Catholic Church ‘faces governance change’

By Tessa Akerman
March 8, 2016

The child sex abuse royal commission is likely to recommend changes to Catholic Church governance and canon law to target vulnerabilities exposed by the hearings in the Ballarat diocese, an academic says.

La Trobe University lecturer Timothy Jones said there could be room for further changes ­regarding mandatory reporting and oversight of bishops. “There was no simple recourse when a bishop wasn’t willing to act,” he said. “I think one of the biggest problems that emerged was the lack of review of bishops’ decisions, but also a sort of secrecy with which matters of that kind are supposed to be held which is at the heart of protecting abusers.

“(It’s) enshrined in canon law; until there’s strong evidence of an offence, a priest’s reputation is privileged.”

The inquiry heard evidence in Ballarat that then bishop Ronald Mulkearns knew of offending priests and moved them between parishes without calling police.

Mr Jones said there had been a greater centralisation in the church in recent decades and an increase in Vatican authority.

Serious crimes are now referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which instructs bishops on how to act.

Western Sydney priest John Doherty said canon law had been updated in 2001, so that an ­accusation against a cleric must be referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith after a preliminary investigation by the bishop’s appointee.

He said the canon law had provided a remedy for child sexual abuse by priests in the 1970s and 80s but it was not implemented.

“The problem was canon law wasn’t understood or followed by the bishops,” he said.


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