Clergy Abuse Enquiry is Shockingly Shallow

Parliament’s committee is secretive, evasive and doing the minimum it can get away with.

Pin ItEmail articlePrintReprints & permissions

Illustration: Andrew Dyson.
IT SEEMS the parliamentary inquiry into the churches’ handling of clergy sex abuse has learnt at least one thing from submissions about the Catholic Church: how to operate in as much secrecy as it can manage while apparently doing the minimum it can get away with.

Its public examination in the two hearings – one a half day – it has managed since the inquiry was called in April is not even a once-over lightly, it is a hovercraft floating above the surface: shallow, short, shocking.

The longer this inquiry goes on – or rather doesn’t really go on – the more questions arise. But they hang in a vacuum, because the committee chaired by Georgie Crozier will not even explain why it won’t explain. In this deliberately engineered information vacuum, it is hard to work out whether this is sinister, or incompetent or merely bureaucratic.

It is not only the media (the bridge to the community) being kept in the dark. Unforgivably, it is also the victims whose hopes were so high and who have so much to lose, but have no idea whether they will be allowed to give evidence, and if so when. Uncertainty adds to their trauma.

Advertisement
The Age has put a score of questions to the inquiry over time. We always get a response, but seldom an answer.

Why are there only three full days of hearings and three half days out of 23 available to the end of November? When will the next hearings be? Why doesn’t the committee publish in reasonable time who will appear? (Several witnesses have told me their appointed times weeks in advance, but the community gets paltry notice. On Tuesday, Friday’s witnesses had yet to be announced. Why?) Will all the witnesses who want to give evidence be called? If not, who will be and on what basis will they be chosen? When will the witnesses be told? Why has the committee put on its website a bare fraction of submissions?

Each question gets a response, but bland and deliberately uninformative. Generic reply: the committee is thinking about it; it’s too early to say. These are mostly simple questions of procedure. What is the need for secrecy? The committee has been asked that – it won’t say.

Victims advocate Bryan Keon-Cohen, QC, has pointed out how essential it is to get documents from the Catholic Church, without which the committee will be deflected by ”bullshit motherhood statements from sophisticated church spokesmen”. Will it demand them? Answer: a parliamentary committee has such power but it is rarely exercised. Another evasion. This may be a litmus test of how serious the committee is.

Another litmus test was the response to the explosive testimony of Victoria Police, reflecting its frustration and anger at the Catholic Church, which it claimed hindered them, obfuscated and even alerted priests that they were under investigation. The police received half an hour of polite questions in the most general terms. If this is all, it’s woefully inadequate.

Victims have waited so long for this inquiry. They wanted a proper judicial inquiry – as did almost everyone except the government and the Catholic Church. But this is what they have been given, and they have to pin their hopes to it.

They must be heard. And their accounts must be investigated. As I’ve implored before, the committee has to dig forensically into the evidence and check the stories.

Who did what and when, who knew what and when, and how did they respond? What do the documents show? Why has the church never reported a single perpetrator to civil authorities? Anything less is a travesty.

The suspicion is unavoidable that this inquiry is of such limited ambition that it might even do more harm than good. The committee cannot do what victims and the community expect but is scared to say so.

In power, Labor did nothing for 11 years, despite repeated lobbying from victims and the media. The Coalition seemed to have the same intention, but ran out of evasions after the Cummins report unequivocally recommended an inquiry, followed on Friday, April 13, by the revelation of 35 suicide victims (now known to be at least 50) from one paedophile ring in Ballarat alone.

On Monday, April 16, at 2.30pm, Premier Ted Baillieu finally announced an inquiry.

He reportedly told the family and community development committee at 2pm the same day that they would be running it, apparently unaware that they already had two inquiries on the go. That committee’s deputy chairman, Labor’s Frank McGuire, said at the time he felt a judicial inquiry would be better. Once matters were sealed he had to follow parliamentary solidarity, but his misgivings have proved well placed.

The one thing that gave this inquiry credibility was the appointment of former judge Frank Vincent as legal adviser, but we do not know how active his role is.

The Age has not been allowed to speak to him either, or police adviser Mal Hyde. Attorney-General Robert Clark promised the inquiry would be adequately resourced, but this seems not to be so.

Victim’s advocates have suggested to me that among the priorities for chairwoman Georgie Crozier is one the government feels acutely – the need not to embarrass it.

Meanwhile, it is not too cynical to suggest that the reason Crozier refuses to speak to the media or release any details is because the committee is doing such a shallow job, it has to ensure that the public does not find out. It is certainly not going to report on time.

In opening the public hearings, Crozier emphasised that the parliamentary committee had powers quite as broad as a royal commission. Maybe, but powers mean nothing if they are not exercised. The committee has a public duty, and it seems to be abdicating it. Bring on the royal commission.

Barney Zwartz is religion editor.

@barneyzwartz


6 thoughts on “Clergy Abuse Enquiry is Shockingly Shallow

  1. Some years back, a friend from my youth who had a very troubled past, substantial psychological and spiritual abuse issues, confided how his father had confessed to him on his dying bed that when the boy’s mother had died at a young age, the father had sought consolation from the Priest, who in his father’s grief, raped him, sodomized him, and scarred his life. I noticed his father was very authoritarian and cold but could never look you in the eye except fleetingly – he was sullen, morose, withdrawn, a difficult and thorny character but with a little remnant, a soft spot in his heart. He married a Catholic Harridan, herself a survivor but much tougher, and with a son who was also bent out of shape. What a diabolical forge to fashion human lives. To hammer into twisted and perverse shapes lives so tortured by twisted minds.

    In 1033,the first openly homosexual Pope, Benedict IX, was ordained and commenced homosexual orgies in the Vatican. Since then, the Roman Catholic Church has sprouted into a tree with branches and offshoots, including Pentecostal, Word of Faith, Emerging Church, really the whole shooting box, is all of the same family tree of Churchianity.

    As far as they are concerned, we are all lapsed Catholics
    0(:->)

  2. I note Ian that you have either chosen to ignore or have not sen my request in another thread for you to offer verifying information about your prophecy to a pastor.

    With regards this thread, Rowland Croucher has posted THIS ARTICLE the most disturbing finding if recent research is that around 40 recent suicides have been found to have been abused at the hands of clergy.

    Child sexual abuse is disgusting and needs to be openly addressed by the church and handed over to the state for investigation and punishment.

  3. Indeed, as someone has said in the letters to the editor in the Age, the Government intervention in indigenous communities was justified because of allegations of child abuse.

    Since we know of child abuse n the church, why shouldnt there be a case for similar Government intervention here?

    One thing this inquiry has shown is that its very difficult to get to the truth of matters when the establishment dosent want to know about them. Its also shown that internal investigations dont work, an organisation cant investigate itself.

  4. It’s just so shocking it’s hard to believe. Given that many people(probably especially men) won’t want to admit to being abused, there are probably many more cases.

    How many people are there out there who hate the church/Christianity because they were abused?

    And Salvation Army too?

    Great. Ship the priests off to another country where they get a clean slate and a chance to start abusing again.

    Asian people would be even more reluctant to come forward but no doubt there are cases there too, so I assume it’s a matter of time before it comes out there too.

  5. …the most disturbing finding if recent research is that around 40 recent suicides have been found to have been abused at the hands of clergy.

    I met Peter Jackson’s mother at Brisbane Anglican Synod in the early 90s. Peter Jackson was an international and State of Origin rugby league player who played with the Raiders, Broncos and Bears. We were both Synod reps and spent plenty of time talking about Peter and his footballing days. He was a great bloke and a real Aussie larrikan. He also played with some of my friends at the North Sydney Bears. Mrs Jackson is a wonderful person and was very involved in her church and Peter had grown up through the church as well. She was so happy and cheerful and I could see where Jacko got his personality.

    It really was a shock to find out that Jacko had overdosed at the age of 33 and that he had battled depression and drug abuse which stemmed from sexual abuse he had received by a football coach and teacher at the Anglican Southport School in 79-80. This guy was a champion, loved by fans of the game as a clown prince who made everyone laugh.

    His wife relates what happened to him in his last days and how it led to his death and ultimately court action against the school.

    Three days before Peter died he wrote a letter. I’d like to share parts of this letter with you. ‘He told me it wasn’t unnatural and that everyone did it. I knew it wasn’t right, but I felt obliged due to the privileges. The sexual assaults continued as did the privileges. I was totally confused and felt powerless to stop these assaults. I tried to forget the abuse. I had it deep down somewhere in my body. I used to pretend it didn’t happen. For the next 12 years I have used drugs and alcohol. I told no one. I was too ashamed and too guilty to utter a word.

    In 1992 I finally told my wife about what happened. I felt like a load had lifted off my shoulders. But still the drug and alcohol abuse continued. It led to bouts of depression and low self-esteem. During mid-1996 there was a lot of publicity surrounding the Wood Royal Commission, and the activities of some paedophiles. This triggered memories of what happened to me and I fell into a deep state of depression. I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and went on anti-depressant drugs. From then until now I have only existed, not lived.

    http://www.kickoff.net.au/Siobhan-Jackson-interview-'transcript'-ABC.html

    I never saw Mrs Jackson again. I can’t help but wonder about the sense of pain, responsibility and treachery that Mrs Jackson must have felt about the death of her son. She must have thought that bringing her child up in the faith and service of the Church, including a Christian education, was a beneficial way of life. That giving Peter a cornerstone of faith to build his life upon would help him through his life. Instead his life was destroyed. This person who loved her church, served her God, was betrayed.

    It breaks my heart to think about it.

    I grieve whenever I think of Peter,

    for his family, for him and for the Church.

  6. I’ve met Peter Jackson. (not bragging), just that it’s a terrible feeling when you’ve met someone and then hear the story behind their life.

    After reading this I did a further search which took me to endless lists of child sex abuse by clergy and teachers and lay people in churches. Spent half the night reading.

    I just don’t understand this at all.

    Now I’ll be suspicious of everyone. Pretty hard to express how miserable this all makes me feel.

    There must be so many more people who have been abused because it would take a lot for many Aussie men to tell people something like that, and then ever more to take it public. I probably wouldn’t.

    Damn.

Comments are closed.