What Is The Next Hearing About? (Or: Towards Reeling)


The next hearings of the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will begin on 9th December, in Sydney. More than a year after the announcement of the Royal Commission by former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, it will finally touch on the Catholic Church.

The recent Victorian Parliamentary enquiry analyzed the system set up by Catholic cardinal, George Pell, to deal with victims of paedophile priests in Melbourne (see previous postings). As Pell was, at the time, Archbishop of Melbourne, he called it the “Melbourne Response”. The Victorian enquiry revealed it as being anti-victim, pro-church and an affront to the dignity of victims.

When Pell went on to be a Cardinal, he set up a national version of the “Melbourne Response”, termed “Towards Healing”, which was no better in terms of outcomes for victims. The main thing about Pell’s programs is that, because it was impossible to sue the Catholic Church, victims were bullied into accepting low compensation and forfeiting their rights against the church.

Both processes were billed by Pell as being “independent”, but because they were funded by the church, operated only for the church. From the Royal Commission’s point of view, the Towards Healing process represents the problems which can arise when there is not a truly independent process. It could lead to such a body in the future, which will finally give victims the help they need and deserve.

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