Religious Life Without Integrity
The Sexual Abuse Crisis
in the Catholic Church
By Barry M Coldrey
2: THE HISTORY OF THE SEXUAL ABUSE CONTROVERSY
Clergy sexual abuse is not merely a phenomenon
of the late twentieth century. However the crisis in the English-speaking
church with widespread and far-reaching allegations of sexual molestation
of minors has surfaced only recently. The first nationwide revelations
seem to have occurred in the United States, during the years 1984-5
and have concerned the pervasive sexual abuse committed by Father Gilbert
Gauthe in the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana.
There had been rumblings during the 1970s,
and even before, when Catholic clergy were found to be involved sexually
with children or adult parishioners. However, the media generally not
in every case co-operated with the church in avoiding scandal. Clerical
offenders were managed privately, usually being transferred from their
parishes without much publicity. They were (sometimes) required to take
a period of seclusion, retreat or therapy which was neither long nor arduous.
This willingness to conceal from public view
the weaknesses, shortcomings and even criminal behaviour of community
leaders and authority figures secular and religious was breaking down
during the 1970s due to a variety of economic, social and political changes
occurring in the Western democratic world. The best single example to
illustrate what has occurred might be the vastly different media reactions
to the sexual peccadillos of US Presidents John F Kennedy (1960s) and
William J Clinton (1990s). It appears that both were exceptionally promiscuous
over the years, but while Clinton's relationships were the subject of
an international media extravaganza; Kennedy's thirty years previously
were largely concealed from the contemporary public.
A similar situation obtained where the church
and its leaders, both national and local were concerned. The media was
deferential to social, political and religious leaders. However, times
were changing. At one level, the women's movement was forcing new issues
onto the socio-political agenda, and one of these issues was child sexual
abuse. Molestation involved men doing nasty things to women and
children. By the early 1980s, public attitudes to child abuse were being
redefined, and the civil courts were willing to hear cases alleging malpractice
and negligence by respected professional groups and associations. In the
new legal atmosphere, priests could be sued for sexual liaisons with either
teenage boys or adult women and church leaders be accused of negligence
for permitting such behaviour when they were aware, or should have been
aware, of these occurrences.
On the criminal scene there were similar
developments. Priests, ministers, members of Religious Orders and church
workers had rarely been prosecuted in cases where there were plausible
allegations of child sexual abuse. The conviction of Fr Carmelo Baltazar
in 1985 for 'lewd conduct with a minor' and his prison sentence illustrated
that this was changing. However, it was the Gauthe case and its nationwide
publicity which established the scale and reality of the 'clergy abuse'
Fr Gilbert Gauthe ministered in a Louisiana
diocese where almost two-thirds of the population were Catholics and religious
loyalties were strong. Gauthe was suspected of molesting children and
possession of child pornography as early as 1972. On several occasions,
however, church authorities who learned of his activities responded simply
by moving him to new parishes where the cycle would recommence. Over twenty
years, Gauthe molested up to one hundred boys in four parishes, especially
during his five years as pastor in Vermilion, Louisiana, 1978-83.
During 1984, some parents brought civil charges against the diocese over
Gauthe's activities, and later that same year, criminal charges were laid.
In due course, Gauthe was sentenced to twenty
years imprisonment, and one of the victims families who refused to settle
out of court, was awarded damages of $US 1.25 million. The case became
a cause celebre and received nationwide publicity. The National Catholic
Reporter followed developments in detail and Jason Berry published
a widely-read book concerning the whole affair. This was in 1985. Years
were to pass on the Gauthe case and in 1998, he won early parole for good
conduct from a sympathetic Catholic judge. Within a few months Gauthe
was arrested for molesting an underage boy and placed on probation. In
the new millenium, it appears that the American church has not heard the
last of Father Gilbert Gauthe.
In the wake of this avalanche of publicity
during 1985-6 some forty priests around the United States were charged
with a variety of sexual offences against minors. The criminal justice
system in strongly Catholic areas became increasingly willing to press
charges against offending clergy. In Bristol, Rhode Island, Father William
O'Connell was charged with multiple molestation and taking pornographic
photos, and two priests in the diocese of Providence faced similar charges.
These were merely a few personalised examples; by 1 January 1987, the
Vatican nunciature in Washington, D.C. had received allegations against
135 priests or Brothers over child molestation.
It was the unravelling of the Gauthe affair
which drew attention to the widespread knowledge in some dioceses obscured
in secret archives of proven or suspected molesters among the clergy,
in addition to numerous other priests who were breaking their vows in
regular affairs with adult women or were actively homosexual. All this
with minimal official intervention. There was a strong sense of long-term
cover-up of the sexual proclivities of many clergy by church leaders.
All the Catholic priests and bishops involved were officially celibate.
Intense media concentration on a particular priest offender or on a particularly
troubled diocese or religious order led to new allegations against other
men or other church organisations in different parts of the country.
reactions of Catholic Leadership
The burgeoning number of sexual abuse scandals
evoked deep concern among some Catholic observers, and in 1985, a confidential
report entitled 'The Problem of Sexual Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy:
Meeting the Problem in a Comprehensive and Responsible Manner' was submitted
to the Catholic hierarchy. The authors were Gauthe's solicitor, F R Mouton,
and two priests, T P Doyle and M Peterson. Thomas Doyle was a canon lawyer,
attached to the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington, D C, while Peterson was
the founder of St Luke's Institute, Suitland, Maryland. This was a therapy
programme for sexually-troubled priests.
All three urged Catholic leaders to take
strong and effective action to deal with the impending crisis, in view
of the escalating scandal and the multimillion-dollar legal actions to
which these problems must lead inevitably. The so-called 'Doyle-Mouton'Report
explored some of the legal hazards which might be soon encountered, including
criminal charges which might be incurred from failure to report allegations
of child abuse to the secular authorities. Furthermore, destroying evidence
might be construed as contempt of court or obstruction of justice. None
of the writers believed that the church could expect the support from
political, judicial and professional leaders of the type which had assisted
in containing scandals in the past.
In the autumn of 1985, each US bishop received
a copy of the Doyle-Mouton Report and the National Conference of Catholic
Bishops discussed the issue in secret sessions at their semiannual gatherings.
In general, after these private discussions the bishops limited themselves
to a commitment to combat child abuse wherever it arose. Any suggestion
for a national episcopal response to the child abuse problem ran against
the essential autonomy of each bishop in his diocese.
Father T Doyle spoke publicly about the grave
prognosis that he and his colleagues had presented at a meeting of the
Canon Law Society in 1986, declaring that it was 'the most serious crisis
that we in the church have faced in centuries.' This phrase was to be
much quoted during the next 10-15 years. Doyle's public pronouncements
and the reality that they were proving accurate prophecies with the passing
of the years offended many bishops. Father Doyle's career at the Vatican
diplomatic mission came to an end. He is a US Air Force Chaplain at the
turn of the century.
It is likely that the Catholic bishops hoped
the sexual abuse crisis would be resolved peacefully if they maintained
a consistent and discreet silence on the issue wherever possible. During
the next two&SHY;three years, in fact, the issue did not produce any
one US case that attracted national media attention, though a number of
local affairs continued to simmer. However, 1985 had been a climatic year,
when the clergy sexual abuse crisis is viewed historically.
'It happened in 1985. The dam has sprung
many leaks. No, this wasn't your ordinary dam. It wasn't holding back
torrents of water. Instead the dam held unspeakable secrets. Secrets
that the Catholic church had known about for a long time ... To faithful
Catholics the church seemed a fortress ... built with the solid bricks
and plastic mortar of sanctity, virtue, selflessness and adherence to
the laws of God and the holy men who ruled the Church guided by the
inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This was true in many ways, but not
the whole truth. Those on the inside knew that this was partly a facade.
The dam was honeycombed with secrets, lies and the conflict of sex,
power and political intrigue.
The huge crack which appeared in the
American church facade were the cluster of revelations coming out of
the swampy Cajun country of rural Louisiana about a priest who had molested
scores of boys. His name was Fr Gilbert Gauthe and his story was over
all the media outlets in the country. (Adapted) Whitney, J, 'Survivors
of Clergy Abuse in Catholic Seminaries', Phoenix, Arizona, 1998.
In 1987-8, interest in clerical sexual
and financial scandals shifted temporarily to the Protestant 'televangelists',
and the Catholic bishops were somewhat relieved. The four major cases
of these years concerned Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Tony Leyva and the
South African Rev Allan Boesak. There was little sense of impending crisis
in the Catholic church. This change of emphasis may have encouraged Catholic
authorities to believe that the Doyle&SHY;Mouton report had been unnecessarily
pessimistic in its predictions of disaster.
In one important area, church leaders acted
effectively, encouraging the establishment of discreetly placed treatment
centres to assist troubled priests and Brothers with sexual problems to
receive assistance to solve their problems and continue their ministry
- or prepare to live a normal life outside their former vocation..
After I was ordained in 1959, I learned
that some priests had sex with adults and even minors and to some degree
this behaviour was taken for granted by church authorities...an atmosphere
of crisis regarding this issue did not exist. The secret world of sexual
activity with minors, was known by the Catholic hierarchy, and though
considered unfortunate and morally wrong, was accepted as an inevitable
and easily forgivable failure of some priests. (Sipe, A.W.R. Preliminary
Expert Report, Trial of Fr Rudolph Kos)
Until the 1960s, if a priest had sex or fell
in love these were considered ordinary and expectable moral/spiritual
problems. The growing recognition of the psychological dimension of such
moral/spiritual problems coincided with the opening of Catholic treatment
The Marselen Institute, Massachusetts,
1950s...predecessor of the St. Luke Institute. The Marselen
Institute evolved from a treatment centre for children into a treatment
centre of priests with behavioural problems.
The Hartford Retreat was opened in 1822.
This facility now operates as the Institute of Living.
The Servants of the Paraclete opened
their first spiritual retreat centre in 1949 at Jemez Springs, New Mexico
to care for priests with serious problems and their second renewal centre
was founded in Nevis, Minnesota some time later. In 1957, on these properties
more specialised treatment centres for priests with alcohol problems were
set up as 'Guest Houses'.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a number
of Catholic treatment centres specifically for priests and religious opened,
all coinciding with a growing awareness among Catholic bishops and religious
superiors that sexual and moral/spiritual problems had psychological dimensions.
These centres included Southdown in
Toronto (Canada) and the House of Affirmation. In the 25
years after 1970, some 1300 US priests were assisted in these facilities.
(In the US at any one time there are around 45- 50,000 priests - this
figure being listed to keep a sense of proportion.)
Much later, in 1997, the Encompass Programme
was established in both Sydney and Melbourne (Australia) to assist sexually-troubled
clergy and religious, as a pro-active step to address the child molestation
problem. On 24 October 1998, the course Director, Dr Gerardine Taylor
said that 74 men has been assessed for the intensive programme which could
be entered voluntarily but is usually undertaken at the request of a bishop
or Religious Superior.
The New Wave of Cases, 1989-92
The new wave of scandals broke first in Newfoundland
(1988) with criminal prosecutions for repeated molestations committed
by two parish priests. Over time other priests were implicated until some
ten per cent of the diocescan clergy were tainted by allegations, arrest,
trial and commonly conviction. In the spring of 1989 attention shifted
to the long history of both physical and sexual abuse committed by members
of the (Irish) Christian Brothers Congregation against teenage boys in
the Mount Cashel boys home in St John's. In this case, allegations had
surfaced originally in 1975 and in a widespread state-church cover-up
certain Brothers had been permitted to leave the Province without facing
criminal proceedings when investigations were closed.
The story remained in the headlines for several
years, with a Royal Commission, an internal investigation by the Catholic
church, a series of criminal trials and highly-publicised civil actions
and negotiations for compensation for the numerous victims.
The year 1990 marked a watershed as
confused church authorities began to lose their damage-control efforts
to the rising tide of the voices of the victims. The main line of the
story is well-known. Celibacy is no longer a taken-for-granted element
of priestly life. The mysterious, even sacred aura that seemed to accompany
the men who chose celibacy began to dissipate long ago. Too many left
vows behind. Too many ordinary Catholics saw their favourite priests,
and often, nuns, pair off and leave their rectories and orders. Moreover,
as "the world" now knows that too many and their numbers kept
growing became sexually active not as a result of an honest and sincere
search of their vocations in a changing church, but in an evil, repugnant
way, as abusers of children. (Kennedy, E 'Sex abuse crisis not invented',
National Catholic Reporter, Vol 32 No 30, 24 May 1996,
of the Sexual Abuse Controversy in Australia
The sexual abuse crisis in Australia was
influenced by events in the United States, but commenced with the controversy
over child migration and the claims of widespread abuses committed against
children housed in Western Australian Catholic orphanages after World
War II. It is not possible here to recall the history of child migration
with more than a glance. After the war, some 3500 orphaned, abandoned,
often-illegitimate children were brought to Australia from Britain and
Malta under various schemes by church agencies, about one-half of them
under Catholic auspices.The last child migrants moved into employment
during the buoyant 1950s and 1960s and many years passed before dissatisfaction
with the schemes was voiced publicly.
Community attention in Western Australia
was first drawn to child migration, and to the complaints of abusive behaviour
in some of the state's residential care, in a three-page expose in The
Western Mail (Weekend), 15-16 August, 1967. A former child migrant,
Gordon Grant (Nigel Fitzgibbon), had interested the editor, Andre
Malan, in the problems child migrants were having as a result of their
earlier experiences. Under emotive headings such as 'The lost children Britain sent
away to Australia', 'The faceless kids of Fairbridge Farm' and 'The nightmare
of Bindoon' the articles revealed an underside of Western Australian residential
care which had lain dormant for thirty and more years. Some former inmates
denounced child migration as such 'robbing them of their identity'; others
claimed horrific physical and sexual abuse in the institutions in which
they were placed. The focus was on St. Joseph's Farm and Trade School,
Bindoon; Fairbridge Farm School, Pinjarra and Nazareth House, Geraldton.The
focus was on Catholic institutions managed by Religious Brothers.
The abuse alleged ran the whole gamut institutional
procedures which stripped residents of their identity, relentlessly, hard
physical labour unsuited to the age and stage of the children in lieu
of mandated schooling, and using primitive implements to boot, all in
order to construct the massive, ornamental farm school buildings. There
were frequent even daily beatings with cane or strap or indeed, any implement
that came to hand. Gordon Grant reported that on one occasion his nose
was broken when the principal, the soon-to-be-notorious Brother P Keaney
smashed his fist into his face, and that he had been genitally fondled
on occasion by two other Brothers. Boys were regularly beaten on their
bare backsides. Physical and sexual abuse were the main issues.
Understandably, The Western Mail
expose sparked a spirited correspondence during the following week, with
letter writers divided over the child migration experience. More allegations
surfaced. One former Christian Brother, identified only as 'Michael',
was reported as saying: 'it was unbelievable the things that went on at
Bindoon, including sodomy.' Over the years, the controversy was to wax
and wane, but the issues were defined in those pioneer newspaper articles.
Other journalists were encouraged
to explore the child migration-orphanage abuse issue. Its explosive
mix of 'orphans, sex, the church, stomach-turning abuses and government
negligence' had the potential to excite widespread public interest. The
mix regularly sent journalists into a 'feeding frenzy'. However, in the
short term, after the initial articles and the reaction, little occurred.
The agencies especially the Catholic Church and the Christian Brothers
did not respond directly.
The controversy was revived a year later.
On 31 August 1988, Derryn Hinch, a controversial national TV commentator
and self-styled crusader, ran an eight-minute segment entitled 'Christian
Brothers?' on Channel 7 show Hinch, which was shown in all states
except Western Australia. This show sparked controversy for a while,
then the issue lay dormant for a second time. In 1989, child migration
impinged on the public mind more strongly with the release of Philip Bean
and Joy Melville's best selling book, Lost Children of the Empire ,
which brought knowledge of the schemes to a wider, international, audience.
A Domino films, TV documentary based squarely on the revelations made
in the book was shown both in Australia and the UK and increased the influence
generated by the book itself. The most disturbing accounts focussed increasingly
on the Christian Brothers and their St Joseph's Farm School, Bindoon,
which was rapidly acquiring notoriety as the 'Dotheboys Hall' of the child
The showing of Lost Children of the Empire
sparked widespread community debate throughout the media and particularly
on 'Talk-Back' radio - especially in Western Australia.
It was around this time that Australian Democrats Senator, Jean Jenkins,
raised the issue in the national parliament in an attempt to gain a public
enquiry into the working of the child migration schemes. Her efforts were
opposed by Liberal Senator, John Panizza, who suggested that the children
had been given a good chance in another country.' He dismissed the allegations
of widespread abuse in Catholic orphanages on the grounds that 30-40
years had elapsed before these complaints had been raised, and the whole
business was unfair to the carers many deceased or very elderly 'who had
spent a lifetime caring for the underprivileged.'
The response of the church and child migration
agencies to the increasingly bitter debate was still muted. It will be
considered in a later section. Meanwhile, the year 1990, revealed four
books published each of which focused on child migration and Australian
orphanage history. In Perth, Lionel Welsh released his controversial autobiography,
Geordie, Orphan of the Empire which described the brutal regime at
the St Joseph's farm school, a theme developed in his second book,The
Bindoon File . Both books received considerable publicity in Western
Australia. John Lane's autobiography, Fairbridge Kid , was less
controversial and recounted his time at Fairbridge, Pinjarra during the
inter war years. In Sydney, Alan Moore published biographical accounts
of thirty child migrants who came to Australia from British orphanages
under the auspices of Barnardo's.
The release of each of these books generated
a measure of publicity and the issue was gradually generating wider ramifications.
The consistent allegations of widespread physical and sexual abuses by
some staff at respected church and charitable institutions raised this
hitherto dormant issue before the public and made further allegations
likely from other areas of the church's ministry This is precisely what
The media frenzy
'Sex sells, and priest sex sells better.'
At one level the spasms of media concentration on the child migration
issue followed from this dictum. However, there had been massive changes
in the Australian social climate over recent years and it is important
to understand them in explaining the drift of events. As a result of the
work of feminist theorists and workers, more had become known about the
patterns and incidence of violence against women and children since the
1970s than was known previously. The Catholic church did not appreciate
the shift in community attitudes which had occurred in this area, and
which were to shift further against abuse under the cover of respected
agencies or bureaucratic indifference.
With this understanding came attempts to
address the issues of violence against women and children. Parliament
and the courts had been defining violence within the home as criminal
behaviour, have given police added powers to move against domestic violence,
and have changed rape laws to remove bias toward the rapist and against
the victim. In this context the claims of former residents in the Western Australian
orphanages generated outrage at a time when the community was much more
sensitised to issues involving domestic and by extension institutional
violence. There was less respect for religious leaders as such.
Violence against women and children was newsworthy,
especially if alleged to have happened in church institutions. The church
often presents itself or appears as the moral guardian of society. Yet
there can be resistance, opposition and even antagonism in some quarters
to that perceived role. Stories of widespread abuse and sexual misconduct
by church leaders were attractive because of their contradiction of the
Christian principles which clerical rhetoric offers to the community.
The church is deflated; many in society are delighted.
Abuse in North American Residential Care
The scene in Western Australia was intense
but isolated and parochial. However, in other parts of the English-speaking
world, reports of widespread physical and sexual abuses by Canadian and
American Brothers and priests were surfacing and reaching the Australian
public. In 1989, the Christian Brothers Mount Cashel orphanage in St John's,
Newfoundland, was the subject of a state investigation (the Hughes Inquiry)
over claims of severe physical and sexual abuse stretching back over decades.
There had been a formal 1975 cover-up of explicit allegations of widespread
abuse at that time. The commission proceedings were prime time cable viewing
in Newfoundland and intensely reported throughout Canada. In 1990, Michael
Harris, a controversial investigative journalist, published his best-selling
story of the widespread abuse and scandalous cover&SHY;ups by the
Catholic Church and state government of Newfoundland of the crimes committed
at Mount Cashel orphanage.
News of these events reached Australia and
Michael Harris's book was reviewed in the media and available to interested
parties. In Newfoundland, civil and criminal proceedings followed the
Hughes Inquiry and eventually through the following decade 26 priests
and Brothers were convicted of sexual offenses against underage children
in the province, nine of them associated with the Mount Cashel orphanage.
The Archbishop of St John's resigned. Over time, the Newfoundland provincial
government arranged an out-of-court, $C 18 million settlement with the
orphanage victims, and at the present time is attempting to recoup this
money from the Christian Brothers. All of these events were publicised in Australia
as they occurred on the other side of the world.
Some of this is to anticipate. By 1990s,
the public was learning that it was not only possible, but almost commonplace
for Catholic priests and Religious Brothers officially celibate to be
sexually active in practice, and for senior churchmen 'to turn a blind
eye' wherever possible when revelations came to the surface. At around
this time, but for a more specialist audience, U S psychiatrist, Richard
Sipe, published the first of his major books, the fruits of a thirty year
investigation, Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy: A Secret World
, revealing that a large minority of American Catholic clergy were not
observing celibacy with any consistency. It was probable that the situation was similar
in corresponding countries.
Meanwhile, in June 1991 in Western Australia,
the Child Migrant Friendship Society was largely superceded by another
'survivors' advocacy association, called VOICES, formed in Perth as a
self-help and lobby group for one-time Catholic orphanage residents, many
of them former child migrants. Its leader was retired primary school principal,
Bruce Blyth, and the organisation involved a range of concerned professionals
working with a vigorous group of 'survivors' to lobby for a parliamentary
or judicial inquiry to be held into the child migration scheme and the
abuses alleged to have occurred in the state's children's homes. VOICES
had around three hundred members. VOICES propaganda necessarily highlighted
the short-comings of priests and male religious in Catholic care.
The ABC TV mini-series, The Leaving of
Liverpool , was shown in Australia, 8-9 July 1992. The
Leaving of Liverpool was the single greatest influence in raising
public awareness of the issue of the abuse and exploitation of children
who had been sent to Australia under the Child Migration schemes. There
had been an extensive media preparation, and the actual release could
have been an anti-climax, but the reverse was the truth. The screening
was a major topic of discussion in the media and was acclaimed highly
by reviewers in metropolitan newspapers around Australia. Shortly afterwards,
the unedited version of Lost Children of the Empire was
shown to a large audience and the twin issues of 'child migration' and
'orphanage abuse' were becoming well-known. The ABC Compass programme
The Ultimate Betrayal concerned with sexual abuse by clergy was
screened at this time.
The Leaving of Liverpool , The
Ultimate Betrayal and Lost Children of the Empire guaranteed
that the issue had moved from exploitation and physical abuse to claims
of deviant sexual abuse inflicted on some of the residents by Brothers,
priests and respected church workers. The strong sense of shame which
often silences victims of sexual abuse was being broken and more men (and
women) felt able to name their childhood experiences. They were no longer
isolated. Many victims were relieved that their childhood experiences
were being recognised and they felt themselves vindicated. The publicity
was encouraging other victims to come forward; most genuine; some bogus.
Church grappling with sexual abuse
In Australia the Catholic Church did
not commence addressing the problem of sexual abuse until 1988 and for
some years progress was to be painfully slow in framing protocols and
agreed responses. The stimulus to face the issue was triggered by events
overseas, especially in the United States, not by pressures within Australia,
though this was to change soon as the previous section has shown.
In November 1988, the Australian Catholic
Bishops Conference established a 'Special Issues Committee' including
people with relevant experience in dealing with child sexual abuse to
consider the implications of allegations of criminal behaviour, especially
relating to children, made against members of the clergy.
The Committee was asked to develop a protocol
to be used when an accusation was made, and to advise on its implementation.
There were delays; the absence of media attention to the issue in Australia
precluded any sense of urgency. A draft of the 'Protocol' for dealing
with allegations of criminal behaviour was circulated to the bishops and
later to diocesan priests by early 1992, some three to four years after
the committee had received its brief.
In January 1993, the Australian Bishops Conference
issued the 'Pastoral Statement on Child Protection and Child Sexual Abuse'
The Statement acknowledged in muted tones that some clergy had been offenders
and that the Church may not have treated these incidents as seriously
as they deserved. A statement of principles for dealing with sexual abuse
was released by the Church in April 1994. This was around six years since
the 'Special Issues Committee' had commenced its deliberations.
Why were there these long delays in defining
and implementing policies to deal with a sexual abuse crisis which was
to see some 70-80 priests and Religious Brothers convicted of sexual
crimes against children during the last decade of the twentieth century
in Australia? There are a number of reasons:
- · The 'Special Issues Committee'
and its sub-committees were composed of busy people, home-based over
a vast continent. Hence 'the tyranny of distance' operated; meetings
were difficult to schedule; easy to cancel. It was hard to maintain
- · Moreover and this is difficult
for some to understand in view of the media barrage and the substantial
number of criminal convictions there was little sense of urgency among
many Catholic decision-makers. 'Denial' in most of its variations
was widespread among priests and Religious throughout the country as
to the seriousness of the problem; the scandal involved; the exasperation
of many of the laity.
- · In addition, the Catholic Church
in any country or region is not a monolith. Within the magisterium,
each bishop is autonomous within his diocese; each higher Superior of
a Religious Congregation is autonomous within his Order or Province.
There are higher authorities in the Sacred Congregations in Rome, but
approaches to them are slow and cumbersome. When 'push comes to shove'
no bishop or higher Superior of a Religious Congregation could be forced
to co-operate with the 'Special Issues Committee' or its protocols or
recommendations in any meaningful way if s/he chose not to do so.
- · The Catholic church in Australia
has around 5 million adherents of whom, some 20-25% worship regularly.
There are some 30 dioceses; 50 bishops; 4,000 priests; and 140 Religious
Congregations represented in the country, not to mention the hundreds
of schools and charitable works maintained by the church.
One additional reason for the long delays
in responding to the escalating abuse crisis was the conviction of some
bishops and priests that new procedures were not required. Father Brian
Lucas, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Sydney, attempted to answer this
in an article in small in-house journal for Catholic priests. (Lucas,
B. 'Codes of Conduct', The Swag, December 1997, p. 7)
There is a fashion at the moment for groups
to 'codify' their agreed standards of professional conduct and there have
been discussions as to their relevance for priests. However, clergy desire
professional status and the there have been problems:
The sad experience of the past ten years
of so of numerous allegations of clerical misconduct, ranging from lapses
of virtue to the most heinous criminal misconduct, ought to prompt
serious reflection about the quality of our formation in our professional
We have to face the fact that trust has
been eroded. We need to rebuild this trust, not however, by institutionalising
If we agree that we need to do better,
then we can legitimately look for some tools to help improve the standard
of our professional conduct.
One such tool is an agreed written statement
of the standards we set ourselves. Sometimes such statements are called
'codes of conduct'.
If we argue about the title we do not really
resolve the real issue which is about the content ... we ought to know
what we expect of ourselves and our peers.
We ought to listen to what others expect
The statement of these expectations should
not be a legislative document that restricts or penalises. This runs
the risk of institutionalising distrust.
It should be a liberating document that sets
out the goals to which we aspire.
In December 1996, the Catholic Church released
a new protocol 'Toward Healing' which outlined the basic principles for
the Church's response to complaints of sexual abuse and the procedures
for dealing with such complaints. After further consultation, 'Toward
Healing' was declared operational on 31 March 1997. These guidelines were
developed by the National Committee for Professional Standards, a Committee
established jointly by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and
the Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes.
The Professional Standards Committee continues
as the national body overseeing the implementation of policies and procedures
across Australia. In each of the five provinces of the Australian church,
there is a Professional Standards Resource Group (PSRG)
consisting of one priest, one member of a Religious Congregation and up
to ten other persons with experience in child protection, the social sciences,
civil and church law and/or industrial relations. These groups are to
act as advisers to Church bodies within their province, and are to provide
Contact Persons, Assessors, Victims Support Persons, Accused's Support
Persons, facilitators and reviewers.
Although the PSRG were formed with a mandate
confined to matters concerning sexual abuse by people working for the
Church, this has been widened to incorporate allegations of physical,
emotional and psychological abuse, as well as other failures to meet accepted
Meanwhile the National Committee for Professional
Standards was working to produce a statement of ethical standards
for Catholic clergy and memBers of Religious Congregations. A draft document
'Integrity in Ministry' was released for comment in 1997 and have an exhaustive
period of consultation was revised for publication two years later. The
name remained the same.
The ten to twelve years of endeavour to provide
the framework for the Australian church to deal with sexual abuse crisis
has born considerable fruit with a range of documents and responses. However,
few of the efforts addressed the underlying problems of the celibate/
'celibate' clergy and members of Religious Orders maintaining their permanent
commitments to chastity. The focus has been understandably on matters
of criminal conduct by clergy - child molestation, not on the 'lapses
of virtue' by vowed Religious, which are either completely normal (heterosexual
affairs) or increasingly accepted socially (gay sexual activity by consenting
One of the reasons for this treatment 'Religious
Life without Integrity' is to raise these issues and break the surrounding
taboos. All the evidence coming to investigators suggests fairly widespread
(but minority) lapses from celibate standards among clergy and vowed Religious.
Moreover, while these 'lapses from virtue' are completely legal, they
have ramifications in a church whose male leadership proclaims its commitment
Click on the number to return to text.
Malan, A 'The lost children Britain sent away to Australia', The
Western Mail (Perth, Western Australia), 15-16 August 1967.
Welsh, L P Geordie, Orphan of the Empire , P & B Press, Perth,
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'Child migrants take a journey into the past'', West Australian
, 15 May 1989, and 'Gathering mourns its lost childhood', West Australian
, 23 June 1989, gave widespread publicity to the objectives of the Child
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Miller, J K, 'To whom do I turn ? A study in institutional child abuse',
MA thesis, Murdoch University, Western Australia, 1992.
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