Editorial: Church fate

The Saturday Paper
December 16, 2017

When the royal commission sat for the final time, the church was not there. Senior figures were not present. It fell to a layperson to attend, to Francis Sullivan, whose self-critical stewardship of the Catholic Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council has been the only redemption of an institution built on the preaching of forgiveness.

“I think it would have been a real sign of solidarity with the victims if we’d had some members of the hierarchy and senior figures from the church here,” Sullivan said afterwards. “One can only assume they didn’t feel comfortable coming here.”

The absence is terrible and unsurprising. The recurrent theme in five years of testimony at this commission has been abandonment. It is an abandonment of children and of responsibility.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse investigated more than 4000 institutions. There were tens of thousands of victims. The 21-volume report from the commission was delivered to the governor-general on Friday.

The commission’s chair, Justice Peter McClellan, confirmed the greatest number of abusers were hidden in Catholic institutions. This surprised no one. In hearing after hearing, an image emerged of an organisation that not only housed but enabled abuse. Paedophiles were shielded. Victims were disbelieved. Elaborate legal structures were built to deny rights.

When the commission was announced, George Pell’s mind was fevered with conspiracy. He fumed and preened and blamed the press for a “persistent campaign” against the Catholic Church. He insisted Catholics were not the “only cab on the rank”. Later, on the stand, he compared the church’s culpability to a trucking company whose driver “picks up some lady and then molests her”.

The commission’s final report is an extraordinary document, extraordinary for the fact it exists. A redress scheme must now be set up. The thousands of lives hurt by institutional deviancy must not be left without repair. Other changes must be made and are among the recommendations.

But there is one larger change that must also take place. It is not called for in the official documents, but it is urgent and necessary. The church must no longer be allowed to interfere with public life.



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