Assessing the Catholic Church's child abuse culpability


The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse now under way around Australia will ensure this issue will have public prominence for the foreseeable future.

Indeed it was the impetus for the authors featured in this interview to write their recently published book, Reckoning: The Catholic Church and Child Sexual Abuse (jointly published by Eureka Street and ATF Press), their own thorough study of this thorny issue in the context of the Australian Catholic Church.

Damian Grace and Chris McGillion are eminently qualified to write on this topic, both with distinguished careers: Grace as an academic specialising in applied ethics and political philosophy, and McGillion as a journalist and author who’s devoted most of his career to writing about religion.

In the interview they talk about what they are trying to achieve with the book, the difficulties in being even handed with this issue, why it has taken the Church so long to come to grips with sexual abuse by clergy, and the effect and significance of the Royal Commission. They conclude in the second part of the interview by looking to the future, discussing how the Church might recover from this, and whether Pope Francis is a sign of hope in dealing with it.

Damian Grace has taught ethics, political philosophy, history of political thought and philosophy of religion over the past four decades. He previously lectured at the University of NSW, and is currently an honorary associate in the Department of Government and International Relations at The University of Sydney. 

His research has centred on Renaissance political theory and applied ethics, and his publications include a wide range of academic papers, book chapters, and, co-authored with Stephen Cohen, the books Business Ethics (Oxford University Press, Melbourne 1995) and Ethical Theory and Practice in the World of Accounting (ICAA 2007).

Chris McGillion is a former religious affairs editor and columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald. He has also written on religion for the prestigious British journal The Tablet and the National Catholic Reporter in the USA. He currently teaches journalism at Charles Sturt University.

Amongst his many books he was editor of A Long Way from Rome: Why the Australian Catholic Church is in Crisis (Allen & Unwin 2003) and co-wrote with John O'Carroll Our Fathers: What Australian Catholic priests really think about their lives and their church (John Garratt 2011). 

This interview is in two parts - Part 1 (11 mins) above, and Part 2 (7 mins) below:

Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant with a master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity.

Topic tags: Peter Kirkwood, Chris McGillion, Damian Grace, sexual abuse, Royal Commission, Reckonings



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Existing comments

Two very reflective and insightful interviews. Comments on accountability are very important. The comments on trust and the rebuilding of trust within the Catholic church is going to take time. Due to the fact that within the western world the church is becoming less relevant in the lives of the people. Under Popes JPII and Benedict, we have seen policies of conservatism, which I think has masked or distracted the Church from dealing sexual abuse. What is shameful for the church, is that secular institutions has forced the church to become publicly accountable.

Paul Donnelly | 06 August 2014  

Thank you Peter. This is a great interview of two very insightful writers. May your enterprise in bringing this and other material to us in video format flourish.

John Francis Collins | 06 August 2014  

A truly academic and detached view of the insidious approach of senior clergy, papal nuncios and Vatican officials throughout the Catholic church. To suggest it isn't an issue in the Asian Church is without foundation given the attention that Australia is giving to "sex" tourism. The abused and their families were unable to get their message through as the senior positions of the church were into cover up and income protection. The pursuit of "Ellis" by the Cardinal is only one example. The outburst against the Fosters at World Youth Day another yet alone the embracing of Marciel by Wojtyla, the protection of him and the lack of action against Brady. To put forward the idea that the issue wasn't in the consciousness of the community is lacking credible support from the victims and their families. They knew the victim had been raped and rape was a crime understood as a criminal offence in the community. The Catholic school system drummed into families the mantra of the local priest and religious as "trustworthy" but many weren't and aren't. The Confessional/Reconciliation process guaranteed access to the vulnerable and still does. The interview doesn't give a balanced view; the victims are missing.

Laurie Sheehan | 06 August 2014  

Thanks for your interest in the subject. I would have liked also further references to others who have studied the issue - Bishop Geoff Robinson, the findings so far of the royal Commission and Victorian Reports, Francis Sullivan, Patrick Parkinson, Kieran Tapsell and various support groups who have studied the issues and come up with thoughts for improvements. I found the dialogue too defensive and can only lead to protection of the past .

Brian F Kennedy | 10 August 2014  

Protecting the organization at any cost is the first response of churches and religious bodies when faced with evidence of pedophile abuse by their clerics etc. Denials, legal threats against victims, buying off the more insistent ones are now well-known tactics. But this may not be the full story. Such ploys may not merely be used to protect the church but any of its erring “higher ups”. Perhaps the reason why pedophile priests are treated with kid gloves and merely moved from parish to parish etc is because they might “name names” if the church handed them over to the police. Some high-ranking clerics may have also been committing sexual sins that pedophile priests know about. Such transgressions may not be pedophilic: they could simple be priests having gay or heterosexual relationships with other priests, nuns or the laity. Some Catholic priests may even be unofficially married. Their wife may the “secretary” who travels with them but who church officials discretely ignore. The Catholic church especially has so many sexual skeletons in so many closets and pedophile priests would likely know about many of them. Having something “on” one’s superiors would ensure they would merely “move you on” rather than call the cops on you.

Dennis | 13 August 2014  


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