Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Will abuse commission be another damp squib?



Next Friday 15 December another Australian royal commission will report on how very badly some of Australia's once-respected institutions abused the trust of children.

Children playing in waterOn 14 December the commission will 'sit' to ceremonially end five years of public hearings, shocking headlines, hapless defences and interim reports and recommendations. Peter Fox, he whose outrage at the pact between his police peers and local church leaders to 'deal' with sex offenders in his town, has nonetheless been ritually reproved by his employers' chosen investigator as 'obsessed'. Such is the way of public life. Whistleblowing rules don't prevent whistle-blower retributive responses.

The commission has published recommendations for law reform, bundles of discussion papers, a collection of the voices of some of the victims and apologies by humiliated representatives of some of the ogres. One religious group has privately opined the result will be a 'damp squib'. But will it? Have we heard it all? Or enough?

No fear.

But will the five years of scandal make a difference to today's children, or tomorrow's?

No fear of that, either.

Consider this. Just a few months ago the Prime Minister authorised a royal commission into the treatment of Indigenous children in the Northern Territory after truly disgusting visual evidence of the bullying, humiliation and torture of very young children in prisons. The criticisms were upheld but the commission's searing findings and recommendations about the need to close Don Dale and other children's prisons and to stop over-policing of vulnerable Indigenous children was not met with a full apology. Indeed Alice Springs police decided to use military tactics to 'police' groups of Aboriginal 'youths' around the town at night, on the basis of their being 'suspicious' to white home owners. Why? Because they can.


"The cause of the misuse of power over children was our refusal to take a child's world view as seriously as our own adult priorities."


It seems that Australian institutions will not ever be empowered and encouraged to provide safety education and support to the Indigenous children and families who make up nearly 80 per cent of the prison population nationally. Children continue to languish in remand concentration camps or police lockups without being sentenced. Prison officers are picked on the basis of bodily strength. And the commission's recommendations, which are predicated on the 'Black Deaths in Custody' unimplemented report recommendations made more than 20 years ago, have not softened the public heart.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has changed the public response of religious institutions, not their culture. Nor has it altered the culture at the political pointy ends of state, territory or national government. The reason the current commission has recommended but no state has shown any real interest in a national compensation scheme of 'up to' $150,000 is quite simple. Governments don't care enough.

Institutions feel confident that most survivors of abuse don't sue, and most victims can't afford to. And in reality, no apology nor even bigly compensation can take away the pain or fix the damage done to a child when they were very young. What happened to so many of these children, much of the time, deformed their spirit. As an adult, a victim of sexual violence, humiliation and pain as a child shapes his or her life around great pits and scars of these experiences and the memories of confusion, shame and retribution.

The cause of the misuse of power over children was our refusal to take a child's world view as seriously as our own adult priorities.

I'm sure that there were some who felt that protecting their institutions and traditions was a higher good than listening with an open heart and soft eyes to what was rotting away the core of their personal vocation. That was why Cardinal Pell's interest in stories of abused altar boys and pupils was not 'piqued' as he infamously admitted.

Horror stories of past wrongs don't change much. Our prurient interest has but short life. We are as people quite hideously cold hearted to refugees, battered women, suffering animals and wars in other lands than our homes.

The 'parade' of damaged people has changed the commissioners who heard them, I have no doubt. Public release of their stories and the common man's response has challenged many a religious institution's pious immunity and wounded status. It has also tainted public trust.

Worse, though its known findings have largely vindicated Fox's outrage and actions to reveal them during the Gillard administration, it has not touched the heart of the problem.

This is at our own heart a cultural contempt for the little people that once, we all were. While we adults can shout at, ignore, smack, slap, coerce, threaten and disbelieve our own and others' children, and while our taxes are not put into don't training parents, teachers, officers of our public institutions and those who run services for children about their spiritual development and our common responsibility to preserve it, and while we do not provide the services every child needs to grow into the person they were meant to be in a family environment of love and understanding, because we don't prioritise it, these horrors will go under for a little while, and then come back.

Have you ever seen the light in a young child's eyes go out? I have. It is the saddest sight. What will it take to make this stop?



Moira RaynerMoira Rayner is a barrister and writer.

Topic tags: Moira Rayner, Royal Commission, clergy sexual abuse



submit a comment

Existing comments

The first question you ask in the last paragraph, Moira, is the saddest thing I have read in many a long year. I am sure Jesus weeps too along with any other human being who reads it.

john frawley | 07 December 2017  

Expressed so very well, Moira. I don't think responding is right just now - just listening and reflecting. Thank you.

Helena | 07 December 2017  

Moira, you are a barrister and writer. And may I say I know you are a fine writer and have no doubt are a tenacious and gifted barrister. Is Rumpole of the Bailey a role model? He should be. Your searing words cut to the core of this heartbreaking issue. What will it take to make this stop? I know there are survivors who will not let this break them. I know there are survivors who will not let this shatter their faith. I know they will continue to hold their heads high. The only answer I can give.

Pam | 07 December 2017  

Sorry Bill, but I doubt that there will be too many tears shed if a few priests end up in gaol because they have wilfully put the interests of the abusers of children ahead of the interests of the abused children. Nor will there be many tears shed if a few bishops end up there too for aiding and abetting or being accessories before or after the fact. If such were to occur than maybe, just maybe, the Church will get the message. But like Moira, while the Church has so many friends in powerful positions, I won't be holding my breath.

Ginger Meggs | 07 December 2017  

"changed the public response of religious institutions, not their culture". I have to agree (sadly) with this comment, Moira. I have suspected this would be the case from the very beginning have heard such statements from some Bishops and Catholic education leaders that the Church will just ride this commission out. I know of two recent and one current court cases where it appears that absolutely nothing has changed in regard to truth, justice and healing, before and after the commission. One case involves child sexual abuse in a school, another of sexual abuse of a woman by a priest and another of sexual abuse against adults by a Brother. In the latter case, witnesses have been threatened with termination from their employment and the perpetrator has been moved to a 'third world' country...and this happened during the Royal Commission. The child abuse case is simply being delayed, delayed and breaking the victim. In the other adult abuse case, the Ellis defense was still 'used', again all during the Royal Commission's time. Hopefully my research into Church responses will shed some more light on this dubious undertow occurring even as the Bishops etc. continue to proclaim to the world, "we have reformed". Mental reservations?

Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 08 December 2017  

'...I'm sure that there were some who felt that protecting their institutions and traditions was a higher good than listening with an open heart and soft eyes to what was rotting away the core of their personal vocation...' That is such a powerful truth, Moira. While it clearly applies to the Catholic Church, it also carries across so many churches and faiths, sporting bodies and religious and educuational institutions, etc. Revelations of cover-ups of abuse saw the removal of a powerful prelate from the governer-generalship in 2003, following the presenting of misleading evidence, etc.; my personal belief is that it will take the incarceration of high ranking members of institutions to change the prevailing culture of those institutions.

Barry Gittins | 08 December 2017  

Pam. We should not overlook the findings of the Irish inquiry into sexual abuse of children which I am sure will be replicated here in Australia. That inquiry (covering the years 1940 - 2009 found that sexual abuse rose progressively from 2 percent to 9 percent across the 40s and 50s. The rate of abuse took off with the sexual revolution of the 1960s reaching 38 percent by the end of the 1980s. (The percentages represent the proportion of total complaints received). As far as the clergy is concerned, perhaps they were caught up in the "acceptable" revolution going on all around them alongside the failure of Vatican II to get rid of priestly celibacy which many were wanting or expecting. From 1990 to 2010 in an age when to complain was no longer the taboo that it had been, the percentage of complaints had fallen to 2 percent by 2010. In Australia we have seen that many complaints are "historical". many dating back 30 or 40 years or so. "What will it take to make this stop"? you ask. In light of such figures could I suggest that it appears (in Ireland definitely and perhaps throughout the world) that a lot has already been done to eradicate this evil from the Church. What is needed now is that we encourage the Church to continue eliminating this scourge and to support rather than continue to criticise, particularly if the Australian inquiry supports the findings of the Irish inquiry which I suspect it will.

john frawley | 08 December 2017  

Have you ever seen the light in a young child's eyes go out? Oh yes, many times. Furthermore, I have experienced it. It's back now, not so much because of the Church though they have financially helped, for a few years, but in spite of it, but when it comes to inner healing, I had to leave the Church and seek it from elsewhere, places where trusted people truly understood and wanted to help. It's taken ten years and the loss of my career and income and super etc, and almost my life through suicide, but I'm back...still shaky, but I made it, crawling for quite a while, broken, angry, terrified, depressed, but walking now. I and my wife have lost all future security which is my biggest constant fear, something most clergy don't have to think much about, but I am inspired still by some of the teachings of Jesus which somehow parallel my context. I do so HOPE that the Royal Commission will overturn the Church, but somehow I do think that the prevailing belief within those in power has been from the start: "Who are these secular upstarts who think they know better than our God-ordained Church?"

Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 08 December 2017  

Clerical CSA is such a big can of worms for Churches & similarly for other institutions. Add the truth that CSA perpetrators were often abused themselves as children. Then, in RC Church, add the Church laws that still assist in cover-up of CSA. Then add the inevitable temptation of Church leaders & local Bishops to protect their local finances and assets from victims' legal actions. There are now however, in local RC dioceses, serious preventive programs underway to protect children & vulnerable people in Church care. We really do still NEED, however, for former Archbishops like Cardinal Pell to be held legally responsible for covering up CSA by their former clergy and then for these bishops to be made legally accountable. THIS HAS NOT REALLY HAPPENED TO DATE ANYWHERE IN THIS WORLD.

John Cronin | 08 December 2017  

I think that one of the most important research studies which the Royal Commission commissioned was one from Professor Des Cahill (of RMIT) who argued that an important component of this scandal is that the Catholic Church (and, "mutatis mutandis", the whole of wider society) has never developed a "Theology of the child". I think that is correct and that, further, there is no possibility of any significant improvement until serious theologians think hard and write about that vital question. Furthermore, to me, one of the most telling -- indeed, horrifying -- aspects of the weeks of "Catholic wrap-up" hearings in Sydney in February was in the evidence of Dr Tom Doyle (an American Canon Lawyer) who told of the first time that he med an abuse victim. "There was nothing behind his eyes," he said. The boy was psychologically dead. The intake of breath in the hearing room (from the audience, the support staff and -- I think -- from the bench of Commissioners, as well) was audible. That moment will remain with me for the rest of my life.

John Carmody | 08 December 2017  

It will be up to the Church to prove itself and particularly to lay people to: first of all take complaints from children seriously and then, remembering innocent until proved guilty, demand that proper action is taken. Barry Gittins is right, the culture of the times was to protect institutions there has now been some change in that culture. The Church must not leave it up to the Government to legislate to make things right. The Church must act. A good start would be some kind of national public expression of our sorrow. Don't be mistaken, we all carry some guilt for what has occurred in hindsight we all at times felt uncomfortable about something we became aware of but were often not sure what. So we assumed someone else would ask the right questions. But now it is for our Bishops to lead us to a change in culture and it is for us to demand such a change occurs.

Margaret McDonald | 08 December 2017  

John Cronin. If you were privy to the identity of a rapist or violent, abusive husband, are you guilty of a crime if you do not report it? If you suspect such is going on but are uncertain and do not report your suspicions are you guilty of a crime? Should you be held legally responsible? At a hearing of the UN Committee on the Rights of Children in Geneva in May 2014, Vatican representatives reported that 848 priests had been defrocked and a further 2572 punished(?how?), representing the total of cases of child sexual abuse brought to its attention over the previous 10 years, many of them dating back predominantly to the 1960s , 70s and 80s.. The same Vatican representatives reporting to the same UN committee in January 2014 stated that the Vatican received around 600 complaints against abusive priests from around the world every year dating back predominantly to the 60s,70s and 80s. Frightful, dreadful figures but not indicative that those in authority were deliberately committing a crime or that the issue was ignored. If only we were all perfect none of this would have happened!

john frawley | 08 December 2017  

My heartfelt thanks to Moira for an inciteful and powerful article. I have long held the view the church hierarchy think this evil will eventually pass by. It is a permanent indelible stain on the church, caused by those who were trusted and relied upon. Worsened by those who should have acted and did not, or worse, provided protection. It was defended until a light was forced into the darkness. Even now the admissions from the heirachy are vague and weak. I want and expect the same standards and values from the church leaders that Jesus taught. Jesus must truly be weeping. Words flow freely, but real openness, acts and action are lacking. This is my church and I expect a lot more. I want truth, justice and healing for every victim.

David | 08 December 2017  

The New South Wales policeman, Peter Fox whose actions tipped the Gillard Government into holding the Royal Commission, has been more than "largely vindicated". I had even forgotten his name, but I cannot forget the drama of the night in 2010 on the ABC's "Lateline" program? The "Mr Pell" that Peter referred to then (representing our Catholic Church) has been put in the dock. That may not seem like much, especially to the thousands devastated, sexually-abused-by-clergy many hundreds of whom have not survived it. It is nonetheless a giant leap! In one's own small way, I myself was able to assist in bringing into Australia, an improved agricultural practice that virtually eliminates soil erosion on cropland. My employment was terminated as a result, though as luck would have it, my family's economic strength more than compensated financially. May Peter Fox and his family bask for the rest of our lives, as I do, in the enormous achievements that would not have happened in the same way, were it not for our actions throughout his careers. And there are many more helping to push our particular issues further, in the words of the 1920s Irish Free State song "...on the road to God knows where". Thank you, Peter!

Kevin Bligh | 08 December 2017  

@ john frawley | 08 December 2017. In response to your last post...I sort of agree but I will not stop 'criticising' the Church until it openly acknowledges and deals with the professional/clergy sexual misconduct/abuse against adults in the Church. What I fear is that if this does not occur, then, given the new heightened awareness of clergy sexual abuse of children, sexually frustrated and aberrant clergy may shift their focus even more so than now, to adults, especially those still naively submissive to the Church and its clergy, something still somewhat encouraged by the Church. This is particularly a problem with migrant and developing nation's peoples. Abolishing mandatory celibacy will certainly be a step in the right direction, as would a full embracing and even apology to those who left religious service as clergy and a GENUINE request for them to return to ministry, if they want to. I believe an influx of such people who have fully experienced the sacrament of defeat and the pressures of living 'in the world' would bring about the balance so badly needed to counteract the still existent and apparently growing dubiousness of current seminary recruits.

Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 08 December 2017  

Speaking as a former altar boy, I am astonished at this presumption of guilt, whenever a priest is accused. In my opinion it denies him natural justice. It also ignores common sense. Had a priest ever behaved inappropriately towards me... I would have told my mother very quickly. A perfect excuse.. to get out of rising early... to go to mass. Other boys would have had the same reaction. So how could alleged cover-ups have taken place? It would have been all over the parish?. And how peculiar that lawyers have forgotten a bedrock tenet of western justice..."there is no crime unless there is compelling evidence of a crime". Since when has an unsubstantiated accusation been proof of guilt??. There is something very strange going on here... I think that many accusations are motivated by worldly goals... other than justice.

malcolm harris | 08 December 2017  

Forgive me Stephen for suggesting that when you write "...sexually frustrated and aberrant clergy may shift their focus even more so than now to adults, especially those [adults] still naively submissive to the Church and its clergy, something still somewhat encouraged by the Church", you cannot possibly mean what is implied, viz, that the Church "somewhat encourages" sexual abuse of naïve, submissive people and have simply made an error of syntax. I hope you don't mean that the Church encourages the exploitation of naive submissive persons. Such naivety and submission is not, however, generated by the Church and there is no evidence to suggest that the Church exploits these traits. Some evil individuals might, but I cannot accept that the Church does. It is also pure speculation that child abusing clergy are now likely to shift their focus to adults because they can no longer get away with exploiting the innocence of children in the wake of the commission. Clergy celibacy does not seem to have been a deterrent in the non-Catholic institutions that have also fallen victim to the godlessness of the all pervasive, societal sexual revolution which to me is perhaps the greatest contributor to this whole sorry mess and to the decline of Christian civilisation that accompanies it.

john frawley | 08 December 2017  

I hear the comment 'abolishing mandatory celibacy will be a step in the right direction'. Do you really think that celibacy has anything to do with the existence of paedophile priests? Ask yourself, as a heterosexual, if you were locked away in a gaol for 10, 20 or more years, do you really think you would come out with an insatiable urge to have sexual relations with a child? A ridiculous notion. Those priests who were found to be sexually abusing children were paedophiles before they became priests.

Peter Flood | 08 December 2017  

Malcolm "Had a priest ever behaved inappropriately towards me ... I would have told my mother very quickly". Actually you have no idea what you would have done. Be careful not to judge the children who have suffered at the hands of those who were meant to care for them. Moira, thank you for this powerful piece. Peace to you.

Marlene Marburg | 08 December 2017  

According to the very well-respected sociologist of religion and religious deviance, Anson Shupe: The more stable the normative structure or religious doctrine (as was pre-Vatican II, like it or not), the lower the incidence of clergy malfeasance, the lower the group's ability to normalise the deviance, and the greater its ability to neutralise the negative response of the community (I.E. the greater the control it has over what the community knows - think Crimen sollicitationis etc). Conversely, the more unstable the doctrine or the more subject to interpretation by church leadership (and anyone for that matter - think primacy of conscience), the greater the likelihood of malfeasance, the greater the likelihood of mormailsation of the deviance, and the lower the group's ability to neutralise the negative response of the community. This pretty well sums up for me our last 50-70 years. It makes complete sense because it is a view of the context which has not been tainted by liberal/conservative myopia. It is a theory based on deep research into many expressions of religious deviance from within many forms of religions. Shupe is very much worth reading for anyone who wants a more objective perspective of the whole clergy sexual abuse issue.

Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 09 December 2017  

Most of what you have written has been stated before so lets hope it doesn't ever happen again and it shouldn't, however there will always be someone who will offend - it is a cycle of human nature, all must be vigilant in our efforts to prevent this disgusting abuse on children either in institutions or elsewhere. One point you made I must strongly criticise, the issue of Aboriginal youth. Don't blame the Police for simply policing areas which experience a massive social breakdown of Aboriginal Communities. There are many good people who live and contribute to these communities, not only white home owners. You put up with the consent ant-social behaviour, stealing, malicious damage, drug abuse and all the other problems. It is not unreasonable for the "white home owners" to seek protection and the restoration of some form of civility. The ant-social issue of these youths should be addressed at the time of birth - a decent childhood, education, sport, proper food, living conditions, I could go on and on. Fix the problem at the start, don't blame us "white home owners".

Brian Goodall | 09 December 2017  

It is a shocking picture you paint Moira, but the scenery was not of your choosing. The moral status of Christianity - let alone the Roman Catholic Church - has suffered a serious body blow in this country from which it may never, ever, recover. The Dechristianisation of Australia, already well advanced, will continue apace. If one could look for a ray of light in a very dark place it might be worthwhile to look at the response to child sexual abuse of the Anglican Archdiocese of Brisbane under its current archbishop, Phillip Aspinall. Victims have not been denied and have been compensated, the latter making quite a considerable hole in church finances, including the necessity to sell off several assets. Those who seemed to have brushed over child sexual abuse have been removed. There is now a genuine no tolerance policy to anything which might have anything to do with paedophilia. Of course, paedophilia is one of those crimes where its perpetrators are well known for their secrecy and denial, so I don't think you can ever totally abolish it but I think you can create an atmosphere and processes where you know it won't be swept under the carpet.

Edward Fido | 10 December 2017  

Good question Moira: "What will it take to make this stop?" I think for the Catholic Church it will take a long time for the clerical culture to change because they have never had to be accountable to society. They have designed a system that mirrors monarchical values such as being God's chosen representative on earth. This they have taken to imply: the Church is a sacrament that cannot be in error. In three out of four Gospels Jesus is quoted as saying that "unless you change and become like a child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." The clerical attitude has shown absolute contempt for children, and for the teachings of Jesus in regard to children. What will it take to change this clerical culture? Perhaps start with tax on the income of property investments belonging to the archdiocese, take away the privileged status because it has been grossly mismanaged resulting in spiritual ignorance through pride and self-indulgence.

Trish Martin | 10 December 2017  

In 2010, Human Rights Lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson asked the question, 'Is the Pope morally and legally responsible for the negligence that has allowed so many terrible crimes to go unpunished? Should the Pope and his seat of power, the Holy See, continue to enjoy an immunity that places them above the law? As each global inquiry, UN investigation and Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse concludes, we note that 'canon law still imposes secrecy, and the law is there to be obeyed by its leaders creating a culture of deceit.' As Author, Kieran Tapsell notes, 'Religions are entitled to have whatever beliefs they want to. The most that secular society can do is protect itself against the fallout of these sorts of doctrines.' While Pope Francis, his Bishops, Politician and Education leaders continue to contain the scandal with silence, payouts, spend limitless money opposing legal actions, threatening, denying and creating chilling lies, our community fails to trust. As Robertson says, ‘The notion that this man of peace and moral principle could turn a blind eye to an international crime defies belief.' The Royal Commission in Australia, inquires elsewhere in the world and United Nations showcases victims and advocates who want change and are willing to risk their health, employment, and reputation to tell their heartbreaking accounts of suffering, to create positive change in the face of institutional opposition. While canon law continues to direct Bishops to conceal scandal, the culture of silence is still embedded in the church leadership and its actions. The Pope and his Vatican team are yet to confront their history of protecting child and vulnerable adult abusing priest and trafficking in pornography. Time might be up for the global ‘cover-up’ of clergy abuse which has been ordered by six popes since 1922.

P Boylan | 10 December 2017  

I agree with you Peter, not totally, but mostly. Firstly, my comment about mandatory celibacy was in reference to the abuse of ADULTS in the Church (which is my main area of research), not to paedophilic abuse. I agree that many paedophile priests were such before they entered the priesthood, such a sexual preference being imprinted often much earlier in their own childhood development. However, not all clergy sexual abuse is against per-pubescent children (the true definition of paedophilia), much, if not most child sexual abuse by clergy is committed against post-pubescent children and this should be labelled ephebophila. There seems to be more evidence that this later-age form of child sexual abuse is often much more opportunistic or situationally based rather than a definitively ingrained sexual preference. It is these people in particular who I fear may turn their attention to the more generally vulnerable adults within the church now with the heightened exposure of child sexual abuse. I hope that clarifies things.

Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 11 December 2017  

@ Marlene Marburg | 08 December 2017 I totally agree, Marlene. Perhaps with the now greater acceptance of the reality of child sexual abuse, Malcolm may be right but then again, the relationship between child and parent, especially in a strong Catholic context, includes many underlying fear and guilt complexities. Anyway, regarding the past, there is certainly now much research and theory regarding the reality that for the most, childhood victims just did not, could not report or disclose what had happened to them - and this is what so often contributed the most to the interior damage - they had to carry the secret within and it so often festered and distorted their developing self-image. I have always maintained that the most important aspect for healing to occur is for the abuse to be revealed/disclosed as soon as possible, and that the child/person be believed and that time. This defuses what can otherwise develop into a time bomb in the brain.

Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 11 December 2017  

Stephen. In your last post above are you implying in quoting Anson Shupe that the "liberalisations' undertaken post Vatican II are to blame. Certainly, it is a historical fact that abuse skyrocketed in the 60s 70s and 80s in the wake of Vatican II but this does not causally implicate Vatican II, simply because those years also coincided with the all-pervasive sexual revolution associated with the safety of the pill and the rise of solipsistic second wave feminism, a very different beast from the first wave which came with the suffragettes. The first wave rightly sought equality for women in work and voting rights within the framework of a Christian moral society backed by the Civil Law. Second wave feminism sought predominantly sexual freedom and militant women stepped down from the pedestal on which Christian society had placed them and changed the Christian moral dictums with the backing of the civil law. It may be that the decline in our society is the major cause, not the machinations of the Vatican or the Church. As I said earlier, time to forgive. "Forgive them Father, they know not what they do".

john frawley | 11 December 2017  

@john frawley | 11 December 2017 Yes and no John. This is so difficult to discuss with people who have a vested interest in their perception and faith. What I was simply pointing out, (and it is a point that I have really only been able to grasp since become neutral in my feelings about the Church, and in regard to being liberal/conservative), is that the reality (which is not in itself a bad thing) is that Vatican II did result in a Church which was less centralist, one which no longer preferred people to be uncritical sheep. One TV series which really brought out the reality of Vatican II's changes for me was "Brides of Christ". That series beautifully portrayed the mostly 'noble quest' of a group of nuns individually coming to grips with the new freedoms that the Church gave them, from the older simple nun who broke down crying "Just tell me what to do and I'll do it" to the main character leaving because she believed she could do as much in the world and by following her own conscience. As a church, we needed to be chucked out of the nest so to speak. However, in doing so, and certainly not intentionally, this did result in a period of deep turbulence where doctrines held fast to in the past, especially regarding sex, became more 'flexibly interpreted' shall we say, supported more by situational ethics and perceptions of conscience than any central church or biblical teaching - and somehow that seemed OK. And this is what I was pointing to in my Shupe quote. In a sense, no one is to blame- it just happened. And yes, couple these enormous upheavals for Catholics with the sexual revolution and of course it must have had an effect.

Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 11 December 2017  

Stephen. In my study of the Vatican II documents, there was very little "liberalisation" prescribed. In fact the outstanding thing about the documentation is that it changed no fundamental teaching but simply did a bit of spring cleaning around the edges such as liturgical changes including not only the language and format of the Mass but also the architecture, art and sacred music in a quest to be "more inclusive" for the laity. Most of the liberalisation came after Vatican II from individual interpretations of such changes, many of which were at odds with the proclamations of the Council. Some of these liberalisations may well have "seemed OK" to those who prescribed them but were in fact contrary to the Vatican II documents. Attempts by subsequent Popes to interpret the documents in favour of moral teaching were met by derision, in-subordination and large scale abandonment of religious practice by 90% of nominal Catholics according to today's figures. The great mistake was that the Church didn't proclaim the teachings of Vatican II to its people from the pulpit, in its schools or in the public domain. It lost much respect even from those non-Catholics who might have disagreed with many of Catholicism's dictums but still respected its moral courage. The abandonment of this moral courage is the scourge of today's Church. The abandonment of moral courage was most evident in relation to the sexual revolution where the Church remained resolutely silent. The Church also failed miserably in getting out the new Missal and Catechism - it took some 30 years or so during which time two generations of nominal Catholics remained in ignorance of the Church's teachings and prayer life. Your quote from Anson Shupe in fact acknowledges that the pre-Vatican II Church was more stable than the Church plagued by the confusing uncertainties of misinterpreted "liberalisation". So while I have said that Vatican II could not be causally linked to sexual abuse, it can be criticised for allowing the sexual revolution to proceed around it without protest and without the defence of moral teaching. That strategy backfired - BIG-TIME, as they say in the classics.

john frawley | 11 December 2017  

@ john frawley | 11 December 2017 I don't disagree with most of what you said here, John, and yes, that is what I was implying regarding Shupe. However, Vat II was the Council we had to have. If some, actually most began reinterpreting Vatican II according to their own conscience - well, they, too, were following Vat II, or thought they were. I'm not really interested in making an ecclesiastical or theological judgement about Vatican II and what followed, I'm just wanting to state that this has been one of the outcomes - that in a less stable Church, there is more chance of clergy sexual misconduct occurring, more chance of it being normalised (and covered up) but less chance of the Church being able to neutralise its abuse-prophets (and cover up). And yes, again, of course the Church was influenced by society - it was told to interact, and interact it did. I'm just concerned about those who became the meat in the liberal/conservative sandwich that has resulted - the victims of child and adult abuse. If the Church wants to reform, it will...if it doesn't or doesn't think it needs to (the most likely), it won't.

Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 11 December 2017  

I notice that Stephen de Weger, an expert on a specific area of research, seems to have been the main recent commenter on this article. Having known a fair few Anglican, Uniting Church and Catholic clergy, I would be surprised if the majority were in any way sexually predatory. Most are normal people. One thing I do know is that many Anglican clerical wives, as with with the Rector's wife in that wonderful, sadly true to life TV show 'Rev', are heartily sick of women who fixate on their clerical husbands and harass them. I am afraid the Church attracts many people with serious psychological problems. A very small portion of these may be really dangerous. The leadership of the mainstream traditional Australian Churches seem to have, in the past, proved themselves incapable of dealing properly with clerical abusers of children. I am hoping the successors of these leaders may have learnt something. The real tragedy to me is not the fact that many have left the Churches, but that Christianity in this country has been so publicly debased by the recent coverups of child sexual abuse that many secular Australians will never dream of coming to it.

Edward Fido | 11 December 2017  

I agree, Stephen.

john frawley | 12 December 2017  

It is very clear that some posters on this site regard themselves a reformers, wanting to change things. Their launching pad is the sexual abuse narrative, much reported by the mainstream media. Their argument being that an institutional Church which would allow such things must be in need of reform. Well may I suggest that some attempt must be made to quantify the extent of the problem. There seems to be a great deal of presumption going on?. May I ask what percentage of all priests have been accused during the last 50 years? How many were actually proven guilty, following due process?. How many received a fair trial? Given that prejudice can influence a court even before a trial starts. In that respect I have heard people say, "but aren't all priests child molesters?". And most people get their information from the media. A media that refers to "victims" or "survivors" even before anything is proven. Although if it was a schoolteacher they would say "alleged victim". There are double standards at work here. So who really knows the extent of the alleged abuse.?

malcolm harris | 12 December 2017  

@ malcolm harris | 12 December 2017 There's only one source that would have all that information....and they're not sharing it....The Vatican. I can give you what many researchers have come up with but all need careful study as to how the studies were conducted, what the definitions of sexual abuse/misconduct were, what was the age range of victims. One of the latest respected sources have put an average of 10% of professionals from other professions such as medical, legal, educational therapeutic etc at around 10%. Again, whether this includes all age groups, just children or just adults is often not clear. Then there is Richard That same source (Tschan 2014: Professional sexula misconduct in institutions) gives an averaged out figure based on all the studies he was able to find of around 30% of clergy misconducting. Again, is this with children, adults or both is a question. It also includes other denominations. Then there is Sipe's educated estimate that at any one time only 50% of clergy are actually being celibate/chaste/not sexually active. But, as I said, the only source that will have accurate figure, at least of REPORTED sexual activity/abuse/misconduct by Catholic clergy are the Church's archives and something tells me that to reveal these would be too much for the sheep to cope with.

Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 12 December 2017  

Stephen. Your reply to Malcolm Harris is seriously flawed. You quote 30% "averaged out" rate for abusers (type not specified) which includes all denominations and thus means nothing in regard to a specific denomination (eg Catholicism or Anglicanism). [I wonder if the figures included, for instance, the Branch Davidian figures from Waco, Texas, where virtually every female in the Branch was bedded by the leader, the self-proclaimed re-incarnation of Jesus, a 28 year old Seventh Day Adventist from Sydney]. Further, you argue from an "educated estimate" from Sipe. Educated estimates are speculative and have their origins in personal interests or emotional involvement and mean nothing when it comes to valid research. The Vatican has in fact revealed staggering figures to the United Nations Committee for the Protection of Children in two sittings in Jan and May 2014. (See my third comment above). This does not indicate how the 2572 priests who were not defrocked were "punished". However, the figures for those who were charged and imprisoned should be available in the public domain although I have not tried to access them. It is simply inaccurate, if not untrue, to claim that the Vatican has not released information. Malcolm Harris in his comment above has expressed the necessary investigatory rigour that is necessary in matters plagued by media sensationalism, guilt before proved innocence and vice versa, and a plethora of responses not all of which are informed or dispassionately based. I don't envy you the task of making sense out of it all - it is indeed a very difficult area of research with many false trails to be followed and many disguised or hidden truths!!

john frawley | 13 December 2017  

@ john frawley | 13 December 2017 Again, John, my comment was more related to research concerning the abuse of adults or clergy sexual misconduct against adults. For my PhD, I am currently trying to find more specific figures for the prevalence of clergy sexual misconduct against adults but am constantly dogged by ambiguity as to victim and perpetrator origins and descriptions in studies. The 30% figure, as I said, came from a well respected psychiatrist/researcher Werner Tschan, and concerned general Christian Churches/denominations and Jewish communities (the only studies available at the moment): "One in four to one in three clergy commits professional sexual misconduct" (p. 52). From the rest of this this section it does appear that he is talking more about child sexual abuse. When I first started my study I approached Towards Healing and asked if they could provide me with data on clergy misconduct against adults. I was told then (2013) that they didn't keep such data....end of story. So, according to the general tone of your last comment, if I wrote to the Vatican and asked them to send me figures concerning how many case of adults sexual abuse have been perpetrated by Catholic Clergy they would say, "Yep, no worries...we'll send them to you ASAP. Your research is very important and we really want to encourage and support you because we really want to reform".

Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 14 December 2017  

Regarding Sipe's figure/estimates: Sipe’s 1995 therapy-based estimation has been supported by other researchers as attested by the following summarising statement from the John Jay Report: Haywood and Green provided an overview of the literature pertaining to prevalence, offense/victim characteristics, and evaluation of cleric serial offenders. Depending upon the study, prevalence rates ranged from 2% to 6% (pedophiliac and ephebophiliac clerics), 20% to 40% (sexual mis-conduct with adults), 8.4% (in a sample of 1322), and 5.8% to 24% (boundary violations with adults) (Sipe, 1990; Loftus & Camargo, 1993; Friel & Friel, 1988; Goetz, 1992; Seat et al., 1993). In examining offense/victim characteristics, the authors concluded that clerics are more likely to engage in sexual misconduct with adults than minors (John Jay Report 2004, 258). THIS is why the Catholic Church needs to look beyond its new exposure-originated repentance concerning child sexual abuse by clergy and now begin to deal with the abuse of adults. Somehow, the two are connected, through culture, secrecy cycles and the generally unexposed sexual activity of clergy and how this infiltrates the morale and morality of all clergy, including those who are 'attracted' to children.

Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 14 December 2017  

(Apologies for the length and number of comments but this is REALLY important). My argument is or will be that unless we interpret the findings of the Royal Commission in the context of clergy sexual activity overall (with anyone and for any reason), and unless the Church and we continue to confront the Church about this clergy sexual activity, the Royal Commission will be another "damp squib" and there will be no reform. Research accuracy is of course absolutely vital. DO YOU HEAR THAT ANYONE WHO CONTROLS THE DATA? OK, I will try to contact the Vatican and Towards Healing again and I'll let you know how it turns out. Maybe Eureka Street will allow me to write an article on my progress. And remember, please, any data concerning any sexual offences contains only known/reported cases and often, even only tried cases. Also remember that of all crimes, sexual offences are the least reported. According to an Australian study dealing with general sexual offences (Fileborn 2011, 1): approximately 85% of sexual assaults never come to the attention of the criminal justice system (…). Of those offences that are reported, only a small proportion proceed to trial, with an even smaller percentage of these cases resulting in a successful conviction”. I am certain that the figures within the Church would be even worse. We need to change this, somehow.

Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 14 December 2017  

I think you summed up the crux of the matter very well in this line Moira:' The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has changed the public response of religious institutions, not their culture.' If people such as the late Ronald Mulkearns had been Army officers they would've been cashiered. If the Christian Brothers had been a regiment it would've been disbanded. But the Church, its authorities and its lawyers, as with the Archdiocese of Ballarat, appears to be denying liability which the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse clearly slated home to it. What an inglorious stance! I fear the Church may well save its property but will have lost its soul in the process. By doing this it will have entered into a Devil's bargain. Catholic intellectuals may wish to discuss the whys and wherefores and what to do in future but the horse has already bolted from the stable. Unless new and different leaders arise in this emergency I fear the future for institutional Christianity will be very grim. Leaders of the calibre of Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier, not mere intellectuals but men of action, who knew both their religion and what to do in the most dire circumstances are required. John Paul II was of similar calibre. This is no time for armchair generals.

Edward Fido | 18 December 2017  

I am not convinced that the hierarchy and clergy will drive the necessary change. Yes, apologies have been made, and we have seen the beginnings of appropriate safeguards and standards being put into place. However, this is only the beginning. What is needed throughout the RC Church in Australia, is a total change to the governance of the Church. It can no longer be a top-down model. Hierarchy and clergy are too hard-wired into this model to actually make the change. Until we have a genuine synodical model made up of laity, clergy and hierarchy, whereby there is a diocesan synod set up in every diocese occurring say, every three years with no restrictions on topics and concerns, there will be no change. Add to this a General synod with all dioceses having input also on a three-yearly cycle for example. Otherwise, we will continue to stagnate. Vatican II gave us this in its document Lumen Gentium over 50 years ago! As far as I am aware, no diocese has done this. Add to that, our parish system must change such that a parish council consisting of the appropriately skilled persons is elected by regular parishioners periodically to ensure that the parish is run successfully, including on-going intelligent adult faith education. The parish council will have a say in the appointment of the appropriate priest as parish priest. This would apply to parishes with diocesan priests, as well as those parishes of a diocese staffed by religious orders. No exceptions. I suggest that this system needs to be in place sooner than later as we do not have another 50 years to get it right. There will be no need to worry about the shortage of priests as there will be few parishes left! One would hope that this is on the agenda for the 2020 Synod. But even that may be too late.

Thomas Amory | 19 December 2017  

Similar Articles

Lay lead the way in child abuse lament

  • Helena Kadmos
  • 19 December 2017

A small group of lay Christians in Perth, including myself, were so worried that our institutions might not wholeheartedly embrace the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse that we decided not to wait to find out.


Pondering Palestine at a Tokyo Christmas Mass

  • Irfan Yusuf
  • 14 December 2017

Last year I spent Christmas at St Andrew's. There was incense, holy communion and a whole heap of stuff that would horrify many Sydney Anglicans. Which is their bad luck because this St Andrew's was the Cathedral Church of the Tokyo Diocese of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai. I doubt Henry VIII imagined a diocese with a name like that!