Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Francis Sullivan: Reform and renewal after Royal Commission

  • 24 January 2018


On 15 December 2017 the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse handed its final report to the Australian Government. Fatima Measham, consulting editor of Eureka Street and host of the Eureka Street podcast ChatterSquare, spoke with Francis Sullivan, CEO of the Truth Justice and Healing Council, the body that is coordinating the Catholic Church's response, to reflect on the journey since the Commission was first announced in November 2012 and to consider what are the next steps for the Church.

Right now, says Francis, 'the whole intensity is well off the boil and in part that is completely understandable because it has been a massively intense period with a lot of heightened tension, and anxieties, and when something comes to an obvious conclusion people breathe a sigh of relief'. With that, however, 'comes the temptation to become complacent'. That is a luxury the Church can ill afford.

Fatima: It has been such a long process. It was only five years ago that [then PM] Julia Gillard announced the Commission, but it feels like ten. Do you think there was a sense of catharsis when the Commission wrapped up?

Francis: I think the biggest sense, if you're looking at it from groups like the Catholic Church, was a sense of fatigue, rather than catharsis. In my mind the Royal Commission was about two years too long and about 20 years too late. The extension of the Royal Commission after the initial three-year period just meant that a lot of the case studies kept on coming and a lot of people, including mainstream media, thought this was just more of the same. And so any value-add from those case studies I think was lost.

Secondly, unfortunately, a lot of people who could have given first hand information about how various cases were dealt with in the Catholic Church were either dead or demented. That's what I mean by 20 years too late. Therefore you had a number of people put into situations of surmising what had happened rather than knowing what had happened. And I think that's been really unfortunate.

With all that comes a fatigue, and I think the media itself ran out of puff, and a lot of mainstream media just wasn't reporting the Royal Commission. The ABC and AAP did because it's their national brief to do so, but unless something was really local and very high profile it didn't gain the prominence