Unholy silence, a royal commission is needed
4th July 2012
6th July 2012
The ABC Four Corner's report Unholy Silence exposed yet again terrible ways the Catholic Church covers up clergy sex crimes.
The courage of survivors, who told their painful stories, moved viewers to cry and become angry.
So what will change?
Who will stand up for these children, raped and then tortured by silence and denial?
Do not expect the Catholic Church hierarchy to alter its time-honoured global policies.
George Pell, Cardinal of Sydney, told Four Corners:
"We set up the Melbourne Response and the Towards Healing response and I think when the provisions in those responses are followed, I think they're quite adequate."
He does not seem to have changed his position despite the many suicides.
Protecting and caring for children is the job of governments, which have so far refused to hold the Catholic Church hierarchy accountable in this country.
After pressure from victims, their families and MP Ann Barker, Victoria referred the issue of sex crimes and cover-ups to the Family and Community Development Committee of Parliament.
The under-resourced committee was given only a year to investigate decades of assaults against potentially thousands of victims across all the religious orders.
So far no submissions have been heard. Time is already running out for the inquiry.
Some people, through fear, ignorance or loyalty, have urged the committee to not target the Catholic Church.
Leader of the Federal Opposition, Tony Abbott declared:
"We should be careful not to single out particular institutions… given that a lot of this was pandemic a generation ago.
"It is a terrible blot on our society as a whole not just something that can be pinned on one or two institutions."
If child rape and cover-ups were pandemic only a generation ago they should be pinned on someone.
Another politician's comments are concerning.
Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark said he consulted the Catholic Church hierarchy before establishing the committee's inquiry.
Why on earth should a hierarchy of an organisation with a history of harbouring child rapists be allowed to discuss with our government the terms of an inquiry that will investigate its behaviour?
Attorney-General Clark added:
"We don't want to have an inquiry to drag on for years; the Irish inquiry's been running for around nine years."
Ann Barker is the only Australian politician who has travelled overseas to research the very effective Irish response.
She recommended Victoria set up a state-led inquiry with powers equal to a Royal Commission.
She told News Breakfast:
"It tears at every fabric of your being when you see the program (Unholy Silence) but for me it increases my determination to see a full statutory inquiry conducted.
"And it particularly reinforces the need for a Royal Commission into these matters. It clearly show once again crimes committed against children were covered up, continue to be covered up.
"And it clearly showed again that the internal processes of any organisation, including the Catholic Church, cannot take precedence over state law.
"This is about crimes against children."
Ms Barker also repeated it was important to recover secret church documents to prove wrongdoing.
This is a critical point. Any inquiry without the ability to retrieve documents from the Catholic Church's secret archives is not powerful enough.
A couple of years ago I helped trace and document the history of paedophile priest Father Kevin O'Donnell.
He served the Archdiocese of Melbourne for five decades.
The church hierarchy knew he sexually assaulted children in the 1950s but he continued to serve in various parishes until he retired in 1992.
He was later jailed and is now dead, buried in a crypt without being laicized.
It was a secret church report that proved the cover up.
But not all shocking documents are hidden from us.
Go to the Victorian Government's website and you can locate a paper from 1995 called 'Combating Child Sexual Assault: Inquiry into Sexual Offences Against Children and Adults'.
A parliamentary committee has already investigated patterns of church cover-ups.
In summary, it found:
"Official representatives of the various churches and religious movements within Victoria often gain information, in the confessional or outside, regarding alleged child sexual assault offences committed both within the church movement and the community as a whole.
"In the past, the organisation's policy or its 'sacred nature', meant such reports may not have been passed on to the authorities, and the offences continued to be committed.
"If the alleged offender was a priest or religious leader then the hierarchy of the church often conducted its own investigation, contaminating evidence and warning suspects." (Victoria Police claims this still occurs.)
The chairman of the inquiry, Ken Smith, MP, subsequently appeared on a 1996 Four Corners program called Twice Betrayed.
Mr Smith said:
"I'm certain there's been a [Church hierarchy] cover-up in these issues and it would be an ongoing thing. I believe it would be occurring right now."
Asked by the ABC interviewer whether he thought some cases involved conspiracies to pervert the course of justice, he replied:
"I'd say yes, definitely, because what they're not allowing is a criminal offence to be reported to police."
Viewers of that Four Corners story would have gasped, just as we did watching Unholy Silence.
That was 16 years ago.
Since then the state has allowed the Catholic Church to run its internal 'responses'.
The man who founded the Melbourne Response, George Pell, should have been challenged over his position as the creator of the flawed system, for his judgment on the subject of child protection was poor, indeed.
In 1993 George Pell walked into court side-by-side with alleged paedophile priest Father Gerald Ridsdale (Mr Pell's former housemate), who was about to plead guilty to 30 charges of child sexual assault.
Mr Pell said it was a display of 'priestly solidarity'. He added he did not know the 'gravity' of the offences.
Cardinal, all child sex crimes are grave. (Ridsdale was later proven to be one of Australia's most brutal and prolific child rapists.)
For too long the state has watched the church treat with disdain victims of clergy sex assaults.
In Ireland and the United States the age of deference is over… but not in Australia.
For hope I look to brave politicians like Ann Barker, who said:
"I continue to be positive about making it happen. There are many who are now saying… that they see this (the new parliamentary committee inquiry) as an important first step.
"The Premier said it was a first step and that's what it has to be, a first step to a Royal Commission.
"It's the only way you'll get to the depth of this problem."