Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

No lowly scapegoats in 'necessary' Royal Commission


A Royal Commission is or should be a rare sight. A Royal Commission is a short-term, immensely powerful 'star chamber' set up by the executive. They should be few, because governments shouldn't be allowed to force people to give evidence, possibly incriminate themselves and be exposed to public obloquy, without compelling reason.

There is such reason, and the blood has been crying out for justice for far too long. Adult survivors of sex crimes against them as children, by men who presented as the personification of God, have seen their assailants protected by the institutions they worked in. They and their advocates were finally backed up, surprisingly by police. It takes the force to confront the misuse of force.

It started with the Victorian Police Commissioner's submission to the feeble Parliamentary inquiry established by Premier Baillieu this year. He was scathing about the local Catholic Church's obstruction of police investigations and its staggeringly complete failure to report known paedophile priests.

Then Peter Fox, a senior Newcastle police officer, went public and, in his own words, 'threw away' his career by demanding a Royal Commission into these cover-ups. When he was, instead, handed an inquiry into the response to reported sex crimes in his own district, the ensuing public disgust became politically necessary to assuage.

It was the quickest and most effective campaign I have ever seen, and bore fruit yesterday when the Prime Minister announced a Commission into institutional responses to sex crimes against children in their care.

Peter Fox has already been vilified as 'unstable', as it is ever the case for a whistleblower. He was a brave and decent man on last night's ABC 7.30 Report. So was Frank Brennan, the 'meddlesome priest', who told the ABC later that evening that responsibility for the repulsed investigations and the wretched decision-making that put the interests of the institution ahead of the love of God, goes high. Very high. There can be no lowly scapegoats here.

This inquiry will be different. It must, because it would be another crime to indulge in titillating tales of torture, rape and beatings, and community outrage against 'beasts' who do these things. The beasts include ourselves.

This investigation will be into the machinations of the institutions which represent the obligation of the state to protect children from exploitation and torture, and to facilitate their recovery. This duty is best set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but that has only been with us since 1990, when Australia ratified it.

But it is also into the wretched writhing of bodies who set themselves up in the name of God and religion and the eternal, who claim privileges in every day life, and who we trusted. Whom children trusted. Who betrayed them.

I have worked my entire professional life for the right of every child to be heard, treated as a human being of innate worth and dignity, and taken seriously. I have appeared in courts, written papers, books and set up a commission for children's rights.

So it is not lightly that I say that our lack of care has taken away childhoods. Adult survivors have had their souls stolen, and every insulting excuse (it was only after Vatican II; we didn't know; a man is entitled to be presumed innocent; a child can't be believed; we sent him away for treatment; we didn't know then what we know now) reminds them daily about the ultimate betrayal of trust.

This Commission must find a way to institutionalise the right of every child to be heard. It isn't about punishing the predators. We have to change, deeply. We must learn to listen to every child, as a moral equal.

One of the informing moments of my career came from the survivors of a family which had finally disclosed that an authoritarian, imposing father had beaten and raped every one of his children under the very eye of their mother, who 'noticed' when he introduced his latest sexual partner, her eldest daughter's best friend, into the bed — and came to me.

I interviewed every one of those children, and told her what they told me. In my presence and in theirs, she swore she didn't know: that it had always happened while she was working to support the family, usually on night shifts. In my presence two of those children said, 'But we told you, Mum.' She didn't hear. Even then, she didn't hear.

This is not to be an inquiry into the monsters who, like that father, take advantage of the needy and vulnerable. I expect it to reveal more than we might like about why men and women just don't hear what children say or inquire into what they might say, who don't notice patterns of behaviour  in popular or powerful men, and turn a blind eye to the demonisation of the children who go 'wild'.

I expect it to challenge some, at least, of the many men and women who, in their ordinary work and routine, deny the probability or truth of children's stories, of managers and pastors who choose to defer and refer responsibility to others and who wash their hands of the results of others' failure to achieve justice; who choose, in committees and after conferences with counsel, to decline to participate in investigations; and who may even be naive enough to accompany a paedophile to court: who escort from their desks those who try to act effectively about reporting and protecting the abuse of children's rights; who take comfort in their insurers' advice, and protect the reputations and safety deposit boxes of their respectable institutions.

It will take years — the Irish commission took ten — and millions, and will destroy some reputations and lives and ambitions: and it may not be fair. It will not target just the Catholic Church.

This is a direct call, to reassess the status of children. Compensating damaged adults and listening to them now is not enough. It sends a warning to all those comfortable people who believe in their own virtue. You should not be comfortable. Your sacred space has been defiled. Your institutions designed to protect children instead have given comfort and protection to their rapists and bullies.

May there be hope for the boys and girls who are being groomed and frightened today and tonight. May this Commission's work tie a millstone around the necks of those who have hurt these little ones, by not loving and respecting their rights. May we see a sea change.

Moira RaynerMoira Rayner is a barrister and writer. 

Topic tags: Moira Rayner, Royal Commission, Frank Brennan, Peter Fox, clergy sex abuse



submit a comment

Existing comments

Looking back, I don't know why, as a priest, I have not been 'at the barricades' calling for a Royal Commission. As priests currently serving, we are workshopped about professional standards, required to complete police checks and closely monitored in regards to obtaining the necessary documentation concerning adults working or associating with children in parish activities. But, I should have been asking for more, for the victims. I do know the good policies my archdiocese has in regards to responding to claims of assault, I do know some of the very good and outstanding people who are part of the processes. But, I should have done more, I should have been advocating, personally, for the victims, the few I have met and the many that have been suffering for so long. Systems and processes have not obviously provided the listening that the victims need, nor the telling and recounting of their pain and suffering that, along with those good processes of redress, is very necessary. There is another group of victims too, those who were adults when their abuse and assault took place. I hope they are not 'silenced' by this Royal Commission.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew | 13 November 2012  

Moira Rayner writes of those 'who may even be naive enough to accompany a paedophile to court'. how then do we describe those of the legal fraternity who defend the very same people?

Bee | 13 November 2012  

Excellent piece Moira. Let's hope the Royal Commission lives up to this promise.

Zac | 13 November 2012  

I watched that police officer last night as he told us all his career finished when he appeared on Tony Jones's show last week. That alone speaks volumes about the reach of the Catholic Church deep into the labyrinth of corruption within all our police forces. And what about the NSW Commisioner, who so LURVS God that he handed out a Bible to each and every officer in NSW? Better he attended to police work than evangelising and proselytising but did anyone care, or mention how inapproprate that action was? Of course not! Because religion and religionists live a charmed and protected life in this country. Recall how Gillard gave that revolting interview with Jim wallace just prior to handing over $222m tax dollars to extend the school chaplaincy scheme, even as the Salvo's were apologising for 60 years of sexual, mental and physical abuse and Gillard was telling Wallace what 'caring good' people the Salvos were? This RC will be run off the rails by the police commissioners and politicians who prefer to protect God and the 'godly' above 'people'. How do we know this? Just look at the lack of difference in Indigenous people's lives before and after the host of 'enquiries' into their plight.

janice wallace | 13 November 2012  

Amen to that

GAJ | 13 November 2012  

Thank you Moira for your article addressing this matter. As practising Catholics our family is grateful and relieved to hear of the announcement that there will be a Royal Commission. Those who are innocent will have nothing to fear. Total transparency is necessary if the Catholic Church is to survive with credible representation. With two sons who have spent time in Africa as volunteers in schools and who are now practising lawyers and a daughter studying Arts/Law, there have been heated words of disgust and frustration over the behaviour of Church, blocking and diverting in a game of self-preservation. Unfortunately the Church leaders have been so out of touch with the will of the people that they have failed to see that complete honesty and full cooperation is the only way forward. We feel deeply for the wonderful priests who have blessed our family with care and devotion, goodness and love in honest service to God's work. They have been betrayed by those above them in the positions of power. This is a time for courage and truth, for wise leadership unafraid of directives from the Vatican that may try to silence what must be said.

marianne hale | 13 November 2012  

The shaking in anger amongst catholics who care for this mostly great Church must be directed at our bumbling Bishops who collectively allowed this known scandal to fester to the point that Government has needed to step in.This Royal Commission will meander for two or three years. In the meantime will our Bishops face up to taking real creative action to face up to the needs & challengers of a modern Australian Catholic Church. No more of the weakness they have exhibited in this situation or in their failure as a group to stand up to Rome in the case of the persecution of one of their own,Bishop Morris.In the meantime i look on with endless admiration at the way our great Priests have been working in the midst of what has been a gathering storm.We need a visible movement for change in the Australian Church if the already diminishing support doesn't become a landside.

BRIAN | 13 November 2012  

The Victorian Police Commissioner Ken Lay; Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, whose career I sincerely hope is not over and Fr Frank Brennan SJ are to be highly commended on their stance on the paedophilia issue as is the Prime Minister in calling the Royal Commission. I think it is truly the Royal Commission we have to have. There come times in a nation's history where it has to face up to its darkest secrets. This is one of those. Hopefully the Royal Commission will, in as much as is possible, act a bit like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. The Augean Stables desperately need cleaning. You say: "This Commission must find a way to institutionalise the right of every child to be heard. It isn't about punishing the predators. We have to change, deeply." This is correct. There needs to be a real moral revolution, both in thinking and acting, in this country.

Edward F | 13 November 2012  

A powerful article, thank you Moira. I did, however, scratch my head when you claimed, "It was the quickest and most effective campaign I have ever seen..." The Senate's Forgotten Australians (2004) report documents the submission by Care Leavers Australia Network: "The issues raised by this Inquiry are far-reaching and involve a significant degree of criminal activity which can only be addressed by a Royal Commission" (p. 241). CLAN has been conducting a campaign on this matter ever since. Over the past 8 years it has interviewed Commonwealth and State Ministers, lobbied all political parties, courted key advocates inside and out of politics, conducted monthly protests at the Victorian Parliament and elsewhere and orchestrated a letter writing campaign. Sure the high profile media attention of the past few days helped lance the boil, but political decisions are often the culmination of years of lobbying and work of pressure groups. I hasten to add that CLAN is but one of a number of groups that have been tightening the screws on government over a number of years. The Gillard Government’s decision should not be construed as the result of the quickest campaign – though it might right to call the campaign in all its complexities one of the most effective.

Frank Golding | 13 November 2012  

I read Janice Wallace's comments and went searching the web for her claims, particularly about Bibles being handed out by a police commisioner, an appalling breach of the secular nature our police forces should be framed around, and I found this: http://www.smh.com.au/national/the-force-gets-its-own-good-book-to-reckon-with-20090831-f5cs.html And this: http://www.smh.com.au/national/salvos-abuse-victims-say-apology-is-not-enough-20101203-18juk.html And this: http://vimeo.com/32709171 Gillard waxes lyrical about how good the Salvos are at the 46 second mark. Time to stop blindly handing out government work and our tax money to religious organisations because we cannot afford to keep having enquiries that change nothing at all. Good to see bi-partisan support for no Royal Commission though, arguably the only thing they can agree on: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/opinion/political-news/royal-commission-on-church-abuse-is-not-the-answer-hockey-shorten-20121109-292bd.html Let's see what Joe said: "Interviewed on Fairfax radio this morning, Mr Hockey, a Catholic, said he understood the seriousness of the issue because he had friends who had been victims of sexual abuse. But he said a royal commission would cause further harm."

Andy Fitzharry | 13 November 2012  

Thanks Moira for saying what needed to be said, so well. As I think Paul Fox was quoted on Lateline, "Evil prevails when good men (and women) do (and say) nothing." I think the culture is shifting and priests will no longer be on the pedestal they were once placed upon, which meant their actions were unquestioned. May the cycle be finally broken so that children are heard. Anne

anne tuohey | 13 November 2012  

I also feel for the good priests who have been betrayed and who feel a terrible sense of distrust which is not warranted.Lets hope they will feel a sense of relief that,at last,there will be justice done for all concerned in this greatest crises the Church has faced

Maureen Stewart | 13 November 2012  

Detective Peter Fox and victims of child sex abuse are to be commended for having the courage to speak up and take action to expose the truth about the sex abuse and cover up within the Catholic church in Australia. And a big thank so goes to Australia's Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, for ordering a royal commission that will look at institutional responses to the child sex abuse by predator priests. Child predators need to be kept far away from kids forever... But an even more powerful danger is when high ranking officials enable, empower, and cover up these crimes against kids. They need to be held accountable for allowing more innocent kids to be sexually abused. It is and was a crime to sexually abuse a child. Child sex abuse thrives in secrecy and secret systems that allow it to continue to this day. Judy Jones, USA "SNAP (The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) and SNAP Australiz

Judy Jones | 13 November 2012  

How much has the attitude of silent, criminal activity involving children spilled over into the supposed 'traditions' at St John's, Sydney.

Helen Martin | 13 November 2012  

Thank you for this article. It names the reality for victims and the complicity of institutions and individuals in the perpetuation of systems and environments that enable, and fail to call to account, the perpetrators and cause additional trauma and suffering to the victims.

Karen | 13 November 2012  

This is a wonderful punchy and necessary article. Anger is the emotion we should feel and shame for not standing with the hurt. We must not forget that amongst those hurt are also people abused as adults by clergy (and other professionals). These people have no voice. It is always about power, and not only children are vulnerable to predators. Of course the focus is on children, and so it should be, they are the most vulnerable, but please remember there are others too.

Tasmanian | 13 November 2012  

Thank you Andy Fitzharry for taking the time to read my comments. I checked out yours too and found this about Joe Hockey, an ex boarder at St. Johns College Sydney - http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/breaking-news/hockey-backs-sydney-uni-college-cleanout/story-e6frf7kf-1226512249020 Maybe Joe wanted to protect some of his and Tony Abbott's alma mater's students who might have felt abused there by their peers? Very thoughtful of Joe. Frank Golding understands the truth here. Gillard is vote seeking, and that's about all. Her backers in the ALP, after all, are not the Socialist Left she is attributed to but the Shoppo's union and the AWU, the living remnants of Santamaria's form of complicity where state, business, church and unions act as one (in Germany we all knew that as fascism). Senator John Hogg will be fuming about this assault on his beloved Church, and so will all those Catholics on the LNP side of politics but will it be enough for them to dump Abbott for backing down to Gillard on this Great Big New Enquiry? Just wait until The Australian gets its Army of Saints scribbling this weekend, decrying Gillard for wasting money attacking the NewsCorp Satff Church. Can't wait to read Greg Sheridan.

janice wallace | 13 November 2012  

This is not a defence of child abusers but Moira Rayner seems to be saying that a person is a paedophile before they have had their day in court, so no one should go with them to court.

Meilan | 13 November 2012  

Fr Mick Mac Andrew's comments are thoughtful and moving, but he is by no means alone surely. Those Bishops and priests in positions of authority are a proper but easy targets in the current environment. But what of all we good Catholic folk who have been largely silent for a decade or more. Certainly many have walked away from the church, but surely we who remained silent while church leaders failed are also complicit. There was once a time when lay people removed failed church leaders from their office - sometimes by force. Avoiding scapegoats might mean looking closer to home, rather than just higher up the Church hierarchy. What accountability will we demand of future leaders to avoid a repetition of past failings?

Peter Davidson | 13 November 2012  

Moira your article is stunningly an accurate portrayal of many childhood experiences. So much of what you have mentioned is the cause of continued suffering in my lifetime. Perhaps at last this Royal Commission will be the catalyst for a reduction in suffering of the thousands of children who have survived their tragic Catholic upbringing. I admire the posting by Fr. Mick Mack Andrew who indicates a refreshing maturity: individual thought rather than following orders from the top. If the honest priests had used their heads and questioned the Church hierarchy earlier things may have been different for many afflicted and tortured persons whose souls have been stolen and minds distorted because their sacred space has been defiled in the name of God.

Trish Martin | 13 November 2012  

Excellent article, we certainly need a clean out of the Augean Stables and a fresh start but I wonder if we are addressing the real issue which goes beyond the institutions and starts in the home. There are countless examples of children being molested, raped and mistreated by their own fathers, mothers and other family members with tragic consequences. I believe apart from the current exposure and clean up it is essential that we address the root causes of this aberrant behaviour. Why for instance do we tolerate pornography involving children, I might well ask why do we tolerate pornography at all?

Marie Ryan | 13 November 2012  

Some people think there's some mystery as to the root causes of sexually predatory behaviour on children - is that what this Royal Commission is all about? If that's all it's about, then we can all stop wasting out time and resources and I can tell you now - it's because of evil sexual predators - simple. So if the aim isn't to find these predators, then let's give up now.

AURELIUS | 13 November 2012  

Thankyou, Moira. You have the strength of voice needed.
An outcome of the RC might be a recommendation or requirement of the RC church to remove the imposition of celibacy in priesthood. Imposed celibacy could prove to be core to the issue of inappropraite and abusive sexual behavior.

A pipe dream for sure, such a change is no local issue but one that can only begin with the pope and his vatican.
Not fair the churches will say...nor is the exemption of the churches from human rights legislation.

Patricia Bouma | 13 November 2012  

Trish Martin, how right you are about Fr. Mick Mac Andrew's post (and position)! Sometimes I'm afraid the hierarchical church has moved away from the Holy Spirit - but perhaps the mature humility of priests like Fr. Mick, and others like him who take responsibility for their own failures, may be a sign of hope that it hasn't. Let's all look at the beam in our own eye during the Royal Commission - it will hurt but not kill us.

Joan Seymour | 13 November 2012  

I doubt the Royal Commission will achieve much. An opportunity to be heard (to vent to a commission) is not justice. Justice is having the criminal allegation investigated and tried in a court. The very giving of evidence to a Royal Commission can taint the evidence in such a way that any future prosecution is compromised.

The money used on a Royal Commission should instead be given to police forces around the country to double or triple the resources in their child protection units.

The continued assertions that the Catholic Church has done nothing is wrong. The processes have been clear and independently reviewed since 1997.

It's been said many times before that the majority of perpetrators of child molestation are relatives of the child. How will the Royal Commission address that? The money should be given to the police instead. The announcement of a Royal Commission was political (the result of the PM making a knee jerk decision as a result of a rabid media cycle). Let's not get all heady about what it will achieve!

Elizabeth | 13 November 2012  

Elizabeth, can you help here please? Here is a quote from you, "The money used on a Royal Commission should instead be given to police forces around the country to double or triple the resources in their child protection units." An understandable emotion maybe, and well meant, no doubt, but there is a problem here. Should the money go to the police who represent Detective Fox's approach to policing, or to his superiors who oppose him as a 'meddlesome priest'? You see, apart from us not being able to trust priests, vicars, pastors and now Gillard's new school chaplains, we also know, from many experiences over many years, that our police forces simply cannot be trusted on this particular matter either, and particularly so in NSW where the Commissioner seems to believe he has an army of Christian soldiers at his disposal, making it very hard to believe they can be the least bit objective in investigating child abuse by religious people. KISS may make a funny acronym but simple solutions here will not work.

janice wallace | 13 November 2012  

Congratulations to Moira Rayner and Eureka Street. One case of abuse in the RC church is obscene, no question. One cover-up is even more so. But it is generally accepted by the specialists I've talked to, confirmed alas by my own experience, that RC church people are responsible for about 10% of cases. What the figure is outside all institutions and organizations I do not know. But for 50-75% of cases, the context is clearly the family. Moira Rayner's is the first statement of this kind that I have seen, in the context of our present catastrophe. Our secular society is in for a massive shake-up. Thanks Moira and thanks Eureka Street.

Antony Campbell | 13 November 2012  

Aurelius, here's one for you, "Some people think there's some mystery as to the root causes of sexually predatory behaviour on children - is that what this Royal Commission is all about?" No, of course it's not, besides, we already know why sexual predators do this because Cardinal Pell told us the other day. It's Original Sin wot makes 'em do it Aurelius, so there's no escape for anyone. Nice and simple, eh?

janice wallace | 13 November 2012  

Janice, the answer to your concern about the police (in my opinion) is that NSW is going to hold a special commission of inquiry into specific allegations of cover up by both the police and the Church in the Hunter region. It is a bit of a leap to deduce from Peter Fox's allegations that the police can't be trusted generally in relation to child sex cases. The police do a fine job with the resources available. My point was simply that if there is so much concern about the prevalence of child molestation in the community, then the police should be given more money. A Royal Commission is not the answer as it does not result in conviction or punishment. I think you are drawing a very long bow in saying the police can't be trusted based on a few isolated instances.

Elizabeth | 13 November 2012  

"He was scathing about the local Catholic Church's obstruction of police investigations and its staggeringly complete failure to report known paedophile priests." Yet a few days later, after instances of horrific abuse by St John of God clergy were revealed to the Inquiry, that Order was reported as saying that immediately it became aware of these crimes in c.2003 it advised the police, who apparently failed to follow up. The police, claiming probity, have gone quiet. Given the appalling stories brought to light by the police and others, there's been a fair bit of condemnation going round. But like Daniel at the trial of Susannah, let's wait to hear the evidence from both sides. And not be quite so deaf to the institutions on trial. The best chance of justice for victims, of protection for potential victims, and for real change in institutions, is if we can do our best to be without reproach when we judge.

David Moloney | 13 November 2012  

Patricia: "Imposed celibacy could prove to be core to the issue of inappropraite and abusive sexual behavior." If this were the case, how would you explain the widespread sexual abuse across the community among people who are not under the discipline of celibacy? Consider Fr Brennan's comment on the issue of celibacy in his Lateline interview: "I definitely think that there would be some individuals in the Catholic Church with a vow of celibacy as Catholic priests who, to put it very bluntly, if they were married, they probably would be abusing their own children."

Zac | 13 November 2012  

Well won't it be good to see some of our venerable and 'holier-than-thou' heads of Church roll at last for their part in covering up and silencing these crimes against children. What will Benedict have to say then when some of his most carefully handpicked yes-men are removed to jail? Will we finally see the Church dragged kicking and screaming into the real world? Let's hope so! Maybe if more women were allowed into places of authority in the Church this sort of cover-up wouldn't have been sanctioned. Roll on change!

Bernadette | 13 November 2012  

BEE, The one thing that worried me in Moira's article was the reference to those who accompanied the accused to court. Perhaps it is a flaw in our religion but the possibility of redemption is part of our philosophy. These people have a right to professional defense and only God can know whether change can come. That doesn't mean that they should not be punished in an appropriate manner and very strong action taken to ensure they never again inflict damage on anyone.

Margaret McDonald | 13 November 2012  

At last, but I want each state to be investigated at the same time..and this not be drawn out ...Also, to hear Pell state compensation has been paid to victims by using the Catholic Development Fund is another insult.This is for hospitals and schools; Pell needs to sell off his property and mansions to pay for all compensations.He also needs to do years of community service, as so many 'ordinary' volunteers do willingly every day.The victims of his church crimes and cover ups are often found homeless, drug addicted and psychologically and spiritually scarred - the welfare dependent. There's a lot to 'fix', and maybe we will see something of his humanity and !!! his christian faith??

Catherine | 13 November 2012  

While I applaud the Royal Commission i offer some caveats against trial by media with its "lynch mob mentality" versus judicial "innocent till proven guilty, Trial by understandable fury is no substitute to Court process Though 'RC' may offer recommendations for criminal action one commentator has well noted: "Given the communication potential of the modern media, the proceedings of some Commissions are conducted in a blaze of publicity. This situation can result in serious damage to reputations and interests of persons particularly at the investigatory stage where they have limited or no opportunity to participate. A Commission would attempt to conduct its purely investigatory functions without publicity but this is often difficult in modern conditions. There is also some constraint placed on secret hearings owing to the demand for public scrutiny at all stages. The Commissions therefore face an extremely difficult task of balancing the interests of individuals against legitimate public curiosity about its own conduct." Cardinal Pell has well noted media bias entrenched already.

father john george | 13 November 2012  

Moira, you've reflected the pain of many good Catholics who have had their faith tested by this child abuse crisis in the Church. The Holy Spirit is working in her own time to bring justice. The truth will be painful but will begin the healing for those who have been abused and denied justice for so long. At last, they will be heard...

Chris | 13 November 2012  

Patricia Bouma, I am horrified at the suggestion that celibacy may be the cause of sexual abuse of children. Priests choose celibacy , it is not forced on them. Many lay people are celibate, and not sex offenders. This offence to my mind is much deeper. It is evil. It is choosing to do evil. They have lost sight of goodness, of their humanity, and become lower than an animal. An animal cares for it's offspring. Let the truth come out in this Royal Commission.Let ,us be graced enough to avert a witch hunt,but strong enough to bring to justice all who have committed this atrocity, and all who enabled it flourish.

bernie introna | 13 November 2012  

If it's all just about celibacy and not having an outlet to get your rocks off, why not just have an anonymous consensual fling (ie "a root") with someone, anyone (adult of course)? Why does it have to be children?

AURELIUS | 14 November 2012  

Celibacy has nothing to do with sexual relations. It means being unmarried.Child sexual abuse, as pointed out in comments above, is vastly more common amongst the married or non-celibate in our society. Thank you for saying what needed to be said with such clarity, Moira Rayner.

john frawley | 14 November 2012  

Aurelius, numerous studies on paedophilia refer to varying factors re aetiology of the sickness [genetic,brain pathology etc] None conclude that one catches paedophilia from celibacy [After all a high percentage occurs in family;and then, the 4.5 million molested children, in USA public schools, weren't molested by celibate teachers only!!

father john george | 14 November 2012  

So if a priest does something, it's because of some "aetiology" or brain pathology (ie out of their control) but if a mere mortal commits a sexual offence, they are condemned to the eternal fires of hell - I see now.

AURELIUS | 14 November 2012  

Defenders of clerical celibacy in these blogs seem to be under the misapprehension that clergy willingly choose to be celibate. They choose willingly to enter the priesthood, which is not the same thing. There is nothing wrong as such with celibacy, nothing at all, but once it becomes a rule for being a priest there is a problem. Do they really understand what they are choosing? A person’s sexuality is a lifetime evolution, not something you figure out before your first year of theological training.

When celibacy is the norm in a social setting then matters of sexuality stop being discussed, with a corresponding culture that often fails to understand that individual clergy problems are about their own sexuality. It also becomes easy for people to live in denial of clergy sexual activity because Father doesn’t do that sort of thing. This seemingly ludicrous situation engenders the dysfunctional clerical society that can live with all sorts of unlikely sexual activity, including pedophilia. Cleibacy ought to be a choice for priests, as it is for all humans, but it shouldn’t be a rule. In the Roman Catholic Church it has been a rule since the 13th century and a subject of never-ending scholarly fascination since.

The Church has seriously to look at why we really have celibacy which, while not an issue in itself, is an issue once it is turned into a rule of behaviour in order to be part of the club.

YOURS TRULY | 14 November 2012  

So John George, if paedophilia is now a 'disease', not a crime, does that imply that covering up paedophilia is a 'treatment', and therefore also not a crime?

Ginger Meggs | 14 November 2012  

Yours Truly: you raise an interesting point - that it is a 'culture' problem rather than a celibacy problem per se. According to the 'John Jay Report' commissioned by the USCCB, the rise and decline in abuse cases from the 1960s to the present does not support a direct correlation (obviously) with celibacy, which has remained constant. As the report summarises: "The majority of priests who had allegations of abuse against minors were trained in national, mainstream seminaries prior to the 1970s. These seminarians had little or no exposure to a curriculum of what is now understood as “human formation”; the training in self-understanding and the development of emotional and psychological competence for a life of celibate chastity was extremely limited." http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/The-Causes-and-Context-of-Sexual-Abuse-of-Minors-by-Catholic-Priests-in-the-United-States-1950-2010.pdf

Zac | 15 November 2012  

In reply to Zac I will simply add that what I am saying is nothing new. The reformers of the 16th century fully understood that celibacy and its discontents were an matter of the culture. This is why say in England the clergy started marrying, if they wanted to, or remained celibate, ditto. Quietly mind you, but they married. I find the Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant attitudes to a married clergy and celibacy simply realistic in terms of our human nature and it's time the Catholic Church went back to the sort of realism it had in the centuries before celibacy became the rule for all priests. It's simply more trouble than it's worth and leads to all sorts of disasters.

YOURS TRULY | 15 November 2012  

By all means have a critical discussion about celibacy - but don't use it as a scapegoat for the sexual abuse of minors. Pedophilia is a sexual attraction to children. Celibate people with a sexual attraction to adults might fall short of their vows. It may be a break of pastoral good practice and can still cause hurt to the other person involved, but it's not a criminal offence like paedophilia.

AURELIUS | 15 November 2012  

Yes - Paedophilia is a criminal offence. .And all paedophiles should be in jail

monica | 16 November 2012  

Not all with paedophile tendencies follow through[so you would jail all pedophiles guilty or not?-though TRUE once acting on their preference they are criminal.

A perpetrator of child sexual abuse is commonly assumed to be and referred to as a pedophile; however, there may be other motivations for the crime[50] (such as stress, marital problems, or the unavailability of an adult partner).[65] As child sexual abuse may or may not be an indicator that its perpetrator is a pedophile, offenders may be separated into two types: Exclusive (i.e., "true pedophiles") and non-exclusive (or, in some cases, "non-pedophilic"). According to a U.S. study on 2429 adult male sex offenders who were categorized as "pedophiles", only 7% identified themselves as exclusive; indicating that many or most child sexual abusers may fall into the non-exclusive category.[14]"
Yes all alleged credible child abusers need to face court but "innocent till proven guilty".[no KKK lynch mobs or trial by fury-let alone trial by media].

father john george | 16 November 2012  

Thank you all for your views. I welcome them all.

To explain, I do not say that paedophiles are not entitled to be treated justly when they are investigated, prosecuted (and that is the responsibility of both the courts and prosecution and defence lawyers) and punished. I have written on this in a public lecturer on 'mercy for monsters'.

Nor do I say that paedophiles should be cast into outer darkness as beyond redemption. None are beyond redemption, though they may need to be placed beyond temptation and opportunity to harm others.

Nor do I criticise the specialist treatment programs the Church established for sexual offenders in the Church: I am just appalled that nothing similar was provided for the children they hurt, and their carers.

I do say that when a serial paedophile who happens to be a Catholic priest is, very publicly accompanied to a court appearance by his Archbishop as his supporter, when the victim has not been believed, offered pastoral care, support or ongoing treatment for their sexual and emotional and spiritual rehabilitation (as the man he or she accused was, between 1997 and 2008), it does seem naive at best to see nothing inappropriate with such public conduct. I believe George+ now recognises that.

It certainly looks as though institutional empathy for every child of God is somewhat inadequately manifested.

The failure to listen to children and consider their perspective, as Jesus did, as necessary to enter into the Kingdom must add enormity to a betrayed victim and those who love and try to care for them.

I look forward to the Royal Commission making all of us sinners to look with some courage into our own hearts and contemplate what we didn't say, do, or reflect upon, and change.

Moira Rayner

Moira Rayner | 17 November 2012  

“The first sign of corruption in a society that is still alive is that the end justifies the means”

FR George, You say pedophiles are innocent until proven guilty. I believe pedophiles are guilty for grooming and trying to seduce a child in the very first place - and - regardless of them acting on their preference or not. As children have been taken advantage of, in the very first place - because - they don't posses the emotional and rational maturity adults have, this in itself is criminal behavior. I believe every child should be given as many means possible, to understand - spiders - ( pedophiles ) as a form of personal self denfence, and help rid society of this form of corruption:


monica | 17 November 2012  

Moira in the interest of precision demanded by a Royal Commission,be it noted that no Melbourne Archbishop accompanied Ridsdale to court[the then incumbent Archbishop was His Grace Sir Frank Little' and the Archbishop was not in 'that photo' accompanying Ridsdale to court!!!
In fact Ridsdale was accompanied by a Melbourne auxiliary Bishop Pell.
Furthermore, bishop Pell was named seventh Archbishop of Melbourne on 16 July 1996,[Well after the event you referred to] Bishop Pell received the pallium from Pope John Paul II on 29 June 1997. He was later appointed eighth Archbishop of Sydney on 26 March 2001 and again received the pallium from John Paul on 29 June 2001

father john george | 17 November 2012  

Father George, I stand corrected and rebuked. George+ was however then responsible for the churche's response to sexual assault allegations under Denis+ whom he later succeeded. It was at least unwise and showed remarkable lack of understanding how it would be seen. You are right to pick me up on hyperbole. Facts, only the facts. They are quite bad enough.

Moira Rayner | 18 November 2012  

Meanwhile lest the poor and sick suffer from lack of funds syphoned into abuse compensation,USA provides precedent for invoking bankruptcy-law to protect assets needed for church social sevices to poor/health and other essential output enabling just distribution of assets to all be it noted in SMH media Letter: Regarding the Herald's Encompass claims, if your investigators really want a motherload of information regarding child abuse claims against Catholic Church personnel they should turn their attention to the office of the NSW Ombudsman which has monitored many of the internal investigations by the Church's Towards Healing organisation of child abuse complaints for the last decade or so (''Catholic Church's secret sex files'', November 17-18). Such investigations and subsequent action against abusers must be done to the satisfaction of the Ombudsman as part of his statutory obligations. This process, put in place by the Catholic Church to deal with complaints, was praised by Justice Wood as a model for other organisations. The result is that it can be reasonably claimed, although it is impossible to be absolutely certain, that there is no Catholic priest in ministry in Australia who is an active paedophile. Reverend Leo Francis Donnelly Port Macquarie

father john george | 21 November 2012  

Active 1 Definition: Having the power or quality of acting; causing change; communicating action or motion; acting; opposed to passive, that receives; as, certain active principles... the powers of the mind?

Mark | 21 November 2012  

Thank you Michael Mullins and Moira Rayner for creating this space. Thanks to Paul Mullen and Jillian Fleming for their article 'Long-term Effects of Child Sexual Abuse'. Cheers for the call for 'responsible corporate citizens' from Janice Wallace. To the stocks with The Australian's leading intellectual, Peter Craven, for his call for victims to suck it up. The 'wise Jewish people' he quotes didn't include Primo Levi or the founders of Medinat Yisrael (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/in-depth/a-step-into-the-crucible/story-fngburq5-1226518405448). As for a penitential procession of priests next lent, what a wonderful idea. Redfern Park would be an ideal destination, bring eggs and tomatoes, I can smell a modern miracle. And afterwards, pls, downplay Easter a little, bit of a shame job there.

I Wish | 23 November 2012  

Moira not wishing to be pedantic but +Pell in the pic was not 'under', nor succeeded +Denis:
below is the list of relevant melbourne hierarchs[Archbishops with dates:
Thomas Francis Little † (1 Jul 1974 Appointed - 16 Jul 1996 Resigned)
George Pell (16 Jul 1996 Appointed - 26 Mar 2001 Appointed, Archbishop of Sydney)
Denis James Hart (22 Jun 2001 Appointed - )

father john george | 30 November 2012  

Another system of sexual abuse of children comes to mind, in which under he protection of secrecy, outlandish decisions damaging to children are made every day - the Family Court. Within "normal" families, 3 out of 10 adults report sexual abuse. Yet in the family court, among dysfunctional families, sexual abuse is nonexistent. The children are not believed - they have been 'coached' by an alienating parent. The person making the allegations on behalf of the child is labelled 'delusional' and the children are put into the custody of the abuser. Because the evidence does not reach the standard required for prosecution it is dismissed! Mothers do not dare to report Abuse for fear of losing contact with their children. The protection of the father's reputation has taken precedence over the safety of the child. Let some community anger spill over into this hidden pocket of child abuse.

D.M.Kolos | 17 January 2013  

Well called Moira. 847 people came forward with "plausible" allegations of abuse - some involve multiple claims, so not even 847 people abused, yet it prompted Defence Minister Stephen Smith to flag the possibility of setting up a Royal Commission to examine the issue in more detail.
Every man and his dog calling for a royal commission into Surf Lifesaving Australia after two deaths in a year at SLS carnivals. Meanwhile, today, almost 1000 children are dying in state "care" every year in Australia, the average age is four and under, like my little boy who was two when he died under suspicious circumstances in foster care.
Why will no politician come out and say the obvious... the child protection departments in Australia are failing dismally. Stop looking into the past, issuing apologies as you bring in the same laws you apologies for (bold new reforms being developed and proposed by the NSW Government in child protection.)
They refuse to acknowledge the system is still corrupt, no accountability, no transparency.
They have avoided the issue with this royal commission, it should be a royal commission into DoCS. A department with it's own complaints mechanism.... disgusting.

Michael Borusiewicz | 18 January 2013  

Similar Articles

Australia's bad job of asylum seeker policy

  • Andrew Hamilton
  • 15 November 2012

You can tell bad policy making by the trail of broken human lives it leaves behind it. The image of asylum seekers held in tents on Nauru, many on hunger strike and at least one now in risk of death, will surely be followed by images of people withering from depression and resentment and needing medical care.


Broken shoes and dead ends in China's leadership transition

  • Binoy Kampmark
  • 14 November 2012

Australia's unimaginative perspective on China's growing power accords with Washington's. In Obama's terms, China can be an adversary or a partner. China is a complex leviathan, and the great challenge is how to integrate it into the global system without conflict.