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No copping out of abuse blame


Police Victoria badgeAustralia's quest to uncover the plague of child abuse and put right the failure of government and non-government organisations (including churches) to deal compassionately and justly with victims, and firmly and appropriately with perpetrators, continues. Quite rightly, the Catholic Church remains in the spotlight. In February, retired judge Tony Whitlam QC reported on the 'Father F' Case in Armidale. He highlighted that all the blame did not lie just with the deceased bishop Kennedy. There were systemic failures not just in the Church but also with psychologists, the police and the courts.

This month, the Victorian parliamentary committee's report 'Betrayal Of Trust: Inquiry Into The Handling Of Child Abuse By Religious And Other Non-Government Organisations' was published.

The Catholic Church hierarchy now seems more prepared to admit institutional and personal failures prior to 1996 when Towards Healing and the Melbourne Response were instituted. They are yet to admit the pervasive, closed clericalist culture which infected the Church until at least 1996. But that will come.

Cardinal Pell who had been an auxiliary bishop in the Melbourne Archdiocese from 1987 to 1996 when he then was made Archbishop told the Victorian inquiry:

As an auxiliary bishop to Archbishop Little I did not have the authority to handle these matters and had only some general impressions about the response that was being made at that time, but this was sufficient to make it clear to me that this was an issue which needed urgent attention and that we needed to do much better in our response.

Understandably, this left many people inside and outside the Church wondering, 'If Archbishop Little didn't act between 1987 and 1996, why didn't his auxiliary Bishop Pell try to do something?' and 'If the Archbishop knew during those nine years, why didn't his Auxiliary?'

Welcoming the report, Cardinal Pell said:

The report details some of the serious failures in the way the church dealt with these crimes and responded to victims, especially before the procedural reforms of the mid 1990s. Irreparable damage has been caused. By the standards of common decency and by today's standards, church authorities were not only slow to deal with the abuse, but sometimes did not deal with it in any appropriate way at all. This is indefensible.

This refreshing change of tone and collective acceptance of responsibility makes it possible to get some clearer air in the public domain about noble, principled and professional efforts post-1996 as well as unfortunate continued shortcomings. Many of those efforts included highly cooperative, though flawed, initiatives involving both Church and police.

If the Church maintains the approach that only deceased individual bishops and superiors were to blame prior to 1996, it will be doing a disservice not only to the victims but also to other members of the Church community hoping and praying that the Church might be the exemplar of faith, hope and love — faith in a just and forgiving God, hope for all, including those whose lives have been wrecked by criminal abuse, and love for all, including the primary and secondary victims, erring clerics, our enemies and biased critics.

During the course of the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry, the Victorian police gave evidence and ran a media campaign suggesting they had long been dissatisfied with the Catholic Church's attempt to come to terms with child sexual abuse in its ranks. But the Inquiry found:

The Catholic Church established the Melbourne Response (in 1996) in consultation with Victoria Police and the Victorian Government. Assistant Commissioner Gavan Brown, and the Solicitor-General each approved and signed off on the process.

There was no indication that at anytime before April 2012 Victoria Police told the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne that it had any concerns about the Melbourne Response.

It is clear that Victoria police paid inadequate attention to the fundamental problems of the Melbourne Response arrangements until relatively recently in April 2012 and that, when they did become the subject of public attention, Victoria Police representatives endeavoured quite unfairly to distance the organisation from them.

Let's hope that the Victorian police, like the Church hierarchy, can now move forward admitting past mistakes without manufacturing excuses which do not withstand the contemporary spotlight. It was very disheartening to hear the Victorian Acting Commissioner of Police Graham Ashton on 20 November 2013 trying to explain the police failure to raise any alarm bells before April 2012.

On Melbourne radio, he suggested to Neil Mitchell after release of the parliamentary report that the police might have acted much earlier, even seizing church documents if only they knew where the documents were. He said, 'Neil, that's the thing, you can go in with a search warrant and turn up empty handed, that regularly happens to us. So you need actually good information on where documents are stored, or other materials that, in fact, you're searching for.'

The truth is that the police knew all along where the documents were. There was close, familiar cooperation between Church and police. All relevant documents were in the Archdiocesan offices and in the chambers of the church's independent commissioner Peter O'Callaghan QC. Back in October 1996, the Victorian police had issued a media release saying:

Police have welcomed the appointment of Peter O'Callaghan QC to the position of Independent Commissioner. They say that they are pleased to see the appointment of the commissioner will not in any way conflict with police investigations or actions in respect to sexual abuse. Police are hopeful that the appointment of the commissioner will assist [to] identify those engaging in sexual abuse and result in them being dealt with by the law.

If thereafter police did not know where necessary documents for an investigation were, all they had to do was ask; from 1996 there had been the closest possible cooperation between the Church and the police. We all have to wear the wrap when inquiries come with the benefit of hindsight saying we can do better.

The next report will be the Cunneen Report which investigated abuse and cover-ups in the Catholic diocese of Maitland and Newcastle. It will be published on 28 February 2014. It will focus on the Church and its relationship with the New South Wales police. There will be big learnings there too, both for the Church and for the police.

Meanwhile, the $434 million federal Royal Commission is gearing up for public hearings into the Catholic Church commencing on 9 December 2013. Justice McClellan has requested an increase in staff from 160 to 260. He says, 'The primary task of the Royal Commission is to listen to the personal stories of sexual abuse' and to 'draw from those stories the lessons which we can report to the Australian community in an endeavour to ensure so far as possible the abuse of children in institutions never happens again'.

This will occur only if police forces and state child welfare departments are subjected to the same scrutiny as the churches because the avoidance of abuse and cover-up is possible only with the highest cooperation and understanding of those state agencies.

If Catholics deny the ongoing adverse effects of clericalism, and if police officers just sit back and play the blame game while media commentators profess the smug assurance of all knowing hindsight, these inquiries will not have dug deep enough for the truth. 

Frank Brennan headshotFr Frank Brennan SJ is professor of law at Australian Catholic University, and adjunct professor at the College of Law and the National Centre for Indigenous Studies, Australian National University. The ABC's Philip Adams canvassed his views on a variety of topics including Indigenous issues, clerical sexual abuse, and his own religious faith, on Radio National Last week. Listen here

Topic tags: Frank Brennan, Betrayal Of Trust, Victorian parliamentary inquiry, clergy sex abuse, Royal Commission



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Existing comments

'Tenez le Droit' - hold to the right. This is a difficult time for churches, particularly the Catholic Church, and no one within the church will be unaffected. It's painful to admit wrongdoing and it's also painful to have a very public spotlight held up to reveal flaws. I wonder how words like 'faith' and 'belief' will hold up and perhaps reflecting on Eva Collins' "Places of Worship" may be helpful: When God looks down/on his places of worship/what does he see?/Needle-sharp steeples/and missile minarets/pointing at him.

Pam | 24 November 2013  

would it be a mortal sin for a catholic priest to support gay civil unions ? is it a mortal sin for a priest to teach against six and ninth comandment by supporting gay people how love each other living in civil unions. didn't you swear to follow to and teach what magisterium teaches when u became a priest

denis Lynch | 25 November 2013  

OMG Denis, what has that comment got to do with Frank's article expressing concern about the Church and Police being in cahoots in covering-up the facts about child abuse in the past? And Pam, all the reflection in the world on steeples and minarets (phallic symbols all?) will make not an iota of difference 'if [as Frank says] Catholics deny the ongoing adverse effects of clericalism'. There is no point in waiting for the clerics in charge to reform clericalism, you the laity have to do it, or else it won't happen. Frank is right in implicating the police, and no doubt the poles of the time, but I'm not so sure about his critics of the media, without whose efforts none of this would have come to light.

Ginger Meggs | 25 November 2013  

"Passing the Buck" has always been the name of the "Game of Deniability" that the Church has played. Someone orchestrated this game, all over the world, to delay exposure of the Church's secrets, world-wide, as long as possible! Gee, if one can't believe Cardinal Pell, who can one believe (Q mark broken)! Jeannie

Jeannieguzman | 25 November 2013  

The "ongoing adverse effects of clericalism" still need to be addressed by our Church's leadership. Catholics for Renewal, in their submission to the Royal Commission (see 12 at http://www.catholicsforrenewal.org/documents.htm), proposes wide-ranging reforms to the Church’s operation and governance, in particular: “1. The Catholic Church nationally and internationally must accept that its governance structures, culture and practices are seriously deficient and have been responsible for terrible damage to children, and must be reformed as a matter of urgency. "2. The Holy See should be asked to commit to a more accountable, transparent and inclusive Church informed by its member communities, rejecting patriarchal and autocratic cultures.” The Parliamentary Report stated , “Analysis of the Catholic Church’s past handling of this problem shows that as an organisation it had many of the internal features of an organisation at high risk of its personnel perpetrating criminal child abuse . . . " The failure of the Church to conduct a full and systemic internal investigation of its culture and structures in the context of the sexual abuse scandal is indicative of dysfunctionality. Church leaders continue to deny that such a full and systemic internal investigation is desirable, let alone recognise that it is an essential first step to identify the necessary changes to Church culture, structures and protocols.

Peter Johnstone | 25 November 2013  

A welcome change in tone,too, from the Scottish Catholic Bishops. Including an analysis of old cases....at last http://www.scmo.org/articles/scotland’s-catholic-bishops-announce-range-of-safeguarding-initiatives.html

Florence Boyle | 25 November 2013  

Since this matter came to light, people have been given no simple explanation of moral and pastoral teaching on it. It is assumed that they all know it, which is wrong. The least all should have been told from the start is that any one sinful act of abuse is the responsibility of one person. If two or more act in collusion then each is sinning. If a person in authority knowingly fails to act, there is another sin etc.etc. The point is that members of an association, in this case the Church, hold responsibility individually. The Church itself whose teaching is clear, is surely removed from the free choice of its individual members each of whom should be treated as such.

Tony Knight | 25 November 2013  

Its sad when those involved hide behind others, blaming institutions and processes as both the priests and police involved seem to still be doing. The first step is for them to say, "I' was terribly wrong and I'm sorry for all the hurt I caused." This could start with Cardinal Pell. Sadly I know that many of those who could have done something at the time to stop the abusers don't really appreciate the impact they have had due to their inaction. Their mantra is for the victims to 'move on'. One doesn't move on from sexual abuse, many of us learn to live with it in time and with counselling but you don't move on. 'Forgive me father for I have sinned and I want to witness my grave errors of judgement to my community too.' is the mantra we would all appreciate hearing from them.

Carol | 25 November 2013  

The 'pervasive, closed clericalist culture which infected the Church until at least 1996' held sway because of another culture operating parallel in the Church- laicism. Lay people, (the unordained), who, because of their position in wider society or their so called level of expertise, see it almost as their right, to direct the Church or offer it advice which can't be refused. Another side of this laicism needs to be examined in relation to the history of cover-up of the horrific crimes against children - and teens and adults for that matter. In his book, "Unholy Trinity", Catholic retired Victorian policeman writes of how laicism among Catholic police officers in Victoria succeeded in the cover-up of the horrific crimes of now dead, Monsignor John Day, long-serving Parish Priest of Mildura and elsewhere. The intersection of clericalism and laicism are now presenting our Church with another problem. Good priests and still believing Catholic laity seem to be shut out from representation on the Church's Truth, Justice and Healing Council, as are the spiritual threads of Catholicism which demand a collective examination of conscience as to how and why evil got such a hold in church ministry.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew | 25 November 2013  

Ginger Meggs, thanks for feedback. The Catholic Church is one of the most patriarchal institutions in the world (only outdone by Sydney Anglicanism et al) and it will be so difficult for laity to wrest any power back -although 'power' is a business the church should not be interested in. Big dilemma!

Pam | 25 November 2013  

The sincerity of Cardinal Pell's "refreshing change of tone and collective acceptance of responsibility" might be tested against the recommendations made by Geoffrey Robertson QC, in "The Case of the Pope: Vatican accountability for human rights abuse" (Penguin Books, 2010) (a) The Pope must abandon his claim to judge paedophile priests under Church law. (b) All credible allegations must be put into the hands of the police on the spot. (c) Every priest convicted must be defrocked. (d) The Church must show more respect for victims and their families and help the healing of those who are damaged. (e) All priests must have a duty to blow the whistle when they know of an offence by a fellow priest and such whistle-blowers must be congratulated and supported rather than treated as traitors to the Church. (f) The Church should suspend judgment until a court had decided the matter but then help any defrocked priest who seeks redemption. (g) Opportunities for priests to succumb to temptation must be reduced. Converting on-paper commitment to reality would make the protection of vulnerable children a number one duty throughout the Church. Let's see fewer words and more action.

Frank Golding | 25 November 2013  

What does the ongoing adverse effects of clericalism mean and how has it been related to child sexual abuse? Frank Brennan asserts this without examination or evidence. It is very valuable that Frank has highlighted the Report's comments on Victoria Police's close involvement with the Melbourne Response. I am not aware of this section of the report receiving any attention in the Melbourne Media

Peter | 25 November 2013  

Fr Mick Mac Andrew, if there is, or has been, tension and conflict between 'clericalism' and 'laicism' such that 'good priests and still believing Catholic laity' now feel shut out of the current process, then surely it's because those very priests and laity have averted their eyes and sat on their hands and done nothing over many years despite knowing that all was not as it should be. And Tony Knight, the organisation which is the church must also be held accountable, or would you indemnify BP for the Gulf Oil spill and prosecute only its managers and staff?

Ginger Meggs | 25 November 2013  

Well said Frank Brennan...yet in some places the problem of clericalism is getting worse, not better. The shortage of priests has led to the importation of many priests from India and the subcontinent. Their background leads to many of them having a medieval approach to priestly authority. In my experience the laity do not know whether to challenge this or drift off to another parish...Pity.

jim macken | 25 November 2013  

The whole issue of sexual abuse within the Church makes me realise how human the institution is. There may be aspects of the divine,, but unfortunately they are few and far between. As I get older and my faith becomes weaker and weaker. I'm left with many regrets for the doctrinaire religion I was brought up with.

David Wall | 25 November 2013  

“these inquiries will not have dug deep enough for the truth“. Dear Fr Brennan, As I see it, one of the main fundamental causes of the clerical abuse is the sapping of belief in the traditions of the church. With the realisation that mankind evolved from lesser forms of life, over hundreds of thousands of years, all the stories of original sin and the need for a Redeemer are seen as simply religious inventions. Peter Kelly’s reaction to finding himself unable to maintain these fables was to honourably absent himself. Other clergy were left disorientated , living in a castle build on sand. and with nothing to support them, lost their way,and simply fell prey to their basic instincts. To make the transition to placing our relationship with God on a more secure foundation will be a long and arduous journey into unknown territory, and it remains unclear who will lead us.

Robert Liddy | 25 November 2013  

Dear Frank, your case re priest sexual abuse (PSA) disappoints me. As a Jesuit I accept you defend the church. The focus of the Inquiries is on Catholic persons, practices, teachings as well as perpetrators and hierarchy. We can blame clericalism, celibacy, the police etc., but the cover-ups and the Melbourne Response stand condemned by the six Victorian parliamentarians (3 catholics). George Pell, Denis Hart, Peter O’C and TJHC seek to shift blame to Vic Police for not dong more, but the Victorian bishops and protocols stand condemned. Will they welcome the police invoking vicarious liability to prosecute the bishops and vicar generals who’ve withheld criminal evidence? And why does the church still uphold its in-house processes when Chrissi Foster’s experience of Melbourne hierarchy is so damning. As my own evidence to the Vic inquiry page 441 about the 37 victims I know “report bruising encounters, being intimidated by bishops and solicitors ... Not one speaks of a positive, healing, Jesus-like response from the Church protocol” And why not immediately back the setting up of a non-church Victorian compensation protocol and not wait years for the RC and a national body that needs agreement from every state. Does the Catholic Insurance Company still dominates their agenda?

Michael Parer | 25 November 2013  

Let me join issue with a couple of points raised Professor Parer. First, he says the Melbourne Response and Towards Healing stand condemned by the Victorian Inquiry. The Inquiry definitely suggested substantial improvements that could be made, but on my reading the parliamentary committee seems to have favoured their retention with modifications together with a more independent option being available to victims through the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT). A case of the more options, the better. In relation to the Melbourne Response, the Inquiry’s finding was: “Of the 154 files reviewed six victims expressed thanks or indicated that they had a positive experience with the process, while 20 people criticised the Melbourne Response process. The Committee could not determine the satisfaction level of the remainder 128 victims from the files received from the Independent Commissioner.” In relation to Towards Healing the finding was: “The Committee reviewed 129 out of an estimated total of 800-900 complaints files made to Towards Healing” “It was not possible to determine the victims’ overall satisfaction with the process. In 16 cases victims were satisfied with the outcome but the files indicate that 22 victims were dissatisfied with the process. The Committee could not determine victim’s satisfaction with the Towards Healing process in the remainder of the files.” Thus the need for more digging by the federal royal commission with its resources of $434million. Second, I have no interest in “seeking to shift blame to the Victorian police for not doing more”. And contrary to Professor Parer’s suggestion, neither do I hear that from our bishops or from Peter O’Callaghan QC or from the Truth Justice and Healing Council. My point is simple. If we are all wanting to put vulnerable children first, and its high time we all did, then everyone needs to be committed to truth and transparency, especially the church, the police force, and the state child welfare agency. Our bishops would have been rightly crucified if they had behaved before the Victorian Inquiry as did the Victorian police in trying to distance themselves untruthfully from previous arrangements they had made. Just consider the evidence, the findings, and the follow up. The evidence: Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton told the Inquiry on 19 October 2012: “The issue in relation to protocols was that there were attempts — I think in fact it was the church that reached out to want to have some sort of agreement on a protocol with us, which started the development of a draft protocol in relation to handling information. I was appointed the assistant commissioner for crime early last year, and this file came to me because of the fact that we were approaching some sort of protocol. I read the advice that was provided by the Victoria Police legal services team on the appropriateness of doing that, and the clear advice was not to do it. It had nothing to do with the AFL or any other organisation. We are happy to enter into protocols provided that they are appropriate. In this case it was clearly inappropriate because of all the matters, facts and circumstances that I have outlined for you today. We are not going to enter into a protocol or an agreement on processes that we think are fundamentally flawed. I made it clear from that point onwards that there would be no agreement, despite their website saying for some period of time that we had this agreement, until I wrote to them and asked them to take it down. We do not have an agreement. We would not have an agreement until such time as the processes were changed and we were comfortable that those processes did not adversely impact on victims and enabled us to deal with offenders. If at some future time we were in that space, then we would be happy to sit down and discuss protocols, agreements or anything else.” So Ashton conveyed the impression that protocols with groups like the AFL were fine but that the Victorian police would never contemplate any sort of agreement with the Catholics until they measured up, and they never had. With all due respect to Mr Ashton and the organisation he leads, this was bunkum. Back on 25 September 2010 the then Chief Commissioner Simon Overland was quoted as saying, “Police would no longer enter into Memorandums of Understanding with private companies and only do such deals with Government agencies” On 6 October 2010 the then Deputy Commissioner Sir Ken Jones wrote to Archbishop Hart about the change in policy and stated that “unfortunately the agreement that the Church and Victoria Police were developing for some time has been caught by our change of policy and cannot now be completed”. The findings: The parliamentary report records that on 12 November 2012 the then Deputy Commissioner Sir Ken Jones confirmed with representatives of the Archdiocese “that Victoria Police was content with the process and the Church’s care of victims.” The report goes on to note that “there is no suggestion in these materials that Victoria Police did not enter into a protocol at that time (2009) on the basis that the Melbourne Response’s processes were fundamentally flawed. Rather, Victoria Police was no longer entering into formal protocols with any organisations.” The Inquiry found: “It is clear that Victoria police paid inadequate attention to the fundamental problems of the Melbourne Response arrangements until relatively recently in April 2012 and that, when they did become the subject of public attention, Victoria Police representatives endeavoured quite unfairly to distance the organisation from them.” And then the follow-up: When Neil Mitchell on radio this last week asked Ashton, “Yeah, well you said that they had reported nothing, that the…You stand by all that?”, Ashton replied, “Stand by everything in the report. The Parliamentary Report didn’t criticise any of the evidence in our report, so yeah, we stand by that.” Thankfully, referring especially to the pre-1996 arrangements in the Catholic Church in Victoria, Archbishop Hart has admitted: “We were far too slow to address the abuse, or even to accept that it was taking place. I fully acknowledge that leaders in the Church made terrible mistakes. These are indefensible.” Mr Ashton, and members of the Victorian force, kids deserve better. We will not overcome the scourge of child sexual abuse unless all organisations involved are made more accountable. This is not about shifting the blame, its about placing it in all places where it properly lies. And that’s a further job for the royal commission.

Frank Brennan SJ | 26 November 2013  

Fr McAndrew is correct about laity directing clergy but does not add that this directing is into being human trafficked by their parents for economic and social advantages of families by suborning of the them as the more vulnerable child family members with the fraudulent inducement that "... holy virginity surpasses marriage in excellence" (SV, 1954, 24) facilitated by not including children as sharing the "differentiated but shared responsibility" (CT, 1978, 16) to ensure the integrity of catechesis... Abuse of Ordination and Marriage by couples in irregular marriages, especially inter church ones, seeking and being permitted to receive Eucharist justified by epikeia was warned against by the married parent moral theologian, Professor William E. May, in his rebuttal in late 1990 of Fr Bernard Haaring CSSR's use of epikeia to justify this abuse of these two Sacraments. May's rebuttal was reprinted "On authoritative request" in L'Osservatore Romano, 11 March 1991. Fr Haaring was named with Fr Hans Kung as dissenting theologians by the Pope through Archbishop Paul Cordes at the National Lay Movements Conference in Brisbane in July 1991. Parents in Brisbane with their helpers in different groups within the Church and in society in Australia, the UK and at the Vatican keeping their activities in the Church and in society "distinguish[ed] clearly between" (GS, 1965, 76) acted to repair this harm of abuse of these two Sacraments including in finding the primary cause and remedy for sexual abuse by Catholic Church personnel in keeping the inseparability of the two: 1. Meanings of Eucharist as Summit of Unity and Source of Unity; 2. Aspects of Marriage as Union and Procreation, including insuring or providing education. Oliver Clark, Job's Trust oliver_clark5@telstra.com

Oliver Clark | 26 November 2013  

The Church Has not changed in spite of Spin. Since the first accusations against Catholic Clergy and employees surfaced in Australia many moons ago, a common thread has been voiced by Victims, being that at the time of the abuse they were not listened to. If any had the strength at the time are thereafter to speak out, again their cries fell upon deaf ears. The most effective way of stopping accusations of Clergy Abuse is to silence the Accusers. Unfortunately the accusers were also the victims. May have suffered as a result of the abuse which is not limited to the Victims themselves. Their families, spouses, children and friends have been scarred by this blight on the church. This is oft referred to as “vicarious injury” and can lead to suicides and often marriage failures with the damage passing on to a later generation of children. A question often asked is why does it take years to speak out. The very general answer to this is that the memories of those abusive actions that cause the least or manageable amount of damage when they are intentionally compartmented, which is very simply put in a box and victims try to forget. The important word is “try” as through not dealing with the trauma, a victim may trigger feelings when something simple in the present, a smell, a shirt colour or a location, provokes memories of the past. Everyone has these triggers, and for most, thankfully, this is of good and fun memories. However for the Victims of a trauma, any trauma, these memories may provoke painful feelings that are debilitating. As they are never fully processed, they will sooner or later rise to the surface like a boil. In our society there are groups that deal with Traumas as part of their occupations. Military, Fire and Police. They have training in how to process these feelings, often before these events occur and there is support after the events. As regards Traumas sustained as a child, the events and feelings need to be processed with a child’s mind. An immature mind that should be concerned about whether the sand in the sand pit is dry, not trying to process why a sexual predator was violating their personal space and why the predator is doing exactly what the child had been warned about from strangers. In a child’s mind, trust is something that is natural. They are born trusting. This is reinforced by Parents who tell children who they should trust. This knowledge of who to trust has been determined by the Parents through their own life experiences and also the social mores of the relevant cultures. Priests, politicians, police, doctors, teachers and sport coaches are assumed to fall into those categories above risk. Unfortunately a couple of sections come into question when Catholic abuse is considered. I personally was taught to tell the teacher when I had concerns. I did not have to clarify if they were a good or bad teacher as by virtue of their position in the school and society, that appropriate checks had been done. This same concept of being able to Trust without clarification extended to Priests and Religious ( Brothers and Nuns). The pain of having that trust abused, the physical and psychological damage of the Betrayal goes far beyond the actual event of the abuse. The questions that evolve from that betrayal are often as difficult to deal with as the actual abuse. • Why was I targeted? • Why was I not listened to? • Why did my parents and others not believe me? • Why was I told I was at fault? Just a naughty boy. • Why should I trust anyone again? • Why did God let this happen? • Were their other victims? For a lot of victims / survivors the ability to process these questions, even in later life, is suspended in time and will always be viewed from a child eye. Survivors have tried since the first accusations were made to get the Church to hear their cries, with varying degrees of success. This inability of the survivors to be listed to is unfortunately consistent with the experiences of most of the Churches in Australia where abuse has raised its ugly head. The approach until the Australian Community said “enough is enough” and a number of Commissions have been established was to apply a strategy first noted as being used in the Catholic Church in the United States whereby a strategy of “Deny, Deny, Delegate, Deny and finally blame predecessors” proved to defray responsibility. Finally through the concerted efforts of a number of Media persons including our own Joanne McCarthy, the individuals at the top of the Food Pile are being asked questions that they are finding difficult to answer and their actions and responses are showing that whilst there is a Public Face saying that the Church is changing for the better, the statements from the high ranking individuals are au contraire. Lateline ABC 13 November 2013 (Emma Alberici and Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart) EMMA ALBERICI: And do you believe that you yourself at times acted in a way that was inconsistent with the teachings of the Church? DENIS HART: I've always tried to act in accordance with the teachings of the Church and I believe that my record as Archbishop stands by that. EMMA ALBERICI: Even when you told a woman who'd been sexually abused by a priest, when you told that woman back in 2004 to - and I'm quoting the court record here - "Go to hell, bitch"? DENIS HART: That was an unfortunate comment, one which I've regretted long since. I think it was in a moment of frustration when my house had been intruded and I've regretted it ever since and I do apologise. Christian Brothers Head Br Julian McDonald (regarding Australia’s Worst Paedophile Br Robert Best et al) In his submission to the inquiry, Br McDonald gave evidence on the situation at Ballarat's St Alipius primary school where four staff members were convicted of sexual offences, which he said was a coincidence. "I have no explanation for that... it is certainly an accident of history," Br McDonald said of the men, including Brother Robert Best and Brother Edward Dowlan. Victorian Betrayal of Trust Inquiry of Catholic Church Media Spokeman Fr Shane McKinlay Father Shane McKinlay stated that clergy sexual abuse coincided with the social and moral collapse of the 1960s and '70s, including an attempt to lower the age of consent to 12, Mr McGuire said: "Is the church going to try to blame society?" Notwithstanding the public goofs from Archbishop Denis Hart, Cardinal George Pell, Bishop Michael Malone and the current public front for the Church Fr Shane McKinlay, the Church has publicised through the Catholic Truth Justice and Healing Council head Francis Sullivan that the church is ready to confront the issues of the past head on for the good of the church. They (The Church hierarchy) recognise and acknowledge the devastating harm caused by child sexual abuse, and demonstrate that Church leaders are committed to helping repair the wrongs of the past, listening to and hearing victims and survivors, putting victims' needs first, and doing everything possible to ensure a safer future for children.” ABC Religion and Ethics 12 October 2013 by Francis Sullivan. In the recent experience of the writer of this article,it has become apparent that whilst the Church indicates the Church wants to be more understanding of victims, as voiced by Francis Sullivan, it appears that Mr Francis Sullivan personally is not prepared to listen to the Victims. Mr Sullivan has been placed to assist the Catholic Church in the determination of how to deal with the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Abuse. It is of particular interest that whilst survivors have been advising the Church that a revision of the Towards Healing and Melbourne Response was needed, which was denied by messers Hart and Pell, and in spite of reviews and recommendations from their own advisor Prof Patrick Parkinson, it was not until a Royal Commission was set up that the Church agreed a review was needed. Note that the council is to assist with the dealings with the royal commission not assisting with dealing with historical Child abuse. Personally in the last four weeks I have contacted the office of the Catholic Truth Justice and Healing Council and have spoken to a lovely lady called Fran. I have asked Mr Sullivan to spare some time so I can show him the Investigation report done by a Private Investigator, Norm Maroney, which contains damming evidence against a high ranking Education Official who had knowledge of abuse in the 70’s and 8o’s and chose not to tell police and also documented threats from a Towards Healing Staff member. First phone call was early in November without reply. Second phone call was 11 November without reply and again 21 November and I do not expect to receive a reply. Again the accuser is denied the right to speak to a person that might make a difference. Nothing has changed, sorry Mr Sullivan, you may have started out with grand ideals to change and save the church, but your actions are not going to save the church but will save the careers of Messers Hart and Pell for now. The talk is lovely but must be accompanied by the way or else it is just spin.

Name | 26 November 2013  

The reply given by Peter O’Callaghan QC to the Victorian Inquiry about the police evidence is very thorough. See http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/images/stories/committees/fcdc/inquiries/57th/Child_Abuse_Inquiry/Right_of_Reply/Right_of_Reply_P._OCallaghan_Part_1.pdf He did not spare his punches on the Victorian police force or Deputy Commissioner Ashton stating: “The Police Submission and Ashton are in many respects plainly wrong, as the evidence demonstrates, and also seriously misconceived. The Police Submission and Ashton make grave and groundless attacks upon my personal and professional reputation, which I utterly reject”. O’Callaghan’s reliability was so undinted that the parliamentary committee wrote in its report: “When forming a general picture as the Inquiry progressed, the Committee took into account the high degree of consistency between descriptions of events and their effects made by a large number of witnesses whom the Committee regarded as both credible and independent. Obviously, there were some individuals whose narratives the Committee did not, for one reason or another, find to be reliable. The Independent Commissioner of the Melbourne Response, Mr O’Callaghan QC, advanced specific criticisms of particular witnesses and their submissions in his right-of-reply submissions. The Committee took these into account. Such cases also served to highlight the general need for care in assessing evidence.” Let's hope the truth will out at the Royal Commission for the good of the kids and for the good of all our social institutions.

Frank Brennan SJ | 26 November 2013  

And let's make Psychologists accountable for advice and 'clean bills' to bishops to recycle priests [knowing full well recidivist pedophilia is incurable]. Any psychologist been arraigned, lest we have Royal Omissions? Any input from Australian Psychological Society? Why not?

Father John George | 27 November 2013  

I sometimes wonder whether clericophilia is incurable too. Father John George, how many more groups of people do you want to lay the blame on? When will you accept that the Church and its functionaries are fundamentally responsible for all that has happened?

Ginger Meggs | 27 November 2013  

Frank, thanks but your 1000 word defense fails to convince. In defending in-house processes you join in George Pell’s Daily Telegraph, Peter O’Callaghan’s Right of Reply and Vicar General Greg Bennett’s Melbourne Pastoral. George, Denis, Peter and Pete Connors all got good hearings in open sessions and six GP Politician’s listened. These had and exercised rights of reply and after 163 sessions and 450 testimonies the Committee concluded harshly against the church. You have protested, but I suggest the Parliament and community got it right. Seems that these churchmen ‘do protest too much, methinks” like Queen Gertrude in Hamlet. My only legal study was three years Canon Law under Peter Kelly SJ. He gave me a good final grade, but I was puzzled at Church Law’s disjunction from the gospel. No victim I know praises church processes. In Parliament, presenting Betrayal of Trust all Committee members had harsh words about Church processes, that it was ‘a betrayal beyond comprehension’ and the church had ‘minimized and trivialized’. You did give me some unknown data that 900 presented to the in-house process, 154 cases were reviewed and 6 were satisfied and 20 critical. I have dealt with 37 victims and ‘not one speaks of a positive, healing Jesus like response from the Church protocol’. You imply that the Royal Commission with its $434m budget can analyse these figures further, but why has the Church in-house process not got its own Quality Assurance program? I glean the Catholic Insurance has an income of $70m per annum and spent $30m on sexual abuse. My guesstamate from victims is about one third is compensation to the 97% Peter O’C has approved and the rest in legal defense and funding the in-house process. There is no transparency. Nor is there any response to Chrissi Foster’s treatment in Hell on the way to Heaven. Churchmen think they speak for Catholics, but 90% of census Catholics have voted with their feet and abandoned Mass. They have lost respect. One such wrote to me this week, The … real villain in the whole equation is the Catholic Church as an organisation by adopting a stance of denial and being aloof and a 'holier than thou' attitude. Those people who are in charge have avoided facing their moral, community and human decency responsibilities with the result that great harm is being done to the victims and the Church and the millions of the faithful. The Canonical/financial mindset of Catholic leaders does not help. I am in ‘For the innocent’, MVC and COIN seeking to work with all levels of victims, to apologize, heal and find sensitive protocols. I do not share the view that the in-house process should remain. Thank you for sharing your point of view.

Michael Parer | 28 November 2013  

Maintaining the passion is absolutely necessary, and seeing how many responses there are to Frank's article is encouraging. I haven't yet read all of the responses but if no-one has mentioned Hans Kung's book, Can We Save The Catholic Church , I strongly recommend it .

Patricia Taylor | 28 November 2013  

We all, within and without the Church, owe a vote of thanks to the Parliamentary Inquiry. We owe even more, perhaps, to the Independent Commissioner, Peter O'Callaghan, not just for his work over the last fifteen or so years, but also for the professional way in which he handled the extraordinary and untruthful accusations of Victoria Police. I found the Facing the Truth website bulletins very helpful in separating fact from malign fiction. It was good to see the Inquiry did this, too.

Name | 29 November 2013  

Frankly 'NC' I uphold the George Santanyana rule: "Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it," Godwin is being a trifle obscurantist.

Father John George | 03 December 2013  

Yes, Fr J. G, I am in full agreement with you here. "Although deliberately framed as if it were a law of nature or of mathematics, its purpose has always been rhetorical and pedagogical: I wanted folks who glibly compared someone else to Hitler or to Nazis to THINK A BIT HARDER about the Holocaust" Godwin has written. i.e: The former head of the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands, Cardinal Ad Simonis, said the church leaders were not aware of child sex abuse in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. More details on Dutch victims of abuse within the church. Speaking on the TV programme Pauw & Witteman he said - in German - "wir haben es nicht gewusst" and added "I know that is a very dangerous remark and heavily loaded, but it's true." The remark in question, meaning "we didn't know about it" and referring to the Holocaust, was repeatedly used by Nazi defendants at the Nuremberg trials after World War II. Radio Netherlands Worldwide March 2010.

no comment | 03 December 2013  

The Catholic Church hierarchy now seems more prepared to admit institutional and personal failures prior to 1996 when Towards Healing and the Melbourne Response were instituted. Are they? I would really like someone to clarify something for me. There has been an ongoing (and completely fruitless) 'discussion' elsewhere about whether individual priests/clerics are solely responsible for their acts of abuse or whether they are employees of the church. The Vatican has just come out and stated that "it could not respond to questions about abuse from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child because it was not responsible for the actions of individual clergy". In England an attempt to abdicate responsibility for a priest's rape of a young girl by stating the priest was not an employee of the church was dismissed. My main question is; if a cleric is NOT an employee, what is he? Keep in mind: who pays them, educates them, houses them, gives them legal assistance, insists that they tow the Vatican line, has their every need catered for? Who ordains them, tells them where they will be working, sorry, 'ministering'? Who pays for their insurance (especially in cases of abuse) and looks after them when they fall sick, become alcoholics, molest children and adults and, when they retire? The list goes on and on. Aren't clerics in so, so many ways, a heck of a lot MORE than employees which makes their actions even MORE representational of the institution that is their raison d'etre and as such makes their abuse even more reprehensible when those actions destroy other human beings, brothers and sisters in Christ. If the term 'employee' doesn't fit then what does? Are they just freelance priests? Aren't they ordained representatives of Christ under the full umbrella of the one holy Catholic and apostolic church?

Name | 06 December 2013  

Patricia Taylor, surely Kung realises: #that while the human aspect of the church needs salvation;. # nevertheless the church as Mystical Body of Christ needs no salvation being source of salvation #As Jesus reminds us "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the worldr"[Mt 28:20] #Mystici Corporis Christi (June 29, 1943) is a papal encyclical issued by Pope Pius XII during World War II, on the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ. It is one of the more important encyclicals of Pope Pius XII, because of its topic, the Church, and because its Church concept was fully included in Lumen Gentium The Church is called body, because it is a living entity; it is called the body of Christ, because Christ is its Head and Founder; it is called mystical body, because it is neither a purely physical nor a purely spiritual unity, but supernatural.

Father John George | 10 December 2013  

The Australian of 6 January 2014 reports that in relation to my published comments on this webpage, “Mr Ashton did not respond to the comments directly yesterday, but said the force was satisfied with the report’s recommendations. They provided ‘a sound basis for moving forward’.” For the good of the kids, the Victorian police leadership are going to need to lift their game before the Royal Commission.

Frank Brennan SJ | 06 January 2014  

Here is the link to my sometimes testy interview with Justin Smith on 3AW this morning about child sexual abuse, the Catholic Church and the Victorian police force. Start listening at 1:42:00. It runs for 12 minutes. Listen at http://media.mytalk.com.au/3AW/AUDIO/80114JustinSmith.mp3

Frank Brennan SJ | 07 January 2014  

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