Redemption through the eyes of Anthony Crowley
A new play by Anthony Crowley opened this month at La Mama Theatre in Melbourne, and the timing of the season couldn’t have been more apt, as the attention of the world is already fixed on the events and issues it portrays.
Titled Redemption, the show hopes to explore the meaning of the word in relation to the various abuses suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church in Australia over the last century, examining the role current members of the clergy have in atoning for the sins of the past. Redemption will ask audiences to decide if atonement is a relevant concept in this instance, or merely the first step for an institution that hopes to explain their abuses away.
The idea for the play and its subject matter arose in response to a real-life example of empty clerical apology, witnessed personally by Crowley.
“I chose to write about [these events] after listening to a priest giving a homily and asking for the congregation’s forgiveness. He was sincere, he was trying to do the right thing, he was repenting – but all I felt was horror, because I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘this is how it gets swept away – this is how it all happens again.’”
“In one way the play is about assimilation and I think that’s what the church is doing right now – assimilating this evil through the processes of forgiveness and redemption – but that’s not good enough. […] If we allow that to happen, the abuse is only going to occur again. Perhaps not tomorrow or next year, but it will happen, because the fundamental structures and doctrine of the church still allow it to exist.”
Taking place in a small, rural Catholic parish, Redemption will focus on the story of two fictional Catholic priests ordained at very different times, allowing the generational gap to influence their beliefs and responses to the cover-up of sexual and physical abuse perpetrated by their own.
Growing up within the Catholic tradition, Crowley acknowledges the role the Church and its staff played within his life. Attending a Catholic school, serving as an altar boy and being baby-sat by nuns throughout childhood allowed him to form close bonds with people who lead the same lives as his characters in Redemption, and offered a basis for aspects of the play.
“I did a lot of research. I still do – it’s an ongoing process. I was heavily involved in the Church as a young person, socially and in the mass in lots of different ways, and I was curious about priests. It seemed like a strange solitary life and I was a lonely kid, so maybe that’s why their isolation was interesting. I was an altar boy for many years, [and] I lived directly across the road from our church and would often go there just to play the organ. My own priest was a good man and he mentored me through some difficult times, and I experienced an intimacy with him and his life and religion that stayed with me and, I think, gave me some insight into a priest’s closeted world. At the same time the local nuns used to baby-sit me – and again, I had an insight into the human being behind the mask of the Church, God, and the Bible.”
After decades of silence around the world, the time feels right for Crowley to engage theatre audiences in a conversation of the crimes that have ruined so many lives and still impact our population today. Falling at the same time as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the playwright believes that it is up to the average person to stop these events from happening again.
“I want to engage the audience in a conversation about how this horror can happen right under our noses, how it seeps through the cracks and winds up in a terrible place called hindsight. I want to dramatise the small silences and betrayals that allow monsters to prey on children, how manipulative they can be – and just how far the poison runs.”