Catholic Church – catch-up and cover-up

The sad saga of the Catholic Church in its response to sexual abuse goes on and on and on. Pope Francis is yet to grasp the nettle.

Invariably it is people outside the hierarchy and clergy who are responding and calling for action. The latest has been former NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell, who spoke in the NSW Parliament on this issue on 17 June 2014. He called on Fr Brian Lucas, the General Secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference to be stood down in light of the report of the Cunneen Commission into alleged cover-up of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Diocese of Maitland/Newcastle. Barry O’Farrell has a particular interest in this issue as he had appointed the Cunneen Commission.

In parliament, Barry O’Farrell added. “On the day the [Cunneen] report was made public, Bishop Wright issued a statement that suggested the report would be scrutinised, its findings taken on board and action taken. Yet last week, despite the damning exposition by the commission of Monsignor Hart’s lack of action in 1993, Bishop Wright simply stood him aside from advisory positions in the diocese. As a response to such a damning enquiry it was completely underwhelming “

Australian bishops just don’t get it. It has been the same around the world.

It was the secular media in Boston in 2001 and not the church leadership or church media that first drew attention to the sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Boston under the ‘leadership’ of Cardinal Law. In Ireland it was a succession of royal commissions and enquiries that exposed the scandal within the Catholic Church.

In Australia in 1997 Bishop Geoffrey Robinson called for action on sexual abuse problems in Australia. He was disowned and rebuked by his fellow bishops. It was a parliamentary enquiry in Victoria that told us last November “No representative of the Catholic Church directly reported the crimes committed by its members to the police … There is simply no justification for this position.” Then there was Cardinal Pell before the royal commission in Sydney. He has now gone to Rome but there is great damage left in his wake.

As Fr Frank Brennan has said “Clearly the church itself cannot be left alone to get its house in order.”

Our bishops, who are appointed through a secretive and manipulative process, are failing us badly. They are not responsive to the people of the church.

One action which pastoral bishops could take would be to call urgent synods in their dioceses to tackle this problem of sexual abuse and the systemic and cultural factors which give rise to it. The Second Vatican Council recommended that synods should ‘flourish’. They have died of misuse in Australia. Only five bishops have convened a diocesan synod since 1965. The Melbourne archdiocese has not had a synod since 1916 and the Sydney archdiocese since 1951. Synods are a long-established and traditional form of collegial discussion on matters of doctrine, faith, morals and discipline. A flourishing and participatory regime of diocesan synods would enhance the accountability of bishops and improve the performance of the whole diocese. Representative synods with half of the membership from lay people would be far more knowledgeable in identifying and dealing with such issues as sexual abuse.

Our church leadership is failing us. We are tired of continual catch-up and cover-up.

Together with colleagues, we submitted a submission to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. This submission can be found on my website. Go to top left-hand of this blog, click on website and then click on religion folder. The submission can also be found on the website of the Royal Commission.


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Jennifer Herrick

Yes Lyne, the Encompass program failed not only in not “fixing” the often unfixable priests who attended, in not acting appropriately in what happened to them after their release, but also in not bringing to light and acting upon past perpetrations of those attendees (their hidden history). Histories were not unearthed or acted upon appropriately and it has taken victims to have to expose themselves publically to show what Encompass was not able, or capable or chose not to, do.

Lynne Newington

…..”as there was no Sacramental Seal involved, therefore a given” was my emphasis not Gordon Moyes.

Lynne Newington

In relation to Geoffery Robinson, with all due respect, he led the Encompass Australasia programme under the durisiction of the Australian Bishops Conference for many years in secrecy, the whole group consisting of therapists/facilitators hearing submissions of criminal acts against children, many bragging about their exploits while still at the facility, some so vicious they the should’ve been in jail, yet still in the community, irrespective of mandatory reporting leaving children at risk. These files should have been seized by the Royal Commission, the treatment given was Medicare funded not the church [making the distinction] irrespective of the plaudit’s given… Read more »

Edward Fido

I think the problem the Catholic Church has had in effectively dealing with clerical paedophilia is its extremely conservative, hierarchical and clericalist nature. This is unlikely to change overnight. The synods you suggest would be a thoroughly good thing, John and may even help to drag the institution into the real world. Sadly, I do not think they will come about due to the poor calibre of Church leadership in this country and their total lack of vision.

Jennifer Herrick

This idea of diocesan synods with 50% lay participation is indeed a way forward. My extensive personal experience on the matter up to the present as I write, is that these avenues are not sought and will not be sought because still, they are too threatening. The fact that this abuse of power is occurring in the very bastion where it ought not is part of the answer. The historically cumulative systemic / cultural scenario is such that those who can really change things just do not understand or grasp it emotionally. They are, sadly, incapable. Those few who do… Read more »

Lynne Newington

I’m sorry John, it’s all very well for Barry O’Farrell and any other late starters to raise their voices now and any one who thinks there have never been any murmurs of these doings until just recently…….even as late as Rudds time when asked by Speer’s with the Pope’s arrival: “In relation to sex abuse victims, how important is an apology from the pope in your view?” PM. “It’s a matter for the church and I respect the internal judgements. I don’t stand outside the church and provide them with public lectures in terms of how they should behave”. That… Read more »