Australian Gov't Recommends Making Celibacy Optional for Catholic Priests to Protect Children

By Dwayne Harmon
Newburgh Gazette
December 19, 2017

A Catholic priest in Queensland has told his congregation the church is a flawed institution, and Australian archbishops must fight for change to stop sexual abuse.

Of survivors who reported abuse in religious institutions, more than 60% cited the Catholic church, which demonstrated "catastrophic failures of leadership", particularly before the 1990s, the report said.

Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president, said the bishops would take the royal commission's recommendations seriously and present them to the Holy See.

It said priests should report abuse confided to them, even in the secret context of the confessional.

"I revere the law of the land and I trust it but this is a sacred, spiritual charge before God which I must honor and I have to respect and try to do what I can do with both", Hart said.

"I would feel terribly conflicted and I would try even harder to get that person outside confessional, but I can not break the seal", Hart told reporters.

Archbishop Fisher, like most of the Australian bishops who testified to the commission, said in a December 15 statement he was "appalled by the sinful and criminal activity of some clergy, religious and lay church workers (and) I'm ashamed of the failure to respond by some church leaders, and ... We know very well that this happens in families that are certainly not observing celibacy", he said.

On the call for voluntary celibacy, he said it was up to the Vatican to decide.

He further noted that the celibacy recommendations would be relayed to the Vatican, but added that "I believe that there are real values in celibacy". "But it's a hard thing", Archbishop Hart said.

But the report doesn't mention the scores of nuns and priests who publicly apologized for the small percentage of sexually abusive clergy members or the acts of charity that Catholics do every day in war-torn countries where they face torture or death for protecting innocent people of all faiths.

The report was the result of an investigation in which the commission reviewed thousands of accounts of child abuse from figures in major institutions.

"This is a shameful past, in which a prevailing culture of secrecy and self-protection led to unnecessary suffering for many victims and their families", he said. "In order to allow for delayed disclosure of abuse by victims and to take account of the limitation periods for civil actions for child sexual abuse". "It must remain so here in Australia ...(but) outside of this, all offenses against children must be reported to the authorities, and we are absolutely committed to doing so".

"It is not a case of a few 'rotten apples.' Society's major institutions have seriously failed".

The Vatican was right to respond to the report by saying they'll study it "thoroughly and seriously".

Can Vatican leaders make the church more open to average people who feel alienated, marginalized and misunderstood?

Among the other recommendations were the creation of a new National Office for Child Safety and a website and helpline to report child abuse.

Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe echoed Archbishop Fisher's sentiments, committing to a compassionate and quick response to the abuse.

Among its 400 recommendations, 20 were aimed specifically at the Catholic Church, whose leaders spent three weeks in February testifying at a "Catholic wrapup".

Dr Freier says the church has worked assiduously since 2004 to make the church a safe place for all, especially children, and has made great strides, often in response to recommendations from the five-year royal commission. "We expect to have this report finalized and provided to the church leadership early in 2018", he said in a statement.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney told The Guardian that changing the celibacy requirement is not the solution to the abuse crisis.

"We acknowledge with gratitude the courage of all those survivors who have come forward to the Royal Commission", Sister Ruth said.

Church records show 1082 people have made complaints about 569 alleged perpetrators in the Anglican Church in Australia, although that is not considered to be the full extent of offending.


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