GEOFFREY ROBINSON. The Royal Commission.

I am convinced that there must be a full and open discussion of all aspects of the Church if we are ever to put this scandal behind us. Quite simply, we need a different church. The Royal Commission was not constrained by any Church laws or teachings and so came much closer to the heart of the problem.  

I was a victim of child abuse myself, and one of the effects is that I simply cannot read, watch or talk about abuse continually. So I have not followed every detail of the wrap up sessions of the Royal Commission as well as I might have or some people expected me to. I prefer to leave abuse behind, though the Commission has made this hard to do.

The day the archbishops of Australia appeared was the day I looked forward to least. It is not that they are bad men. In this field they are, indeed, a big improvement on the generations of archbishops who went before them. I doubt that a single one of the present archbishops would be guilty of moving a known offender to another parish. My fears were:

  • That their actions would not match up to their words;
  • That they would not join together in demanding (not even privately let alone publicly) that Roman authorities make the changes without which the Australian bishops are hamstrung in mounting any serious offensive against abuse;
  • That they would make no call to look again at every element in the laws, teaching and culture of the church that has contributed to abuse.

Sadly my fears were founded and the archbishops appeared as weak, using many words but offering little else.

The resignation from the Pope’s Commission by Marie Collins is a bad blow. She speaks of a commission that meets too infrequently, that does not have proper funding, and that receives too little support, and sometimes outright opposition, from the rest of the Vatican. She reports that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was ordered by Pope Francis to set up a body that would investigate failures by bishops to respond to cases of abuse, but replied that it could not do so because of unspecified “legal difficulties”.

I see the major problem, both for the archbishops and for all the people in the Vatican, as that of an inability to follow the argument wherever it leads, for they are too constrained by the laws (e.g. obligatory celibacy) and teachings (e.g. concerning power and sex) that are presented as virtually unchangeable. Infallibility is the final barrier to any adequate response to abuse, as it is to many other problems in the Church. Unless this barrier is removed, I fear we will never see a true response.

I am convinced that there must be a full and open discussion of all aspects of the Church if we are ever to put this scandal behind us. Quite simply, we need a different church. The Royal Commission was not constrained by any Church laws or teachings and so came much closer to the heart of the problem.

In the meantime, all I can suggest is that the Australian bishops set up a body as independent as possible of Church authority to implement the recommendations of the Commission.

See links to earlier articles on this blog concerning Bishop Geoffrey Robinson:  ‘The Catholic bishops don’t understand their responsibility accountability‘.  ‘Bishop Geoffrey Robinson at the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse‘.  ‘How the Australian Bishops and Rome ignored the warnings‘.

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson was formerly auxiliary bishop in Sydney.  In May 2002, Bishop Robinson called on Pope John Paul II to commission a church-wide study of clerical sex abuse.  He retired as auxiliary bishop in July 2004. He is now a Bishop Emeritus.

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6 Responses to GEOFFREY ROBINSON. The Royal Commission.

  1. Kieran Tapsell says:

    It is not hard to understand the “legal difficulties” that prevented the setting up of “a body that would investigate failures by bishops to respond to cases of abuse,” and it can be illustrated by the cases of four bishops accused of covering it up. In 2001, Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela of Pope John Paul II required all allegations and information about child sexual abuse by clergy to be subject to the pontifical secret. In 2002, five members of the Roman Curia, all of them canon lawyers, stated unequivocally that bishops should not report priests accused of child sexual abuse to the civil authorities. At the same time four leaders of Catholic Bishops Conferences said the same thing. None of these prelates have retracted those statements. In December 2002, the Vatican agreed that the American bishops should report all cases where the civil law required them to do so. That instruction was extended to the rest of the world in 2010.
    In 2012, Bishop Finn of Kansas was convicted of failing to comply with a Missouri reporting law when he became aware of Fr Rattigan’s possession of child pornography in 2010. Given the date, he had not only breached civil law, he had also breached canon law as laid down in the Vatican recognitio for the United States in 2002. He resigned. Archbishop Niendstedt and his auxiliary Bishop Lee Piche resigned after prosecutions were brought in 2012 against the Archdiocese for failure to protect children under the Milwaukee civil law. All three of these bishops had failed to comply with canon law as it existed in the United States in 2002.
    Cardinal Barbarin of Lyons became aware of allegations against some of his priest in 2007 and 2009, before the general instruction to obey civil reporting laws was given to the rest of the world in 2010. By failing to report, he may have breached French law, but he was obeying canon law. Cardinal Barbarin, unsurprisingly, has not resigned.
    The unspecified “legal difficulties” could not refer to any jurisdictional issues in the Roman Curia because Pope Francis could change those with the stroke of a pen. But in order to make Cardinal Barbarin culpable under canon law, he would have to create a retroactive offence of failing to report in a situation where there was no canonical obligation to do so. This is anathema to the idea of the rule of law both in civil and canon law.
    But there is a further problem. So long as the pontifical secret is still imposed over all allegations and information, bishops cannot be tried for failing to report child sexual abuse where the civil law does not require it, because in doing so they would be obeying canon law, not disobeying it.
    The sooner Pope Francis requires mandatory reporting under canon law, the sooner he can put bishops on trial for covering up child sexual abuse. At the moment, a bishop only breaches canon law if there happens to be in his diocese a civil law requiring reporting. Most jurisdictions don’t have comprehensive reporting laws. Only NSW and Victoria have them in Australia.

  2. Gsrry Evetett says:

    I agree withh Bishop Geoffrey’s comments completely. I notice that Archbishop Coleridge has pinned his flag to a national synod as a possible way of changing the Church. I do not hold the same hope.vThe syructure and process of the synod is not really designed to produce change
    There are too many hierarchical approvals necessary for that to happen
    Arch. Geoffrey calls for a new Churh. It will need a new process for that to happen.

  3. Julian says:

    A special thank you to Bishop Robinson and to Kieran Tapsell. Thank you gentlemen for your continued and invaluable input.
    Kieran I note your conclusion (and recommendation) that the Pope institute mandatory reporting under canon law. The little I know of the character of the present Pope leads me to understand that if he was minded to take this step he would do so. Accordingly I have to ask: what currently prevents him doing so?

    • Kieran Tapsell says:

      Nothing prevents him from doing so, because he is an absolute monarch when it comes to canon law. He can change it with the stroke of a pen. It only needs 83 characters – half a tweet – to be added to Art 30 of Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela 2010 creating an exception to the pontifical secret to require reporting of all allegations of sexual abuse to the civil authorities. I was puzzled why he refused the request of the United Nations in 2014 to impose mandatory reporting with the absurd excuse that it would interfere with the sovereignty of independent nations. Canon law interferes with such sovereignty as much as the rules of golf. But then I came across the Argentinean protocol that was two years in the making and was signed off by the bishops a month after Francis became pope. It repeats the Vatican policy now expressed in canon law that bishops should obey civil reporting laws, but subject to that, states a “first warning” in Art. 17 that these cases are subject to the pontifical secret. Then in a book he wrote with Rabbi Skorka he describes how a bishop contacted him for advice about a priest sex abuser. Bergoglio told him to take the priest’s faculties away from him and to start canonical proceedings. There was not a word in his advice about reporting the matter to the police. The only conclusion I can draw is that he believes in the Church’s often stated policy that civil reporting laws should be obeyed but if they don’t apply or don’t exist, then the pontifical secret – the cover up – applies. The protection given to children by reporting laws depended on whether they had the good fortune to live in a jurisdiction that made reporting by bishops of priest sex abusers compulsory. As Bishop Robinson has said before, Pope Francis is an enigma, particularly over child sexual abuse.

  4. “The resignation from the Pope’s Commission by Marie Collins is a bad blow. She speaks of a commission that meets too infrequently, that does not have proper funding, and that receives too little support, and sometimes outright opposition, from the rest of the Vatican. She reports that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was ordered by Pope Francis to set up a body that would investigate failures by bishops to respond to cases of abuse, but replied that it could not do so because of unspecified “legal difficulties”. “- Geoffrey Robinson
    Geoffrey Robinson seems to say that even the CEO of the Catholic church, the Pope, cannot or dare not charge his board to look after the shareholders. If that’s the case, and they continue in their nefarious conduct, flouting the rule of law by hiding criminal pedophiles, then it seems to me that the law has got to say that this disgraceful organisation should no longer operate.
    Robinson says: ” Infallibility is the final barrier to any adequate response to abuse,” – I would say that the idea that a priest can hide his actions behind the idea of infallibility is not only grandiose but delusional.
    When are they going to be stripped of the power, as a protected organisation, to do this terrible harm?

  5. Patricia Mullins says:

    In the 1980s Bishops were explicitly forbidden by Pope John Paul II to talk about contraception, abortion, homosexuality, masturbation, a married priesthood or women’s ordination, other than to defend the Church’ official teaching. These topics all pertain to the position of the Church on sexuality, and involve in some way the personhood of women. A.W.Richard Snipe, after thirty years of research into the issue of sexual abuse of minors by priests, claims, “If priests and bishops may not discuss even among themselves issues vital to their sexual function and existence, how can they attain moral responsibility? The crisis …now…raises questions and demands moral discourse, ethical response, clear understanding and accountability in areas of behaviour, structure, doctrine and teaching”. Sexual activity is a profound God-gifted reality essential to our very existence. When discourse on subjects pertaining to sex are forbidden, this reveals a response founded in fear! The Church names women as “equal (not inferior) but different”. How and where are women’s different voices heard in the decision-making of the Church’s male-dominant culture?

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