automati cally marked as spam.
  • Posts that are merely links to other sites or lengthy quotes may not be published.
  • Brevity. Like homilies keep you comments as short as possible; continued repetitions of a point over various threads will not be published.
  • The decision to publish or not publish a comment is made by the site editor. It will not be possible to reply individually to those whose comments are not published.