An adequate response to child sexual abuse

Eureka Street

Andrew Hamilton | 30 July 2014

Reckoning: the Catholic Church and Child Sexual Abuse, written by Chris McGillion and Damian Grace, and jointly published by Eureka Street and ATF Press, offers a useful map of the journey that has led to the Royal Commission into Sexual Abuse. It recalls how the widespread sexual abuse of children within the Church came to prominence in Australia, outlines the variety of responses to it, and reflects on the explanations given for it.

The book is modest and even in its tone. It offers a broad perspective on the challenges that will arise from ensuring that children are safe in the future.

The dimensions of an adequate response to child sexual abuse by the Catholic Church are now fairly clear. First, children must be protected from abusive behaviour. This requires curtailing the opportunities for potential abusers to meet, groom and abuse children. It also requires preparing, monitoring and supervising church representatives who are in contact with children.

Second, the criminal gravity of sexual abuse must be recognised, and the response both to victims and offenders be proportionate to the seriousness of the crime. This requires responding professionally and transparently to accusations of abuse, excluding from public ministry those who have offended, and continuing to monitor any offenders who remain within religious communities.

Third, the serious harm suffered by people who were abused as children must be recognised. This is done by ensuring they receive the pastoral care and counseling they desire, and can claim compensation.

Finally, the Catholic Church must take responsibility for the sexual abuse inflicted by its representatives and for its concealment, and for ensuring that aspects of its culture that encourage abuse are remedied. For this, serious and independent study will be necessary.

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