I was astounded when I read what Archbishop Antony Fisher told The Australian last week. The report said ‘Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric has proclaimed that families are more likely than priests to abuse children and rejected a church report that linked celibacy to sexual abuse. Archbishop of Sydney Antony Fisher said that celibacy could not be to blame for abuse, which occurred in every church, regardless of whether it was celibate. The thing about child abuse is most of it happens in families. It is an awful thing we hate to even touch on it, but it can’t be about celibacy because you look around society at the moment, it’s in every church, celibacy or not. It’s in many families and their not celibate, generally speaking.’
The Archbishop is falling into a tendency we all have to normalize crime in our own group, church or community by saying that the rate of crime in our own group is no worse than in other groups.
Cardinal Ratzinger who as Pope failed the Church so badly on sexual abuse of children used this argument at a conference in Spain in 2002 ”…the percentage of these (sexual) offences among priests is not higher than in other categories and perhaps it is even lower…less than 1%of priests are guilty of acts of this type. The constant presence of these news items does not correspond to the objectivity of the information or to the statistical objectivity of the facts”.
Professor Patrick Parkinson of the Faculty Law at the University of Sydney released last year a sobering Paper “Suffer the Teenage Children. Child Sexual Abuse in Church Communities”. Twice he reviewed the Catholic Churches protocol “Towards Healing”. He was a key adviser to the Catholic Church on sexual abuse issues. He is a remarkably well informed commentator. He has seen the problems close at hand and over several years.
As he says in his Paper he terminated his work with the Catholic Church over the failure of the Salesians in Australia to address sexual abuse issues. He then called for a Royal Commission.
In his Paper he acknowledges the patchy data on sexual abuse but the information pointed in one direction. The Catholic Church has a special problem which is outside the “normal”.
He noted that at “a particular (Catholic) seminary in Melbourne 4.75 % of priests ordained between 1940 and 1966 sexually abused children”. Drawing on US data he concluded that “the rate of conviction (of these priests) is much higher than in the general population”.
In comparing the Catholic Church with other churches in Australia he concluded, “When all explanations have been offered the rate of conviction of Catholic personnel does seem to be strikingly out of proportion with the size of this faith community compared with other faith communities”. Go to ssrn.com/abstract=2216264 for the Parkinson paper
It is no help to try to distract attention from the problems that the Catholic Church faces by saying that the Catholic Church is no different to others. As Parkinson points out ‘the conviction of Catholic personnel does seem to be strikingly out of proportion’
To say nothing about the abuse of trust.
This is not an encouraging start for the new Catholic Archbishop of Sydney