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Advice to Bishops on Royal Commission

  • 16 November 2012

In two weeks' time the Australian bishops will meet in their biannual meeting. It is obvious the Royal Commission into sexual abuse will be a major topic. I respectfully suggest some matters for their attention.

I suggest they invite as many leaders of religious institutes as possible to be present and join in the discussion.

Individual bishops have already promised 'full cooperation' with the Commission, but the gathered bishops and religious need to have a serious discussion concerning exactly what 'full' cooperation will mean. It is vital that all agree in detail on this point.

I suggest that they invite a couple of experts to speak to them on what the Commission will probably require. For example, they might seek out some persons who were involved in the Wood Royal Commission in 1996. They then need to ensure that they are all on exactly the same page.

They need to be aware that one single bishop or religious leader adopting a different idea of what 'full' means can quickly discredit all bishops and religious.

It is obvious that, if a particular case is discussed in the media, the local bishop or religious leader may have to respond. On the national scene, however, there must be one or two bishops or religious leaders appointed as national spokespersons. It must be crystal clear who speaks in the name of all the bishops or religious, and equally clear who does not.

The appearance of Cardinal Pell at a media conference last Tuesday was a disaster for the Church. In saying that, I am referring partly to the words he chose, and partly to the non-verbal messages he poured out. I believe that, beneath the exterior, he is a man who knows compassion, and I know that he has acted decisively on many cases of abuse, but his compassion did not come through to viewers.

It is essential that any spokespersons chosen by the bishops and religious should radiate, by both verbal and non-verbal means, the three virtues of total honesty, sincere humility and profound compassion.

The bishops and religious leaders will need to set up structures through which they can ensure a coordinated response to the matters raised by the Commission. These structures will no