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Talking to children about the Royal Commission

  • 23 November 2012

'By their fruits you shall know them,' says Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. He is talking about the religious leaders of his time, and reminding people that actions speak louder than words, especially when it comes to discerning holiness and devotion to God.

As a Catholic, I can't help reflecting on and being challenged by this in light of recent events.

My soul has been wrenched reading the stories of abuse of children, many of them incredibly vulnerable, at the hands of Catholic priests and brothers. It's utter horror to contemplate such crimes.

Stories of sexual abuse in the Church have circulated for years, and in America and Ireland the systematic horror has been exposed. Perhaps it was naive, but those of us in Australia — Catholic and non-Catholic alike — weren't forced to face the potential scale and magnitude of the problem here.

But the voices of victims can't be ignored any longer, and they rightfully demand compassion and justice.

Just as horrifying is the likelihood that the Royal Commission into the institutional response to sexual abuse of children will confirm that the Australian Catholic Church is guilty of perpetrating child abuse by hiding criminals from the law. Rather than acting to protect children, the institutional Church may well be found to have simply moved sexual predators round the country to new locations where they could find new victims.

If that is what the Royal Commission brings out, it will be an incredible challenge for many Australian Catholics to continue to follow their faith within an organisation that would appear to have so grossly violated some of the most basic teachings of the Gospel.

Jesus said, 'Let the little children come unto me.' Jesus loved children; he welcomed children. He elevated children as holy and special. Individual members of the Catholic clergy and the institutional Catholic Church appear to have done the polar opposite.

The sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church represents so much sinfulness that it seems to drive home Jesus' point: by their fruits you shall know them. Australian Catholics are going to face very difficult questions as this Royal Commission conducts its work: What do we really know of our Church? How can we grow in our faith within an organisation whose fruits may well be found to be rotten?

As a mother of children being raised in the Catholic faith, who go to Catholic schools, who are old enough to