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Best of 2017: Commission's Catholic wrap-up

  • 08 January 2018


Last Monday, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse commenced its three-week examination of the causes of child sexual abuse and cover up in the Catholic Church in Australia over the last 60 years. The statistics were horrifying.

Every case represented a person who claims as a child to have been abused by a person of authority in a Catholic institution — whether it be a school, a parish, an orphanage or a children's home.

Whichever way the statistics are interpreted in comparison with other institutions, they are appalling. The Catholic Church harboured child abusers in the past, and in numbers which now shock Australians, whether they be Catholic or not.

We need to hold the victims clearly in focus, not as statistics or as hard cases, but as individuals, erstwhile vulnerable members of the church community, citizens able to walk tall again because they have been heard, believed and affirmed. Francis Sullivan got it right when speaking for the Church's Truth Justice and Healing Council. With great compassion and insight, he told the commissioners:

'We are advised that the data does not distinguish those claims that were substantiated from those that were accepted without investigation. In an ideal world, the data would distinguish between the number of allegations where offenders made admissions, or were convicted, and those where an investigation substantiated the complaint.

'Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that the proportion of priests since 1950 against whom even claims of abuse have been made undermines the image and credibility of the priesthood. Likewise, the very high proportions of religious brothers with claims of abuse only further corrodes the community's trust.

'The data tells us that over the six decades from 1950 to 2010 some 1265 Catholic priests and religious were the subject of a child sexual abuse claim. These numbers are shocking; they are tragic and they are indefensible.'

The next day, on the first regular sitting day of Parliament for this year, Bill Shorten took the opportunity just before question time to declare, 'It is past time for Cardinal Pell to return to Australia and to account to the commission in person.'


"Twenty years ago, I daresay there would have been a chorus of objections to the Greens' motion, led in the first instance by the various bodies representing the nation's lawyers. But this time, there was silence."


The Greens took the cue and introduced a motion into the Senate the day after,