Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Why the Church should thank the media

  • 15 November 2012

The Royal Commission into child sexual abuse can only be a good thing for the Catholic Church. It is a chance to account for the betrayal and crimes of priests and other church representatives who committed acts of abuse against the vulnerable, and for the careless, even callous way in which many church officials responded to complaints against their own. This will be a long overdue first step in moving forward.

However, while victims have been calling for a Royal Commission for a long time, and while the bishops have welcomed it, the fact that it has taken government intervention for a proper account of the crisis to take place represents in part a failure of the Church's response.

The Church's defenders point to the policies and procedures put in place to protect children, the establishment of the National Committee for Professional Standards, and the Towards Healing processes for providing compensation and support for victims unwilling to make complaints against abusers through the legal system.

Most abuse cases today are from more than 20 years ago, indicating a change in Church practice and in cultural attitudes, providing better protection for young people. The Church's current procedures are part of a laudable move towards a response centred on the needs of victims, and a greater awareness of the problem in general.

But its response has fallen short in other areas.

When Church authorities first got together to address the issue of abuse by clergy at the beginning of the 1990s, they developed a nine-point plan. One of the points was to research whether or not there were particular issues in the culture of the Church that might contribute to people abusing.

Yet more than 20 years later, we're yet to see a serious study of these issues that has grown out of the lessons learned. Nor have we been given an adequate account of the number of abuse cases the various dioceses and religious orders have dealt with through their formal processes, or the nature and distribution of the cases.

While changes have been made in the processes for selecting and forming priests and religious, and while there is a greater awareness of the nature of abuse and paedophilia, we're yet to see a serious institutional effort to