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The unknown unknowns of the sexual abuse royal commission


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 the sexual abuse of children in institutions, whose members and terms of reference the Gillard Government announced last week.

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 judgment 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 headshotRay Cassin is a freelance writer and editor who is based in Melbourne. He was founding editor of Australian Catholics in the 1990s. 

Topic tags: Ray Cassin, Royal Commission, clergy sex abuse, Catholic Church sex abuse crisis



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Existing comments

This article says it all. It is an insightfully analysed critique, that goes to the heart in offering a credible explanation for this toxic phenomenon. Regrettably, our leadership apppears to be more absorbed with perceived orthodoxy than living the Jesus challenge. The success of the "New Evangelisation" will depend on the experience of compassion and justice than on defences of dogmas.

Denis McLaughlin | 13 January 2013  

Thank you Ray for an excellent article. One thing concerns me which perhaps you can answer. If, as seems likely, there is a change of government this year and Tony Abbott becomes Prime Minister, can he terminate, shorten or interfere in any way with the workings of the commission? I feel the influences from certain vested interests may be more successful with Mr Abbott than they perhaps have been with Ms Gillard.

Ian Paul | 13 January 2013  

This is all fair comment. However when some of those senior clerics were faced with having to decide upon their actions when faced with the extreme unpleasantries of those within their brotherhood, advice from the wisdom and understanding of women at their side would probably have been invaluable.

Tony Knight | 13 January 2013  

Has the church yet recognised that cover-ups etc. are often caused by idolatry, the institution being seen as paramount!

ROSE DRAKE | 13 January 2013  

Hierarchical clerical mystique diminishes the concept of the People of God as the Church and establishes a power within that Church beyond all power over men and women whatever they are and wherever they be.There are no restraints upon that power available to the People other than appeals to the hierarchical/clerical power itself. Any existing avenues are developed and maintained by it. The presence of God in the world and among the People of God has been greatly diminished by the misuse of power by the hierarchy and clergy. It can be enhanced by a humble reevaluation of those elements that establish such power. But humility is not a characteristic attribute of those who exercise power. Hope exists in the Grace of God! May such hope be realised in this Year of Grace. Thank you Ray Cassin for your enlightened and enlightening article.

George W | 13 January 2013  

A closer look at some of the statistics published by the government (Family Studies) would alter the situation considerably. Being reported does not necessarily imply that the fact(s) existed as reported.

Tony | 13 January 2013  

I commend Ray Cassin for his article. It is a precise and unadorned assessment of a prevailing situation and a realistic approach to the church's credibility. The fact is that this world is driven by sex; sex permeates every aspect of our society as it does in the animal world. Deliberately, suppressing sexual drive is abnormal and inhumane, particularly as Ray Cassin says "the mystique is revealed to be a sham".

Shirley McHugh | 13 January 2013  

Excellent article. In my opinion it is power attributed to clergy and religious which is at the heart of this evil and not necessarily celibacy per se. ( recommend Bishop Geoffrey Robinsons book on the topic, Power and sex in the Catholic Church in Australia). Will we ever see the hierarchy in Rome accountable for and accept ultimate responsibility for their crimes?

Carmel | 13 January 2013  

Ray Cassin's words,"The chief impetus for the creation of this royal commission has been the appalling record of concealment...by (Catholic) Bishops and major superiors," succinctly reveal a frustrating truth to us who still call ourselves Catholic. The frustration comes from the realisation that the same kind of people run our church today and Rome will insist that that they do so in the future. No royal commission will wake the Vatican from its slumber.

grebo | 13 January 2013  

For an explanation of why Catholic predatory priests have been protected by their hierarchy so strongly for so long, please read my, "A Taboo, a New Pope and a Truer Church", accessible at http://wp.me/P2YEZ3-8A As a US lawyer, I represented BNP occasionally. I admire Aussie courage and directness. PM Julia Gillard is setting an extraordinary example here. I hope fellow lawyers and fellow Harvard Law graduates, Barack and Michelle Obama, have the courage to follow her example in the USA. Thank you Australia and Julia Gillard!! The whole world is watching you put defenseless children's safety first.

Jerry Slevin | 13 January 2013  

Firstly, Welcome back in 2013 Eureka. Thank you for presenting the critique on the royal commission into child abuse. The long term damage caused by this scurge in our communities is hard to quantify. I shudder when I read about the magnitude of the child abuse in England of Jimmy Saville. Justice has come all to late in that case. He was said to be hiding in plain sight, such a tragic amount of sadness he has left. We need justice now.

Jenny Esots | 13 January 2013  

I think what this Royal Commission may do, as the Ryan Commission did in Ireland, is bring the dark Shadow side of churches and other caring bodies into the open. This is a necessary step for us as a nation to grow and take on board the unpalatable fact that paedophilia exists. The step from there, so far not achieved, is to attempt to ensure that the vulnerable are protected from its perpetrators. Sadly these perpetrators do not exist just in institutions. It will be a mammoth and ongoing task.

Edward F | 13 January 2013  

An excellent article by Ray Cassin

Richard Scallan | 13 January 2013  

The Royal Commission has come about because of denial at the highest level..and ..I am appalled by "Good Catholics" who are quick to reply.."All they want is money"..but when Archbishops refuse a police interview,then we have grievious problems...I am on Gods side..Lets clean his church and stop his daily tears..

john m costigan | 13 January 2013  

Thank you for this article Ray: for identifying the mystique of priesthood as the significant 'factor' in the tragedy of concealment that has in so many cases led to continued abuse of God's 'Innocents'. Time to re-examine the myths and governing structure of 'church' past -priests, religious and people together in mutual respect for the sake of 'church' future.

pauline o'day | 13 January 2013  

Parents really know they have done a great job when, in the presence of their own failures, they are challenged by their children to live by the values and standards they have imparted. The Church has championed truth, humility, integrity, compassion and preferential option for the poor in and to a self-serving society for two millenia. Now society is taking us to task for our gross failures and hypocrisy. May we humbly accept the truth and rejoice in the fact that Christ’s values are permeating humanity like leaven.

Michael O'Connor | 13 January 2013  

It seems to me that for too long we have adopted the habit of seeing the Church as consisting of Popes, Cardinals, Bishops Priests and other clergy plus the various people who are on the inside of the Catholic Institutional bureaucratic system. For the rest of us who describe ourselves as Catholics what the Institutional Church does is of interest but outside our involvement and we are passive participants in Catholic life. This separation really has got to change. We Catholic people are responsible for the abuse that has been and is still going on within our society. We have to accept that being a Catholic involves responsibility for what is being done in our name. Lets stop this nonsense of seeing the Catholic faith as the tool of the few. As a start lets work to make our children more abuse proof and work to head off the opportunities for the corruption of our children. That is part of our responsibility in being a catholic.

Ken Fuller | 13 January 2013  

An inquiry such as this in the public domain is long overdue in Australia and, as you point out Ray Cassin, the findings are unpredictable and thus any speculation as to likely outcomes of the commission is impossible. The wide-ranging reference for the commission will, however, put the issue into perspective within our society as a whole rather than just the Catholic Church. It will be interesting to see just where other institutions including non-religious ones such as government schools, hospitals, childcare centres, children's clubs etc fit into the mix. Regardless of this, however, the inquiry is likely to be a good thing for the Catholic Church particularly if it induces the hierarchy to apply without favour its own Canon Law, unchanged by Vatican II, but sadly ignored thereafter in the misinterpreted "liberalisation" that came with the "letting in of the light" and abandonment of the concept of offending an all-loving God through wrongdoing, previously known as sin. After all, Jesus loved sinners although at the same time damning those unrepentant to an eternity of suffering. One of the most interesting findings of the Irish commission was that of all cases of abuse investigated since the 1940's some 7% occurred prior to the 60's, 82% in the three decades following Vat II, and 11% over the twenty years up to 2009 with only 2% in the last decade. Many of the cases that will be represented at the enquiry have been known in the public domain for many years and many of the perpetrators have been jailed or buried - their victims, however, must be heard with compassion. In the interests of truth, the commission must look at the current situation as well as the past which is irretrievable, since only then can appropriate preventive steps be taken. For its part, the Catholic Church might benefit from an understanding that evil-doing, or sin in the old vernacular, still exists despite their manufactured all-loving God, and that it ( the Church and its heirarchy) should implement its own Canon Law.

john frawley | 13 January 2013  

Hopefully the full truth can be exposed by the Royal Commission investigation, about the cover ups of child sex crimes. This is such an excellent way to validate those kids who have been sexually abused by trusted figures, and hopefully that our children today will be protected. Victims of child sex abuse have waited long enough to be believed. Those who have committed these crimes of sex abuse and those who have covered up these crimes need to be held accountable. There is hope, help, a chance for healing, and therefore prevention. Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA, 636-433-2511. snapjudy@gmail.com, http://www.snapaustralia.org/ "SNAP (The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) is the world's oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. SNAP was founded in 1988 and has more than 12,000 members. Despite the word priest in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, teachers, Protestant ministers and increasingly, victims who were assaulted in a wide range of institutional settings like orphanages, summer camps, athletic programs, Boy Scouts, etc."

Judy Jones | 13 January 2013  

I agree - great article. Ray asks a question which will be fundamental to the work of the Royal Commission - "Why has sexual abuse been so prevalent in Catholic institutions?" This response may not be popular, and may be only part of the answer, but I think it needs to be said. The strategies to "encourage vocations" in the 40s - 60s resulted in seminaries and houses of religious formation overflowing with young men and women who heeded the call "The harvest is great but the labourers are few" (Matthew 9:37). Many who later chose to leave were sent packing, with Luke 9:62 ringing in their ears - "He who puts his hand to the plough.....", with $200 in the pockets of illfitting suits, and certainly in the 40s - 70s, were then shunned - read Gerard Windsor's "Heaven where the Bachelors Sit" (UQP 1996). OK. But what of those who took this verse and similar injunctions to persevere very seriously and stayed because they were too frightened of this biblical consequence of not staying the course for life? In some 45 minutes, I read enough of the Ryan Report to be really ashamed of the findings - quite by accident, I read of one teaching brother (and I'm sorry I did not keep the reference) who made this very point - he had desperately wanted to leave, but could not find the courage to make an exit, and then became an abuser - maybe a non sequiter, but ..... I'm sure there is no easy answer, but the pressure at that time on young people to give their lives to God - even from age 12! - may be a factor. Thanks again Ray - a great contribution.

tony5073 | 13 January 2013  

Sitting in the shadows of the article's title is the contrasting title 'The Known Knowns' - Ray Cassin presents one elephant in the room that sits at the heart of much of the squirming and distortions of integrity that have emerged in this sadness and destruction that has gut-hit the catholic faithful. Catholic leadership the world over has been caught with its hand in the institutional cookie jar. The reactive defensive priorities have come out of the woodwork - the system and hierarchical entrenched habits tried to win the day to the demise of those core virtues that have been tirelessly paid lip service to over the institutional ages of the church. A 'Known Known' that seems to be strengthening its claims on the reflective mind of the thinking church is that the promotion of the 'clerical mistique and specialness' of the priest is but one avenue of securing the elevation of the bishops and their hierachical careers within the institutional mindset of our now fractured 'imperial church'. Buried in what I see as a linguistic catastrophe of the new missal translations is another avenue of securing the grandeur of the episcopacy, the ideological shift to keep God shrouded in distance and omnipotence as any prayerful fool would know He essentially is, but who is out to gain from this latest presentation of the grandiose that does little to help us little people find the language appropriate to conversations with a loving Father. Known knowns are emerging and cookies will crumble as the secular world does its bit to find the truths of the matter. Many, if not most of our bishops are as individuals decent, dedicated and virtuous men, some extremely pastoral in their own quiet facilitating ways, yet as a group fussed up in the constructs of the ritual and caste elements of our institutional faith they are seemingly damaged by the distortions of system generated expectations and loyalties. Their's will the wilderness perhaps for a while, then to be the conveners of new perspectives and leadership to the surviving faith of the pew people.

Paul Goodland | 13 January 2013  

I think John Frawley is attempting to pin both the phenomenon and the cause of sexual abuse down to the immediate post-Vatican II era and more diverse attitudes and thinking about sex and sexuality. Implicit in his comment is the view that prior to this spike in reported incidents everything in the Catholic Church was hunky-dory. In other words, the post-Vatican II church is not really the same as the pre-Vatican II church which did not have anything to do with the problem. This is just another form of terrified defensive denial. What the Commission will be looking at will be systemic causes. Anyone who thinks that prior to the post Second World War the Church was organised differently, that priests and religious did not inhabit the same positions of power, that the faithful did not back then even more dutifully block out any suggestion that their priest (or bishop) could be guilty, has got to be dreaming! Besides which, trying to quarantine the Church of one era from another is to descend into some kind of ecclesiological heresy, which might alarm John if he were to think about it some.

smk | 13 January 2013  

Jerry Sleven's article (see above) is well worth a close read and careful consideration, especially his practical suggestions at the end.

john kennedy | 13 January 2013  

"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". I agree - but will the Truth, Justice and Healing council be able to answer the question either? While the clerical leadership of the Church refuses to examine its own collective conscience, or accept counsel from anyone outside the clerical fold, no councils or commissions are going to make any difference to current theory or practice. The blame will continue to be placed on individual bad apples and evil cultural influences from outside the Church. Have we seen any sign of change in the wake of the Irish enquiry? Children are safer, but the Church s we know it is still in danger of choking to death on its own pride.

Joan Seymour | 13 January 2013  

quoted in a comment: "As a start lets work to make our children more abuse proof"??

I have never heard of anything so callous and ridiculous..
So let's put all the responsibility on innocent kids?
May I suggest an excellent book to read. By Tom Doyle, and canon lawyer. "Sex,Priests,and Secret Codes"
This corruption has been going on since the beginning.

Judy Jones | 13 January 2013  

Dear SMK, I am a supporter of Vat II, not a restorationist hankering over what used to be. I simply find the facts that were reported by the Irish enquiry most interesting and do not contend that the "old Church" was somehow more pure. I tend to believe that most things have a cause and wonder what it is that accounts for the amazing reported increasing incidence of sexual abuse over the three decades quoted above together with the dramatic fall over the last 20 years. Probably not just a batch of bad people admitted to the priesthood in the years prior, I suspect. Unhappily, however, I suspect none of us will ever be able to put a finger on the precise cause of the apparent post Vat II upsurge. I hold out great hope for the coming royal commission and hope that its findings help sort out what we have to change to restore my malaised Church. Sometimes I wonder why I have remained a Catholic but remain confident that God is there, that The Christ taught that such evil events would be always with us ("wolves in lambs clothing") and that He will remain with us "all days". I hope He meant it!!! I will be very jacked off if not!

john frawley | 14 January 2013  

The faith Australians place in Royal Commissions never fails to perplex me. I have long been interested in the conduct and outcomes of Royal Commissions as part of my major academic interest, Political Science, in the 1960s and having been administratively involved in two Royal Commissions in more recent decades. My research leads me to believe that while they may achieve some reforms in the short term, in the long term the social malaise they were set up to examine goes into remission and reappears ten to twenty years later under different symptoms. But don't take my word for it. Read Royal Commissions and Public Enquiries in Australia by Dr Scott Prasser. Although at $185.00 a pop you may have to read it in a public library.

Uncle Pat | 14 January 2013  

SMK the correlation at least statistically, between V2 'post-gone-sillier' years and clergy abuse is unassailable.

father john george | 14 January 2013  

Has anyone thought beyond the child sex abuse scandal? How many vulnerable adults have been abused or succumbed under duress to sexual activities? Let's take it further. Statistically, how many of the clergy stay celibate generally. Actually, "chaste" is a better word as one could argue a difference between celibacy (the unmarried state) and chastity. Crudely put, how many members of the clergy alive today are virgins?? One night stands far from home? Consensual loving relationships kept hidden for years? My point: How big is the lie. The untruth. The hypocisy. Catholic kids (especially female) have grown up having their sexuality criminalised and controlled by an institution which has by and large flouted its own rules and turned a blind eye to its own misdemeanours. Has enforced celibacy has done the church any credit at all? From where I stand, all I see is the lie. And the lie goes far, far beyond abusing children.

Rex Brice | 14 January 2013  

Thank you for an excellent article, Ray. However, I want to say something about the context in which this appalling and horrific abuse has flourished. Ours is a society saturated and obsessed with sex. Whatever pedophile abuse owes to sexual titilation, our post modern world has certainly provided. Pornography is rife and easily available. Though we know sexual abuse of minors has sadly always been a part of society, how short-sighted is it to expect restraint from those least able to make it, in a permissive climate such as ours. I am not suggesting for one minute that society is to blame for the behaviour of pedophiles, but we do have to take some responsibility for the sexualising of our young people in so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways. We have made human sexuality the raison d'être rather than a healthy joyful part of what it is to be an adult - and our children have been caught up into this unwholesome and sickening atmosphere. Those whose greatest weakness seeks to operate within such a climate, must be well pleased that we make predation so easy for them in thought and in action.

Helga Jones | 14 January 2013  

I have this to add to the debate between SMK, John Frawley, and John George: This is another case of lies, damn lies, and statistics. As has been widely commented upon, before Vatican 2, the priest was a powerful authority figure who was easily able to influence the laity not to report crimes that would “embarrass” the church. In fact I have a cousin who was abused by religious when he was a child in early–mid 20th century. His family kept quiet because he was made a religious, requiring the church to support him (since he was psychologically affected). There must have been many similar instances, where the church was able to hide the shameful truth from the public, and which would not have shown up in the official statistics. After Vatican 2, the power of priests reduced and Catholics generally were more assertive in refusing to accept abuse by clergy. The statistics in my opinion merely reflect the available data, which clearly have gaps (unknown knowns). It is erroneous to draw conclusions from such gappy data. As SMK states, the Commission should look at systemic causes. There is a similarity between the church, the armed forces, and the Police, all prone to abuse. They are hierarchical, with a club mentality (us against the world) and if the hierarchy wants to hide something embarrassing, it is more easily done. However, the church is the most dangerous, because only it can have direct and frequent access to children, for extended periods of time. In cases where there is no or limited access to other adults, such as in boarding schools, paedophiles have a clear run. I would be very surprised if the church does not become more subject to legal controls in Australia as a result of the Commission. The hierarchy has shown itself incapable of dealing with the real, systemic issues and has only itself to blame. It is sad that those who profess Jesus are actually so untrustworthy that the law has to step in to control them. However, that is in the best interests of our children.

Frank S | 14 January 2013  

As a victim of a notorious Pedophile Priest I find this article excellent. I have a concern that in decades/centuries to come the new Church hierarchy will revert back to their ancient practices and hide their vile secrets within their structured Rome walls. Lets hope the Royal Commission has such an impact that our grandchildren's children do not suffer at the hands of more Pedophile Priests. Lets hope they do not have to go through this painful process that we, the victims are going through at the moment. But we are kidding ourselves if we believe that this Royal Commission will cease any future Pedophile Priests from abusing our little children. We would be kidding ourselves if we believed that at present time no young child is being groomed nor abused. As we know, Pedophiles do not have a used by date and nor can be they be cured. Lets hope the Royal Commission has the present hierarchy made accountable for their sins of aiding and abetting their own.

Tessa | 14 January 2013  

At issue for the church is its capacity to represent the Gospel with integrity. Without trust nothing is possible. Trust has disappeared and a Royal Commission cannot restore that trust ever.The church has failed to be and make manifest the Kingdom of God. Jesus died to bring that about and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church has flung it back in his face.

graham patison | 14 January 2013  

This article should be writ large in many more of our own media outlets. In the past two weeks I have heard or heard of, clergy who are openly and clearly attacking/blaming media for the poor treatment of the Church in this issue. Comments such as, "we are being crucified by the media", "malicious attacks" "distorted facts" etc are being put to lay people seemingly to water down their concerns. Other clergy are speaking in terms of "getting over it" and "it's time people just moved on". These sentiments need robust responses from all who long for the Truth and Justice to be heard. May we all extend the voice of Eureka Street into the market place!

Margaret Leahy | 14 January 2013  

To SMK, Father John George, and Frank S, It is true that the stats indicating the post Vat II upsurge in clergy abusive practice does not necessarily indicate that Vat II changes are responsible since I did not include in my original post here that similar upsurges occurred in sexual behaviour across society as a whole in the sixties, corresponding with Vat II and probably related to the revolution in sexual restraint occasioned and permitted by the contraceptive pill. This confounding issue does remove any specificity from the figures as a statistical probability. More interesting than the upsurge, however, is the dramatic decline over the period 1990 - 2099 when there is no corresponding decline in the co-existence of sexual overindulgence in society at large. Perhaps it is this decline, separated dramatically from the societal trend, which might lend some greater support to the separation of the post Vat II upsurge from the society at large as it applies to abuse by clergy?

john frawley | 14 January 2013  

I strongly recommend an article by Joe Dolce at Quadrant titled "Father Scapegoat". It shows how this debate focuses too much on the wrongs of the Catholic Church. We are not the only institution in which predators dwell or cover ups occur. Most telling was the statistic that 75% of abuse is committed by people within the family circle. It is more likely the uncle, grandfather, cousin etc will abuse a child rather than a priest, teacher, scout master etc.

MJ | 14 January 2013  

Joe Dolce's article is simply one more sad attempt to deflect the justifiable criticism of the Church over the hypocrisy involved with the entire scandal. The best one could say of the article is it misses the point - for people who have any connection or affiliation or affection for the Catholic Church. It matters not one iota whether other institutions or homes have been just as abusive or worse: for the Catholic (or bruised and disillusioned ex-Catholic) the great scandal here, the thing that has so hurt, is the great betrayal, the great unmasking, of authority figures who tell everyone else not to sin and where they are sinning, and in various ways judge and punish sinners but who all the while sin, deliberately evade judgment and punishment and who resort to various self-justifications or qualified mea culpas when caught. This is the reason why the Catholic Church is so excoriable here. Those who feel betrayed by relatives in the home, by other institutions in which they trusted have similar cause against them. The power abuse itself is undoubtedly generic across them all, but the hypocrisy is the greater where the claim to moral authority has been the loudest.

smk | 14 January 2013  

fRANK S while society's low moral standards no doubt impacted as material causal correlation to clergy abuse, nonetheless, such was well compacted and re-enforced by postconciliar moral/doctrinal anarchy and "let it all hang out" psychologies. One cannot overlook the immediate decline in abuse upon JP2 election and ensuing zero tolerance strategy counteracting society mores, and ending of postgonesillier hi jinks-- verifiable in major statistical surveys on same [Nb society was also corrupt before vat2[yet clergy abuse was very low statistically, Methinks postconciliar silly time antics, provided an immediate formal causal correlation to clergy abuse, compounded by societies' lowering standards. Of course, the proximate formal causality of clergy abuse, at anytime, is the actual evil choice of the offender-let us not over-contextualise mans capacity for evil with bar charts,pie charts,graphs and societal mores. SMK The assumption of equivalent elevated hushed up abuse occurrences before vat 2 is of course statistically unverified[even granted personal anecdote], despite every opportunity to report such in the 'recent outpourings' and cathartic global 'tell alls'.[The scientific abuse charts still belie earlier high abuse,even with jettisoned statutes of limitations and recent repressed memory recalls of varying authenticity. Projecting postconciliar clergy abuse on preconciliar church en masse, is scientifically at best unsubstantiated gratuitous hypothesis and cock-eyed methodology

father john george | 14 January 2013  

No-one on earth is not a sinner in some respect. Therefore the outrage being witnessed here is not, or should not be, seen as the condemnations of the righteous, but the very human anguish of the hurt or disillusioned. And the most significant illusion which more and more people are seeing behind with ever-opening eyes is the self-promotion and characterisation of the visible church as divine (and therefore untouchable). The cracks in such an apologetic which appeared with the first squabbles of the earliest Christians, and widened with the cruelties of Inquisition and religious war-mongering, are now threatening to split the entire edifice asunder with this latest exposure. This sin, this scandal, is not the first nor will it be the last amongst the people making up the church, but it surely must signal the end, finally, of the church of princes, in favour of the church of pilgrims.

smk | 14 January 2013  

Smk, I do not see Joe Dolce's article denying anything you say. I found it making the point that some want to portray this as primarily an issue about the Catholic Church. Last week the ABC news introduced the Prime Minister's coming announcement on the terms of reference for the Royal Commissionwith file footage from a Catholic Cathedral, even though there was no specific mention of the Church as the presenters discussed the issue. I doubt they would have shown pictures of Muslims ans mosques in a general discussion about terrorism.

MJ | 14 January 2013  

Neither this article, nor anyone with their head screwed on, would suggest that abuse is peculiar to the Church. Ray Cassin acknowledged it when he said 'Such abuse has never been restricted to agencies of the Catholic Church'. But then he went on to say ' 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'. [my capitalisation] And this is the point that Cassin and the majority of (good Catholic) respondents are making. The institutional Church, and especially its bishops, and I dare say many of its priests, have been involved in a gross systematic abuse of power and authority. We all acknowledge that abuse occurs in families, and I dare say cover-ups occur in families, but the scale and deliberately systematic nature of the cover-ups in the institutional Church is enormous compared with domestic cover-ups.

Ginger Meggs | 15 January 2013  

In the post-colonial era, a widespread phenomenom flourished, which was entitled "the de-tribalised native". Encroaching "civiliation" undermined their traditional moral and cultural habits, and unleashed baser instincts, and chaos reigned in many places. Similarly the out-dated traditions of the Church have been undermined by new insights spear-headed by science, and many religious were stripped of the traditions that gave them orientation and purpose, and we have seen and suffered the consequences. Until the required "up-dating" is effected there will be little progress in this and other related fields.

Robert Liddy | 15 January 2013  

I think that we are in a time of change. A time when priests were not really considered people has gone. Now we expect them to be people. It is easy to knock but what isn't being asked here is how are we looking after our clergy? Everything always seems to be their problem. It's always someone else's responsibility. Maybe we should be asking what we can do in a practical way to support those men and women who choose to devote their life to God. It won't totally prevent the problem. But maybe if we cared our clergy better as human beings, it would not be such an issue.

Joe O | 16 January 2013  

SMK, in this you are spot on: “for the Catholic …the great scandal here … is the great betrayal …(by) authority figures who tell everyone else not to sin … where they are sinning (themselves), … This is the reason why the Catholic Church is so excoriable here. ... the hypocrisy is the (greatest) where the claim to moral authority has been the loudest.” JOHN GEORGE, you say that “society was also corrupt before vat2 [yet clergy abuse was very low statistically,].” My contention is that you have no basis to conclude that, because the statistics are unreliable due to the real pressure on victims (many of whom would have died) from the church authorities not to “embarrass” the church. To use your own phrase, it “is scientifically at best unsubstantiated gratuitous hypothesis and cock-eyed methodology” to draw conclusions from data which almost certainly has gaps, the magnitude of which is unknown. Those who have died (and we know victims of abuse are more prone to suicide) cannot now report the crime with the 'recent outpourings'. It also helps no-one to know that the proximate cause of clerical abuse is the actual evil choice of the offender, when we have become aware that the crime has been compounded by the church hierarchy – those with ultimate responsibility - by being covered up. We therefore cannot rely on any cleric to do what justice demands. The church is too bound up in its own dogma and inertia to respond to the evident systemic problem, which requires structural reform. Therefore my expectation is that reform will be thrust upon it by government. That might actually save the Roman Catholic Church from oblivion, in Australia at least.

Frank S | 17 January 2013  

There is no doubt the issue of paedophilia, particlarly in it clerical manifestation, has done great damage to the Catholic Church. It would be egregiously naive, however, to think that a Royal Commission alone will eradicate paedophilia from the Church or from society, or that law and its enforcement alone will make people behave morally. Radical problems demand radical solutions: admission of sin, both personal and structural, the need for God's grace, and repentance are necessary terms of reference in realistically addressing this critical issue - both in the Church and society at large; in other words, a renewed ecclesial and societal appreciation of and commitment to the Gospel's realistically sobering truth about humanity's fallen condition and need of God, and God's transformative and salutary response in person.

John | 17 January 2013  

As Lord Acton (1834 - 1902) famously remarked: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." The co-existence of spiritual power and corporal power in one person, gives a priest attached to a school absolute power, and is at the root of the problem. It will help too, when the gospel is spread by example, rather than force-fed through religious indoctrination. (My daughter recently removed her six-year old from scripture classes, when the teacher gave the terrified children a vivid description of hellfire.)

Gordon Rowland | 17 January 2013  

In saying a Royal Commission will not eradicate paedophilia from the Church or society, John is, I am afraid, making a totally irrelevant point. No-one ever suggested that the Royal Commission's objective is to eradicate paedophilia. Its primary objective is to find out the causes of the failures of institutions, including the Church, to deal with sexual abuse by members of those institutions and protect the victims and serve justice. Using the word paedophilia - a technical term for a psychosexual proclivity - euphemises the reality of what has caused the problem or scandal - namely real, physical acts of molestation and rape, and, again (how many times does one have to spell it out), real lies or deceptions uttered, real acts of self-serving dishonesty and after-the-fact complicity by people who had moral and civic power and duties to be honest and courageous. The Royal Commission will not be making many recommendations on how to ensure no-one has a disordered psychosexuality; they will however, no doubt be making findings on what things led to or encouraged institutional failures and dishonesty and make recommendations accordingly. Let's not go off chasing wild hares!

smk | 17 January 2013  

Society's low moral standards? Really? As far as I know, paedophilia and the sexual abuse of minors has been a crime. The low moral standard may have been in trusting the church to protect children, instead of prosecuting these criminals after their first offence.

AURELIUS | 17 January 2013  

I'd have thought the service of justice which SMK identifies as one of the Royal Commission's objectives required the eradication of paedophilia a term that few would regard merely as euphemistic.

John | 18 January 2013  

Paedophilia is euphemistic when it is used in place of the starker terms "rape" and "sex-with-menaces-and-emotional-oppression"; it is inaccurate when a term that properly refers to a psycho-sexual tendency is used when the issue is of real acts of rape and bullying committed; it is irrelevant - and possibly mischievous - when it is used or inserted into the discussion when it is unfair to burden the Royal Commission with the expectation that it should eradicate the weird and dark in human sexual psychology instead of keeping the focus on and finding answers to the reasons why institutions fostered abuse or failed to do anything just and proper about it. There are already tomes, I am sure, on why or how a person may be or end up paedophilic: we have not yet exposed why institutions like the Church that assert a supreme moral and magisterial authority have systemically failed and deceived.

smk | 18 January 2013  

Really sad.

Bill Finn | 18 January 2013  

I agree with those heart-felt positive responses. I am more inclined to follow the progress of the "Commission", its report and analysis such as these. Thank you.

Roy Fanthome | 18 January 2013  

Helga Jones, you are most certainly right when you draw attention to the sexualisation of society today - although, granted, that too has been an issue throughout the ages. But, no one dares address it, because it would impinge upon peoples "rights". Therein lies the serious problem. It is of little value to get up and spout in a "holier than thou" fashion that "this must never happen again" if there is not a preparedness to address such wider issues. So, forget about rights for a while and focus on responsibility.

Wally Schiller | 19 January 2013  

In most instances these men are set apart.
It's when they are unable to maintain the status quo that's the problem and the facility in place in the era of Archbishop Mannix until not that long ago, is evidence of that.
The recent clergyman re-instated is a scandal to many of the faithful, others have been turning a blind eye for years and deserve what they get.

L Newington | 19 January 2013  

Ray Cassin has touched on the truth here, but doesn't go far enough. In my experience it is not simply a matter of 'mystique'. Abuse happens in other churches too; though perhaps, thank goodness, not as much.
There are predatory priests in churches, but there are also those who are lonely, unsupported and even desperate. This is attributed to celibacy which doesn't help, but its not the only answer to do away with this. The majority of abuse in society occurs from heterosexuals who are or have been in relationships; it also occurs everywhere.
What is revealed when institutions collude with abuse is that it is about power in the first place and power in the second place. The priest is in an honoured position, set apart, but that gives them immense power. The hierarchy want to retain not only their power but that of the church. They have therefore acted to cover up in order to preserve a sham of power.
The third thing that leads to abuse is a sense of entitlement that comes from the power.
Check out Psalm 8 - we have the power to create and to destroy.
Pearl - former Safeguarding Children Adviser, UK

Pearl Luxon | 20 January 2013  

This is an excellent article. There is only one hope for the survival of The Church in open,democratic societies.Change the authority and power structures! The tawdry history of cover ups of sexual abuse in Australia, Ireland and The USA indicates that clerics and congregational leaders have failed to act in the interests of victims. They have instead perpetuated corrupt leadership sructures ordained by Roman practice from the early centuries after Christ. If The Church s to be reborn leadership and power must be transferred to the laity and congrgations. Bishops and priests have a continuing role to play but not one of absolute control and supposed monopoly on faith and tryth. The emergence of congragational movements in Australia to articulate their abhorrence of what has happened under corrupt Catholic authorities in Australia and to march in the streets to proclaim their "truths" is a positive step too. It is only when true Christians reclaim power in the CC that it will have any chance of survival. If this does not happen then the radical decline in adherence and the masoleums of empty pews will continue to multiply.

John Collard | 21 January 2013  

Unqualified transference of ecclesial leadership to the laity that dos not recognise the essentially hierarchical structure of the Church and the distinction between ordained priesthood and the priesthood of all the faithful in virtue of baptism would create a reality that is not the Catholic Church. I wonder if this is not the real motive and purpose of some commentators on this issue. I also wonder at the false and facile equation of the requirement of priestly celibacy in the Catholic Church and sexual abuse.

John | 22 January 2013  

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