Sep 11, 2018

To be a dissenting voice is a risky business. If you oppose the prevailing orthodoxy, you are either disowned because you are wrong; or you struggle to have your voice heard, because your message is not popular. 

Greg Craven is a Constitutional lawyer, and an academic at Australian Catholic University. He was also a member of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council established by the Australian Catholic Bishops to assist with the Catholic Church’s formal response to The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the sexual abuse of minors. He is the only dissenting voice to the Council’s response. Is his dissenting stance wrong, or correct but unpopular?

Craven argues in a recent published article (The Catholic Leader 9th Sept), that the Royal Commission “was a flawed body and its report a flawed document.” He adduces several arguments to support his view. Among his complaints are two that require careful consideration.

Firstly , he argues that the Royal Commission was “a lawyers’ Royal Commission …with the narrow obsession of lawyers with crude monetary solutions.” Apart from disparaging his own profession, this description appears to be far too narrow an account of the Royal Commission’s processes and outcomes. Admittedly the Commission did recommend that a national redress scheme be established, and Churches and Governments have agreed to work together to establish such a fund and compensatory mechanisms. However, the Commission recommended much more than giving victims money. The Churches were also asked to establish safeguarding policies and practices for minors; to reform their formation programs for religious; to change their accountability processes and structures; to improve the transparency of their decision making — to name a few among hundreds of recommendations.

Secondly, Craven criticises the Commission for “its reliance on ill-defined concepts like clericalism…..”. Many commentators on the Commission’s work have praised the Commission for its ability not to be distracted by the symptoms (various and numerous acts of sexual abuse), but rather to keep its focus on the cause. This cause was described as the toxic culture also known as clericalism. It is interesting to note, that on the day after the publication of Craven’s article, there was a report of Pope Francis addressing the newly consecrated bishops in Rome. The Pope said:” Turn away from clericalism. Just say No to abuse of power……. say No forcefully to all forms of clericalism”. Further, a new book by Jesuit scholar Fr. George B. Wilson, entitled : Clericalism: The Death of Priesthood, devotes a whole chapter to the analysis of the priestly culture which he calls clericalism. I am convinced that Professor Craven has not paid proper respect to the Commission’s identifying this culture of clericalism as the underlying cause — not just of the Church’s problems in the sexual abuse of minors, but also in the areas of the use power; the lack of transparency and accountability; poor decision making structures and processes—and one suspects, in many other aspects of the Church’s life.

Professor Craven’s comments might well be seen as the start of the attempts to discredit the Commission and its recommendations . The Australian Catholic Bishops have endorsed the response of the Truth Justice and Healing Council. There remains a great deal of work to be done in Rome and in Australia, in order to progress all the recommendations. In all probability, not all recommendations of the Commission and Council will be accepted.

However, disparaging and dissenting is no way to start.

Garry Everett is a retired educator. He is interested in change theory and practice, and had re-acquainted himself with the processes of cultural change in organisations. He is a member of the Catholic Church.

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