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BY RAY CASSIN
An old adage has it that governments
only agree to hold an inquiry when they
know what it will find. Yet that has not
always been true of royal commissions,
and it is certainly not true of the Royal
Commission into Institutional Responses to
Child Sexual Abuse, whose members and
terms of reference the Gillard Government
announced late last year.
At this stage all that can be predicted
with any confidence is that the task of
Justice Peter McClelland and his fellow
commissioners will be long and expensive,
and that the evidence they will gather is
likely to shame profoundly many of the
institutions that come under their scrutiny.
That the Commission will cost many
millions of dollars and may need to
continue well beyond the three years
initially allotted for it can be seen as
obstacles only by those who think that
a desire for quick fixes outweighs the
obligation to expose fundamental injustice
and acknowledge longstanding grievances.
The nearest equivalent to this Australian
inquiry is the Ryan Commission in Ireland,
which submitted its final report nearly ten
years after it began hearings. If that is what
it takes here, too, so be it.
The Commission's terms of reference are
properly broad, allowing it to investigate
allegations of the sexual abuse of children in
all types of institutions, public and private.
Such abuse has never been restricted to
agencies of the Catholic Church. It can
hardly be denied, however, that the chief
impetus for the creation of this Royal
Commission has been the appalling
record of concealment of abuse in
Catholic institutions, and of the protection
of perpetrators by bishops and major
superiors. If that record did not exist, the
Royal Commission would not exist.
And Catholics --- especially bishops and
major superiors --- cannot evade this fact by
complaining, as they sometimes do, about
malicious reporting by hostile secular media.
If the abuses had not occurred, the reports
could not have been written.
Worst of all, the abuse and concealment
have evidently continued long after the
church adopted protocols intended to
redress the grievances of those who have
been abused, and to prevent further abuse.
That is the considered judgement of
Professor Patrick Parkinson, of the
University of Sydney's law school, who
twice reviewed the "Towards Healing"
protocols for the hierarchy. He has since
ended that relationship, because he says
the protocols have been undermined.
The police submission to the Victorian
parliamentary inquiry into child abuse
and media interviews by Detective Chief
Inspector Peter Fox of the NSW police
also asserted that church authorities have
frequently stalled investigations of the
sexual abuse of children.
These assertions are not rabid allegations
by anticlerical, muckraking journalists;
they are expressions of frustration and
disgust by ordinary cops who have been
prevented from doing their job.
Too many bishops and major superiors
have failed to act in good faith in the
matter of clerical sexual abuse, and in this
respect the Catholic Church in Australia
has replicated a pattern familiar overseas.
Whatever else the Royal Commission
may reveal, we already know there is an
entrenched culture of concealment within
the Church, and public awareness of this
culture is shredding the Church's credibility.
That is why the best response the official
Church in Australia has yet made to the
child abuse crisis, the creation of the
lay Truth, Justice and Healing Council,
has been greeted with undeserved but
predictable cynicism. It is a step that
should have been taken ten years ago, and
now it has ten years of others' dishonesty
and evasion to live down.
The question that the Royal Commission
cannot answer, but which we must answer
for ourselves, is why sexual abuse has
been so prevalent in Catholic institutions.
A facile, often-heard answer is that it is a
consequence of clerical celibacy.
This is not true is the sense that is usually
intended: the issue is not sexual frustration,
for celibacy does not necessarily make a
man a molester any more than marriage
necessarily makes a man a rapist.
But there is a deeper sense in which
mandatory celibacy is indeed at the heart
of the matter.
The culture of concealment arises because
the institutional Church's reliance on
what may be called the mystique of the
priesthood: on the appearance of the
priest (and by extension, a vowed religious,
too) as someone special, a man set apart.
In most places and at most times, it has
been through manipulating that mystique,
rather than by citing official pronouncements,
that the Church has sought to wield
practical authority. How can it not threaten a
clericalist church, then, when the mystique
is revealed to be a sham?
Ray Cassin is a freelance writer and editor
based in Melbourne. He was founding
editor of Australian Catholics in the 1990s.
This piece was first published in Eureka
Street. Please visit
Teachers are students for a day
The Catholic Schools Office welcomed teachers -- all new to the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, some new to the profession
-- for a day of orientation and induction. Among the speakers were Bishop Bill Wright and Director of Schools Ray Collins.
Photos courtesy of Emma Blackford.
(l-r) Brianna Brent (St Paul's Booragul), Ray
Collins, Jessica McCosker (St Mary's Warners
Bay), Bishop Bill.
(l-r) Catherine Cross (St Paul's Booragul),
Jane Scahill (CSO) and Rhiannon Lacey (St
(l-r) Emma Candlish, Aidan Linehan and
Sophie Cox will be colleagues at St Peter's
(l-r) Eloise Lock, Samuel Bielby and
Laurent Gonfond will all join the staff at St
www.mn.catholic.org.au Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle
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