March 31, 2017
In this exclusive interview with America, Francis Sullivan, the chief executive officer of the Australian Catholic Church’s “Truth, Justice, and Healing Council,” reflects on what contributed to the abuse of minors by priests and religious in Australia, and what he thinks the Royal Commission that has been investigating this abuse might say in its report at the year’s end.
T.J.H.C. was set up by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia soon after the federal government announced on Jan. 11, 2013, the establishment of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It represents dioceses, archdioceses and religious congregations across the country. It was set up for the church to address the past openly and honestly, and to speak with one voice before the Royal Commission.
Mr. Sullivan was one of the speakers at the seminar on “Safeguarding children in homes and schools” held at the Gregorian University in Rome last week. He spoke with America on March 27.
At the seminar, you said that while recognizing that the abuse of minors is widespread, the question is: Why did it happen in the Catholic Church, too? From your experience in Australia, what answers have you come up with?
Clearly, those in positions of authority, whether they were bishops or leaders of religious orders, instinctively chose to look after the institution no matter how, at times, scandalous were the cases. Instinctively their heart was with an institutional agenda, not with a compassionate agenda that speaks of the Gospel. So it’s a matter of instinct, and instinct is always shaped and nurtured by culture, a culture that’s self-protective, that’s about continual preservation and promotion. It’s a culture where people can identify with certainty and security, and when something like child sex abuse, clerical sex abuse, confronts them it’s a disruptor, and the way institutions deal with disruptors is to get rid of them. They don’t integrate the experience.
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