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No copping out of abuse blame

  • 26 November 2013

Australia'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