TRUE OPINION: The Catholic Church is refusing to comply with the key recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse – to report to authorities any confessions to priests from guilty parties who have admitted committing or enabling sexual abuse. Is it really on spiritual grounds, or is it the last bastion of protection and concealment? Tim Kent with his view.
The Catholic Church’s refusal to adopt one of the key recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (RCIRCSA) is staggering to say the least. And what was abundantly clear is the findings of the Commission guided by the heartbreaking evidence tendered is that historically and beyond any doubt, the Church failed not only in protecting the victims of these horrific abuses but, in many instances, was also successful in protecting and shielding the perpetrators within their own ranks.
The key recommendation that the component of Canon Law as practised in the confessional required an overhaul/review of the non-disclosure to the authorities of the offender, in this case, a sex offender’s identity that has admitted to the same in the act of confession.
Let’s be clear about this, the Catholic Church was not asked to abandon the practice of confession altogether, only the component of disclosure yet despite that the Church has now refused point blank to comply with the Commission’s recommendation.
With the ever diminishing confidence and trust in the Catholic Church, there would have been no greater opportunity to not only embark on their own healing process but that of their tragic victims. In doing so, they also denied themselves the opportunity to restore public trust and confidence in their efforts to address this dreadful record.
The question that arises for me is whether this is a legitimate move to protect spiritual authenticity or is it really a matter of hanging on to their last bastion of secrecy, even if it is at the expense of victim protection whilst protecting perpetrators, in particular, those within their ranks?
Whilst I am acutely aware and familiar with the child protection laws of this state, it appears these laws are also consistent across all states. A vitally important part of the child protection legislation involves mandatory notification, i.e. any professional or volunteer who is in contact with children, families, etc, and suspects that some form of abuse may be taking place, then they are required by law to notify the relevant authorities, in this case a body such as the the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) and Police. It is important to note that notification only requires a suspicion that abuse may be taking place.
The notification process will trigger a more detailed investigation into the nature of the notification and when required urgently put in place the necessary protections for the victim and apply legal punishments to the perpetrators.
For the Catholic Church to apply some form of spiritual/religious caveat (under Canon Law) regarding their responsibility to inform the authorities of a confessed sex offender is a mind-numbing outrage and indicates to me that the Church is still refusing to partake in not only an urgent reformation of a seriously flawed law and system, but in reality are refusing to partake in a step toward protecting the victims.
In addition, they also appear to be quite happy to participate in continuing with a flawed and arcane practice that has been shown to protect the perpetrators, in particular, those within the church.
If the refusal by the Church is not pragmatically addressed then this allows the spiritual and religious rationales offered by the Church to make a mockery of its moral and judicial obligations to the laws of the wider society, laws designed in this case to protect our most vulnerable, who are the children, then it won’t be just the Church that has failed the victims it will be society as a whole that fails them for the inaction.
These laws can not and should not be inoculated by an age-old, “in-house” religious law that has been exposed beyond doubt by the Commission to have failed our most vulnerable and that is our children.
TRUE OPINION: Pell and the pall of secrets
Finally, the Church’s defence for their refusal is quite astonishing citing that the confessional is an “interview with God”, a spiritual and confidential sanctity that if violated by a breach of confidentiality then parishioners and the like will be unlikely to confess anything to their priest, let alone attend, as trust and confidence would have been violated.
Even in healthcare settings where patient confidentiality has strict legal bindings there are still conditions whereby confidentiality can be broken, e.g. in mental health settings if a client states they intend killing someone, or oneself, then it is the obligation of the clinician to inform the person’s carer, or partner, if they are also considered a carer.
Very rarely a client will not tell you they intend harm even when you state the rules of the interview, explaining that issues of self-harm and or harm to others will require notification. Many victims and even perpetrators are actually reaching out for someone to help them.
Whilst perpetrators may be less likely to admit an intention to harm, one would think that a priest, as a portal to, and a representative of God, conducting a confessional in this context, is in the best position to ensure that the legal and morally correct action is carried out, and that is to notify of the details of the confessor / perpetrator.
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But the Church’s refusal in this instance cannot be interpreted in any other way than a refusal to help and protect the victims and one can only conclude that aside from the breathtakingly brittle rationale that some spiritual violation lies behind the refusal there also appears to be a deep legal one and that a fear that more historical cases of sexual abuse may be revealed is a real and present danger for the Church which has an estimated tax free wealth of up to 40 billion dollars.
The Church had their chance to illustrate they are serious about reforming their practices for the greater good and restore much-needed credibility in the eyes of the public but they didn’t. Now, it is up to the judicial powers of the state to ensure they comply; the children, the victims, and the victims’ families deserve that much and we as a society deserve it.
If the state does not address this, then the findings of the Royal Commission are worthless, as are the heartbreaking testimonies of the long-suffering, surviving victims and the memories of those who are no longer with us.