How do you feel about clerical collars, often known as dog collars? I was asked recently for a head and shoulders photo for the State Library of Queensland's Dangerous Women project in which I have been involved. After a little consideration, I sent the photo above. For in that circumstance, my priestly status is highly significant. For, even before we come to my transgender journey, it is still strange and/or enlightening for some to realise that female clergy have been around for a little while now. It is therefore sometimes important for women to wear their collars, in a similar way to that in which Dr. Julia Baird rightly encourages women with doctorates and/or other qualifications not to hide them, as we can be quite sure that many 'lesser' men will not hesitate to use whatever symbols of achievement and influence they have (see further Julia's wonderful book Phosphorence chapter 12 'Own Your Authority'). On the other hand however I do feel ambivalent about the clerical collar and what it sometimes represents..
Congratulations to my dear friend Dr Jennifer Herrick (pictured here with my lovely wife at our 25th wedding anniversary party) for her strength, courage and persistence in dragging the (Roman) Catholic Church in Australia to recognition and penitence for the clergy sexual abuse she suffered in the past. It has been a long struggle. I know only some of the details and emotions which we have been privileged to share as Jen has fought this battle. However this week, alongside other 'compensation', she finally secured a both a public apology and a public admission of the eventual defrocking of the offending priest. Check out the ABC coverage here.
This is certainly a landmark case for Australia. For a Royal Commission rightly continues to help address child sexual abuse perpetrated by members of Australia's Churches and other institutions, greatly accelerating long delayed appropriate responses and responsibility. May that process continue to be fruitful, bringing some genuine consolation and integrity out of pain and refusal to respond. Others have however also suffered who do not fall into a childhood age bracket, some of them very vulnerable in other ways. Together with my friend Jen, I hope therefore that others may indeed now be enabled to come forward to build on the gateway of healing which has been created.
The issues raised are also challenging of course not only for the surivors of such abuse and the workings of power in ecclesiastical institutions but for clergy as individuals. Hopefully this case will therefore also encourage all of us in accredited positions to reflect more deeply on our own care and approach to relationships. Churches in the West may not have the power or influence they once had, and many may describe themselves as disinterested if not hostile to Christianity as such. Yet the spiritual power exercised by clergy should not be underestimated, especially when it comes to vulnerable or suscepible people.
In the meanwhile, I look forward to sharing with my friend many more times of joy, wine, good theological discussion and the love of the Sydney Swans!
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.