Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


The challenge of a five-year Royal Commission

  • 09 September 2014

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been granted its sought two-year extension. It will run for five years. That is appropriate. I predicted on the night Julia Gillard announced the commission that it would take five years to do its work.

I am still worried about this extended federal royal commission – and that is not because I am a Catholic priest afraid of what the commission might discover in the bowels of my Church. I have long been an advocate for State assistance to the Church in this area, concerned that the Church could not do it alone. All church members, and not just the victims who continue to suffer, need light, transparency and accountability if the opaque injustices of the past are to be rectified.

With the Commission's case study last month into the Melbourne Response, much of the media focus was on Cardinal Pell, as it was during the case study on the John Ellis case. For some time, many Australians, myself included, had wondered how Cardinal Pell was not in a position when an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne between 1987 and 1996 to know much, if anything, about the extent of child sexual abuse by his clergy and to do much, if anything, to address the issue.

On 21 August 2014, Cardinal Pell told the Royal Commission that, prior to his becoming Archbishop in August 1996, he 'had no knowledge of any criminal behaviour that was not being dealt with' and that he was 'not even sure to what extent (he) would have been privy to matters that might have been criminal but were being dealt with by the Vicar General'. He told the Commission, 'I wasn't in the direct line of authority before I was Archbishop. I was an Auxiliary Bishop with no responsibility in this area.' In his written statement to the commission, he said, 'When I took office (as Archbishop in 1996), it was my view that the arrangements in the Archdiocese for responding to and assisting victims of child sexual abuse were insufficient to ensure a compassionate, effective and consistent response. I thought there needed to be clearly documented procedures for dealing with complaints.'

So he had quickly come to know there was a very major problem, when before he was oblivious and seemingly lacking in curiosity. He went on to state: 'I was very conscious, around the time that I