There's a Danger a Royal Commission Will Do Too Little Good and Too Much Harm

By Andrew Bolt
Adelaide Now
November 14, 2012

At some point the royal commission will need to weigh the plight of past, present and potentially abused children against the preference of paedophiles and their protectors to be shielded by the confessional's controversial but sacred confidence.
Photo by Thinkstock

ANDREW Bolt speculates on the direction of Australia's wide-ranging royal commission into child sex abuse.

I AGREE, we need a royal commission into the sexual abuse of children. The air must be cleared.

Yet this royal commission called by the Prime Minister already risks going badly off the rails and becoming not a force for good but of cultural destruction.

Here are the three greatest dangers:

1) It becomes an anti-Catholic crusade

Many in the largely anti-clerical media want to use this excuse to smash a church that lectures on modesty, duty, faithfulness and other fun-killers.

On ABC TV, columnist Joe Asten put the main lines of the media attack: "It's quite clear that almost exclusively this is an issue within the Catholic Church.

"A lot of this goes down to outdated practices in the Catholic Church, the celibacy of priests."

And already we have journalists and politicians demanding priests betray the secrets of the confessional if they hear someone admit to child abuse.

It would be a tragedy if the Catholic Church was to be broken by this inquiry.

There are few, if any, organisations that have inspired so many Australians to build and run schools, hospitals, hospices and services for the homeless.

Destroy this church, the one that has best survived the decay of faith, and I doubt the Greens will pick up the slack and tend to the sick or minister to the poor.

In fact, has not the sexual abuse of children here also occurred at the hands of Anglican priests, rabbis, state school teachers, welfare workers, stepfathers and the feral many?

True, the Catholic church has had many paedophiles in its ranks, and for years did shamefully little to stop them.

RMIT professor Des Cahill told Victoria's inquiry that 14 of 378 Corpus Christi priests graduating between 1940 and 1966 were convicted of child sexual abuse, and estimated that as many as one in 15 of that generation of priests were abusers.

But the church has for nearly two decades worked to remove this evil. That those 14 priests were convicted is one sign that child abusers were caught, and most of them belong to a generation aged around 70 or much older.

Calls on the Catholic Church to now destroy some of its core traditions would do little further good and much harm.

Take the demand that priests break the seal of the confessional to report people who confess to sexually abusing children.

Would priests still hear such confessions if the guilty knew they'd be reported? Would the priests then have this small chance to counsel the guilty to repent, and submit to justice?

Nor are priests here free to rewrite a fundamental ritual of their worldwide faith. Are we really threatening to jail priests who refuse to betray a truly sacred confidence?

2) It treats allegations as proof

Royal commissions and similar inquiries are not like normal court hearings. The climate of moral fervour is often much hotter, feeding a destructive culture of denunciation.

Take the two inquiries most similar to this.

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, called by the Hawke government to investigate what activists claimed was a suspiciously high number of deaths, dragged on for almost four years.

In those years we heard countless allegations of police being racist and brutal, yet $30 million later we learned the royal commission had been created on a false premise.

Its final report concluded: "Aboriginal people in custody do not die at a greater rate than non-Aboriginal people in custody" and "Commissioners did not find that the deaths were the product of deliberate violence or brutality by police or prison officers."

In fact, it seemed Aborigines who'd broken the law could be safer in jail than out: "The death rate of those Aboriginal people on non-custodial orders is approximately twice that of Aboriginal prisoners."

It was an even worse story with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's inquiry into the "stolen generations".

That inquiry did almost nothing to cross-examine witnesses claiming that they too had been stolen from loving families just for being Aboriginal, and its final report claimed that up to 100,000 Aboriginal children were victims of an act of "genocide".

Virtually no journalist dared to question this finding, and two of the seemingly strongest cases presented to the inquiry - those of Lorna Cubillo and Peter Gunner - were chosen by activist lawyers for a test case for compensation in the Federal Court.

Only then were their claims checked, leading the court to rule neither had been stolen.

Gunner had in fact been sent by his mother to a home in Alice Springs to get an education, and Cubillo had been taken to a home only after being found in a bush camp, abandoned by her father, with her mother and grandmother dead.

More importantly, the court said that the "evidence does not support a finding that there was any policy of removal (in the Northern Territory) of part-Aboriginal children such as that alleged by the applicants".

3) It doesn't stop the worst sex abuse today

We should be far more concerned with stopping the abuse of children today than with spending millions to recall the abuse by priests now dead, jailed or too old to be dangerous.

The truth is that churches no longer are - if they ever were - where the worst child sex abuse occurs. Aboriginal communities are.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies in June noted: "Inquiries into child sexual abuse in Western Australia, NSW and the Northern Territory have concluded that the sexual abuse of Aboriginal children was common, widespread and grossly under reported."

Brian Gleeson, the federal Co-ordinator-General for Remote Indigenous Services, warned in May that the rate of sexual abuse of children in one Aboriginal community in South Australia was "in excess of 50 per cent and it could be as high as 75 per cent".

Yet child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities will almost certainly be excluded in this proposed royal commission into abuse in institutions only.

It will do too little good and too much harm if we don't think more carefully about it than we seem to be doing now


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