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Systematic child abuse and paedophilia in Australia
November 12, 2012 2:56 PM   Subscribe

Following recent revelations about apparently systematic cover-ups and a deep failure to cooperate with police by the Roman Catholic Church, the Australian Prime Minister last night announced the establishment of a Royal Commission into institutional responses to child abuse to investigate the matter.
posted by wilful (64 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
So I know I'm judging too quickly and I see some things on her Wikipedia entry that put her politics at odds with mine on a few big points... but I gotta say, Metafilter keeps doing a bang-up job of making this American wish he could vote for Julia Gillard.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 3:07 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can we call it the Reverse Inquisition?
posted by Peccable at 3:21 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Let me be the first to express surprise that (Catholic) Barnaby Joyce and (Jesuit Priest) Frank Brennan appear less than enthused about this.
posted by jacalata at 3:23 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Imagine if, say, Walmart was found to have facilitated child rape - not just once but repeatedly, consistently, over decades, in many of its globally far-flung areas of operation.

Would anyone be willing to be seen supporting such a moral abomination of an enterprise? To insist that it had redeeming qualities? ("On the other hand, you can't beat their prices.")
posted by Egg Shen at 3:28 PM on November 12, 2012 [24 favorites]


Would anyone be willing to be seen supporting such a moral abomination of an enterprise? To insist that it had redeeming qualities? ("On the other hand, you can't beat their prices.")

Bbbbut look at all the charity work they do! If you punish them for the wrongs they do, how can they focus on doing good stuff?

We'll hear that sooner or later, if we haven't already. (It's possible that one has been used, but at this point I've tuned out all the lame-ass defenses.)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 3:34 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


So I know I'm judging too quickly and I see some things on her Wikipedia entry that put her politics at odds with mine on a few big points... but I gotta say, Metafilter keeps doing a bang-up job of making this American wish he could vote for Julia Gillard.

This is exactly why you need to be very, very careful.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:43 PM on November 12, 2012


However, Mr Abbott made clear that support for an inquiry would only be given if it did not focus on just one organisation. He effectively said he would not back a royal commission which looked only at the Catholic Church.

Oh, Tony. Do you slather your toes in golden syrup or something? You just can't seem to keep your foot out of your pie hole.
posted by Talez at 3:46 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


To satisfy Mr. Abbot I see that they have Scouts in Australia. If the US Boy Scouts is any indication I'd look hard at them as well.
posted by Blue Meanie at 4:17 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


For the curious the auslaw subreddit answers the question about how much power a Royal Commission has.
posted by steerpike at 4:30 PM on November 12, 2012


Good.
posted by spitbull at 4:33 PM on November 12, 2012


Royal Commissions are a bit of a Star Chamber and are very powerful, very well resourced and are able to be far more investigative than a police investigation or criminal trial. That said, they are only investigative and can only make recommendations (powerful as they may be). This Royal Commission is likely to drag on for many many years and be very very thorough. What will it mean for the Catholic Church ultimately is not easy to speculate on. But only bad news, that is sure.
posted by wilful at 4:35 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wonder how many priests are quietly renewing their passports today.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 4:42 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I expect this will find many unpleasant things, and propogate worldwide.

"In the extreme persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there will sit Peter the Roman, who will pasture his sheep in many tribulations: and when these things are finished, the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the terrible judge will judge his people. The End."

People have a way of acting so as to fulfil prophecies in which they believe.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:45 PM on November 12, 2012


Man, Cardinal George Pell is having a really, really, really, really, really bad month.

I expect Abbott will spin this as some sort of anti-Catholic witch hunt, despite the fact that apparently Catholic-related sex abuse is six times greater than non-church abuse (according to some law professor I heard on the ABC yesterday.
posted by Mezentian at 4:54 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


The whole thing is a complete omnishambles!
posted by unliteral at 5:04 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


The terms of reference haven't been settled yet, but the enquiry has been explicitly described as not restricted to the Catholic Church. This is probably a good thing, even if Tony Abbott supports it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:08 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


But it really is about the Catholic Church. Gillard was not going to fall into the trap of appearing sectarian, otherwise Joe de Bruyn and the Shoppies would have had her nuts, and Tones and Pell would have had a diversion.
posted by wilful at 5:15 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


OK - I need to read the articles but I know several people who are victims of sexual abuse and any institution that puts it's interests ahead of protecting innocent children is evil.

A church that does this? Leveraging it's power over it's followers to protect the guilty and silence the victims? It's clear that they have become in fact the Satanic force they claim to fighting.
posted by skepticbill at 6:07 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is why we have governments. Institutions responsible for child-abuse have proved, at best, inadequate at dealing with these issues.
posted by vac2003 at 6:20 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


despite the fact that apparently Catholic-related sex abuse is six times greater than non-church abuse (according to some law professor I heard on the ABC yesterday.
posted by Mezentian


I love people who spout statistics from vague memory without a source.

According to the John Jay report, the incidence within the clergy was about 4%. This is slightly lower than the 5-10% estimated in the general population.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 6:24 PM on November 12, 2012


Woah what, 5-10% of the general population have abused children? I don't believe that, do you have a cite? Or are you saying that 5-10% of the general population have been abused? That's more plausible, but still higher than I would have thought. Regardless, most abusers have multiple victims, so you can't compare the percentage of abusers in the church to the percentage of abused outside the church and draw any conclusions about relative rates of abuse.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 6:53 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


despite the fact that apparently Catholic-related sex abuse is six times greater than non-church abuse (according to some law professor I heard on the ABC yesterday.

The professor was likely Patrick Parkinson; here's an article referring to his claim.

According to the John Jay report, the incidence within the clergy was about 4%. This is slightly lower than the 5-10% estimated in the general population.

What's that about 1 in 10 to 1 in 20 people having abused kids? That seems like a fairly out-of-thin-air claim; any citation?
posted by not the fingers, not the fingers at 6:55 PM on November 12, 2012


90% of the incidents being considered under this Royal Commission were committed by members of the RC Church. Source - front page of the Age, I read it about 5 minutes ago.
posted by wilful at 6:56 PM on November 12, 2012


Not restricting it to the Catholic Church is really smart. It's much harder to call it a witchhunt that way.

Gillard has had a very up-and-down Prime Ministership, but this could end up being her legacy. I hope so. The amount of religious cover-up of child abuse and neglect that's gone on in this country has been shameful.
posted by Georgina at 7:10 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]




I'm not sure that you understand what you are reading, or you are not being clear about what you are writing.
posted by empath at 7:21 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


According to the John Jay report, the incidence within the clergy was about 4%. This is slightly lower than the 5-10% estimated in the general population.

You're conflating the rate of priests committing abuse with the rate of children being abused.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 7:40 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


psycho-alchemy, you do realise that you have completely confused the victim and perpetrator statistics here? While the (very rubbery) statistics of victims suggest these sorts of rates for victims, the number of abusers would be far lower.

Also, the main point of the Royal Commission is to investigate cover-ups by people who are not accused of committing child abuse, but of wilfully hiding it.
posted by wilful at 7:42 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, it was a live interview with a (female) professor (of law?) who was completing her PhD (somewhere on the east coast of Australia) into sexual abuse of children.

Here we are:

CATHOLIC clergy commit six times as much abuse as those in the rest of the churches combined, ''and that's a conservative figure'', a child protection expert says.
Patrick Parkinson, a Sydney University law professor, told the state inquiry into how the churches handle sex abuse yesterday that the figures for the Catholic Church were strikingly out of proportion.


Not quite I remembered, but there you go.

And here's a jolly fellow sorting out this mess.
posted by Mezentian at 8:12 PM on November 12, 2012


Damn it. Didn't see the link up thread. Sorry about that.
posted by Mezentian at 8:14 PM on November 12, 2012


Interested to see the terms of reference. Hopefully they are along the lines of "the Commission shall focus its efforts on any religious organisations that include the letters C A T H O L I U and R in its name", and not end up like the Cole Inquiry.
posted by kithrater at 8:17 PM on November 12, 2012


I'm so grateful to Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox for speaking up. He's not the first to demand an investigation, but thankfully he'll be the last.

"This is a real victory for victims & their families. Ty 2 all of u. It was one voice so loud it could not b ignored. " - Peter_Fox59
posted by harriet vane at 8:27 PM on November 12, 2012


Also I am not looking forward to having to discuss this with some of my very Catholic relatives. But fuckit, they're just going to have to deal with the fact that the institution that has been good to them has been absolutely jaw-droppingly awful to others.
posted by harriet vane at 8:32 PM on November 12, 2012


the institution that has been good to them has been absolutely jaw-droppingly awful to others.

And that's putting it mildly.
I'd been hearing about Parish bingo for years, but until this week I had no idea how deeply widespread and malicious it appears to have been.
posted by Mezentian at 8:42 PM on November 12, 2012


According to George Pell, this catholic angle is all a media beat up.
posted by wilful at 9:11 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


ok no-one has written anything for 10 hours, I feel I can reply to scaryblackdeath without de-railing

@scaryblackdeath if by 'some things on her Wikipedia entry' you are referring to her failure to support gay marriage, it is actually an interesting thing to look a little closer at . Gillard's finance minister is gay woman who now vocally supports gay marriage but for a while did not. I'm curious why she didn't and why Gillard still doesn't. It seems that there are three possibilities:

a: Gillard genuinely doesn't support gay marriage
b: she see's it as her role to represent the views of her constituents, and not push her own personal views.
c: she's lying, because she doesn't think that her government, which is weak, would survive if she supports openly supports gay marriage.

I think, but its a guess, she's lying, or at best being slightly tricky. I think when she says she doesn't support gay marriage, she means that she doesn't want to support it as government policy yet, because to do so could mean losing power. That's not because it doesn't have public support, but because it doesn't have enough support in the parliament, in her party, and she would know that from private discussions with members of her party. Across party lines gay marriage probably does have sufficient support.

I strongly support gay marriage, but I do concede that the national conversation which is happening now in Australia about gay marriage is a good thing. I believe that that conversation has the possibility to build very wide deep support, and perhaps it would be better to continue to build that support so the legislation passes to wide public acclaim, rather than looking to the government to push it through with a bare majority.

I say that because I think that day is close, if I am wrong and it is a decade away, fuck'em push it through now, it would bring a lot of happiness and pride to too many people.

If the Gillard government survives, I expect that Gillard will eventually have a somewhat curiously 'unexpected' change of perspective on the issue when it is strategically possible for her to do so.

On the plus side the government claim to have removed all other legal inequalities between married and unmarried relationships irrespective of gender.
IANAL, but as a person in a fifteen year unmarried relationship, I think that's mostly true, with the important distinction that if you are not married, there is no document to verify that you are genuinely in a relationship without engaging in some kind of of court action to establish it. However in fifteen years I have never encountered a situation where my partner and I have not been treated as a couple simply because we said we were.

I think that many of gillard's policy positions are like this, shes a chess player, and only takes on battles for progressive ideas she thinks she can win, otherwise she sticks to the status quo
posted by compound eye at 10:16 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Here's an interview with Father Frank Brennan from Lateline last night. Worth watching/reading because Brennan is always worth watching/reading.

He says this about the stats referred to above:
EMMA ALBERICI: You've said before that there is a disproportionately high number of child abusers among the Catholic clergy. Why do you think that is?

FRANK BRENNAN: That I don't know. I was referring to the evidence that was given before the Victorian inquiry by Professor Patrick Parkinson. Now the thing about Parkinson is he is an independent lawyer who's done a lot of work both for the Catholic Church and for the Anglican Church and he drew a comparison of the figures between the Catholics and the Anglicans.

Now that's an area where I think a lot more work is needed to be able to explain that. And at the moment, even Catholics, those of us of goodwill, we don't have an explanation for that. And I think that's where work is needed, and that's why in the past I've said the Victorian inquiry, underresourced as it is, has available to it the retired Justice Frank Vincent, who I think is one of the most outstanding retired criminal law judges in the country.

And so, I think to be able to draw on the resources of people like him as they forensically investigate those questions is critical. My worry now with a national royal commission which isn't just looking at the Catholic Church, but looking at agencies right across the board, I think it's going to be another five years before we get those sorts of forensic answers, which I was hoping we might get within some months.
And if this is a story you're going to follow, I recommend adding the Jesuits' Eureka Street to your bookmarks. Here's their first article after Gillard's announcement:
This is not to be an inquiry into the monsters who, like that father, take advantage of the needy and vulnerable. I expect it to reveal more than we might like about why men and women just don't hear what children say or inquire into what they might say, who don't notice patterns of behaviour in popular or powerful men, and turn a blind eye to the demonisation of the children who go 'wild'.

I expect it to challenge some, at least, of the many men and women who, in their ordinary work and routine, deny the probability or truth of children's stories, of managers and pastors who choose to defer and refer responsibility to others and who wash their hands of the results of others' failure to achieve justice; who choose, in committees and after conferences with counsel, to decline to participate in investigations; and who may even be naive enough to accompany a paedophile to court: who escort from their desks those who try to act effectively about reporting and protecting the abuse of children's rights; who take comfort in their insurers' advice, and protect the reputations and safety deposit boxes of their respectable institutions.

It will take years — the Irish commission took ten — and millions, and will destroy some reputations and lives and ambitions: and it may not be fair. It will not target just the Catholic Church.

This is a direct call, to reassess the status of children. Compensating damaged adults and listening to them now is not enough. It sends a warning to all those comfortable people who believe in their own virtue. You should not be comfortable. Your sacred space has been defiled. Your institutions designed to protect children instead have given comfort and protection to their rapists and bullies.

May there be hope for the boys and girls who are being groomed and frightened today and tonight. May this Commission's work tie a millstone around the necks of those who have hurt these little ones, by not loving and respecting their rights. May we see a sea change.
These are the people who want to fix their church, not just paper over the cracks. Make sure you hear what they're saying. George Pell does not speak for all Catholics (or even most of them).
posted by robcorr at 11:08 PM on November 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


Yes, this is very true. I'm sure there'll be plenty of Catholics who'll bury their heads in the sand over this, as they have been for decades. But there are plenty out there too who've been calling for a proper investigation as well and will do everything in their power to support the Royal Commission.

There are many more who took it for granted that if children were abused then the police should be involved, and gave the benefit of the doubt to the bishops and cardinals who assured them all was well. If/when they find out they've been duped, they're not going to just lie down and take it quietly.

I think we're going to see something similar to the Irish situation. I'm sure the orders which were involved in cover-ups there will have had similar policies here; and I'm equally sure that the public here will have the same outraged reaction as the public there once the truth comes to light.
posted by harriet vane at 2:57 AM on November 13, 2012


Impact of child sexual abuse allegations on Catholic brand - PM, Mark Colvin.
The church is a major provider of health, education and charitable services in Australia.
So will the scandal hurt the church's brand with consequences for charities and not-for-profit groups?


Given his success at St Johns recently (and to think I was hesitant about making a post about that for fear of "catholic bashing") I reckon Pell's time as a leader of churchy folks is quickly coming to an end.
He's, well, as a non-Catholic, coming across as an ineffectual buffoon.

Also: Now the thing about Parkinson is he is an independent lawyer who's done a lot of work both for the Catholic Church and for the Anglican Church and he drew a comparison of the figures between the Catholics and the Anglicans. Now that's an area where I think a lot more work is needed to be able to explain that.

I'm not 100% sure, but I reckon Catholic priests vows might have something to do it. A little something.
posted by Mezentian at 3:08 AM on November 13, 2012


I know it's very early days yet, with the announcement only just being made, but will there be some kind of website or a place where the public can follow the commission's progress? Or learn what the terms of the enquiry will be, the background of the investigators, that sort of thing?

re: Pell. He's got a knack for pissing off just about everyone. Progressive priests, politicians (except those he's got on speed-dial, I guess), people with disabilities, teachers, Aboriginals, scientists, women, anyone under the age of 65... If he even twitches an eyebrow at the wrong time during the Royal Commission, he's going to have to move overseas for his own safety.
posted by harriet vane at 3:19 AM on November 13, 2012


I know it's very early days yet, with the announcement only just being made, but will there be some kind of website or a place where the public can follow the commission's progress? Or learn what the terms of the enquiry will be, the background of the investigators, that sort of thing?

Here for now. An official site will probably follow.
posted by kithrater at 3:22 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


he's going to have to move overseas for his own safety.

This will just end in farce if he moves somewhere like Thailand or Bali.
Although, I must say, inept administrator as he is (and probably an okay priest), I am sure he has an almost spotless record when it comes to vile accusations. Like Elmo.
posted by Mezentian at 3:30 AM on November 13, 2012


I bet you Abbott will defang the commission as soon as he is sworn in.
posted by acb at 4:30 AM on November 13, 2012


Sadly, I know some of the Catholics who like to bury their heads and pretend its all a lie or someone out to get them.

"It has to be a conspiracy." "That didn't actually happen." Flat out ignoring evidence or disregarding it as impossible.

These are all things I've witnessed otherwise sane and rational people use as a scapegoat for their church and I cannot imagine what triggers in these people's brains to cause this.

This applies to ANY group, religious or not, IMO: If there are reports of child abuse, of ANY kind, you investigate it to the full extent of the law. There are ZERO exceptions to this and I must question the humanity of anyone who would shield ANY group from an investigation into it.
posted by Twain Device at 6:13 AM on November 13, 2012


In other Institutions-That-Should-Have-Known-Better news, I'm waiting for a more credible source than TMZ to get really upset, but it seems as if Children's Television Workshop may be in some hot water over summarily dismissing accusations involving Kevin Clash (the voice of Elmo).

I really, really, really want it to be not true, but Clash has already admitted to having a relationship with the victim as an adult - Clash is 52, his accuser is now 23 but claims the relationship started when he was 16 - and it seems as if they've been in contact with each other on a timeline that matches up with what the victim claims, and that CTW has disciplined him at least once for violating internet usage policy in regards to contact with the victim.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:11 AM on November 13, 2012


Sadly, I know some of the Catholics who like to bury their heads and pretend its all a lie or someone out to get them.

I daresay you get that in lots of places, but I happen to know that in my local parish, for the last ten years or so the responsible officer for dealing with any such allegations is an experienced family lawyer with almost thirty years of experience in child protection.

She's exactly the sort of person you'd want dealing with such matters when they were raised.

Also: not personally a Roman Catholic -- I just know the local arrangements.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:34 AM on November 13, 2012


Slap*Happy, the accuser of Kevin Clash has now recanted his accusation and stated that his relationship with Clash was adult and consensual.
posted by onlyconnect at 2:51 PM on November 13, 2012


Dear Metafilter,
Today I agreed with Christopher Pyne.
I am ashamed.
Priests should report crimes: Pyne
posted by Mezentian at 4:47 PM on November 13, 2012


Yeah, this has got me agreeing with Barry O'Farrell too: Police should report abuse confessions.

Seems like the Seal of the Confessional is going to be a big part of the media coverage of this. As it should be.
posted by harriet vane at 5:40 PM on November 13, 2012


Ex-priest accused of sexual assaults blamed God
Rapson blamed God when he was told to resist the temptation.
"God made us this way and it's his fault," he said.
"You're one to talk, you're the same as me."


I just can't understand the psychology of what that guy did. At all. It's completely alien.
I mean, one can also understand murder, rape and torture -- or at least the thought processes behind them and the series of logic leaps -- but that?

I just have no words.

[Trigger warning, to those that might need it].
posted by Mezentian at 8:31 PM on November 13, 2012


> I bet you Abbott will defang the commission as soon as he is sworn in.

Abbott called for a royal commission himself. He also said today that priests should follow the same law as everybody else when it comes to reporting child abuse (i.e. the seal of the confessional shouldn't trump the law).

There's many reasons to dislike Abbott, but he's doing the right things on this issue. It's only fair to acknowledge that.
posted by Georgina at 12:53 AM on November 14, 2012


Saying Abbott "called for" the Royal Commission is a bit misleading. When it became apparent that one would be called, he decided he couldn't be on the wrong side of it, so he put out a press release saying it shouldn't be focussed on the Catholic Church.

It's also a bit rich for Pyne and Abbott to say clergy should "follow the law" on the confidentiality of the confessional. The Law Reform Commission recommended that the clergy should have no greater protection than any other professionals in terms of privileged communications. Parliament (unanimously, I think) ignored that recommendation and gave the churches s 127 of the Evidence Act. So if they're now saying "obey the law", what exactly do they mean? Obey the law that contains the loophole we created for you?
posted by robcorr at 1:02 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


(If you can show me any evidence of Abbott calling for a Royal Commission before the day it was called, when it was already fait accompli, I'll eat my hat.)
posted by robcorr at 1:05 AM on November 14, 2012


robcorr, I was going by what it said in the Sydney Morning Herald article I linked to:
Abbott released his statement calling for a royal commission at 3.33pm on Monday, before cabinet met but by when Gillard had already made her decision. The two did not discuss the matter.
But this article from the ABC quotes Abbott directly, and I agree that what he said is a bit different:
[Abbott] said in a statement that "if the government were to propose a royal commission to investigate the sexual abuse of children, it is something the Coalition would be prepared to support".

"Any investigation must be wide-ranging, must consider any evidence of the abuse of children in Australia, and should not be limited to the examination of any one institution," he said.
Unfortunately, I cannot find the full text of his statement, just the bits that various articles pull-quoted. But based on what I've found, it appears the SMH was wrong to used "called" and so was I. My apologies.

As for Christopher Pyne, he has specifically said that priests should not be able to use the seal of the confessional as a reason not to report child abuse. From the Brisbane Times:
Senior federal Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne has declared that priests should report child sex abuse crimes revealed in the confessional to police.

On Wednesday, Mr Pyne - who is a practising Catholic - said that as a member of Parliament, it would be wrong of him to advise citizens not to report crimes, particularly something as serious as child abuse.

''If a priest, or anyone else, is aware of the sexual abuse of children that is going on, I think there is an obligation on them to report it to the appropriate authorities,'' he told ABC Radio.
I'm really pleased that this has become a topic of debate, incidentally. I would've expected Australia's high-profile Catholics to back the Church on this one. Yes, you can probably say it's a political move, but you know what? If it stops priests using the seal of the confessional to avoid reporting child abuse, I don't care what reasons the politicians are doing it for. I just want that exemption removed from the law.

Lastly, a couple of thoughts on a broader point:
One of the things I can't stand about politics is blind partisanship, the idea that your side is always right and the other side is always wrong. Labor says the sky is blue so the Libs must say it's green. (Not suggesting you're doing this, robcorr; just making a general statement.) I think we get far further by acknowledging when people from any side of the fence do something that we agree with, and in this case, I wanted to acknowledge that Tony Abbott did the right thing.

As one of Australia's highest profile Catholics, Abbott has more reason than most want to block this commission. Everybody who isn't George Pell knows it's is unlikely to paint the Catholic Church in a good light. Abbott came out and said he would support a broad-ranging commission before Gillard announced it, and I do think that counts for something, whether it was supposedly a fait accompli or not.

It's strange being in the position of defending Abbott. I've loathed the man since he used his power as the Health Minister to block RU-486, and nothing he's done since then has convinced me otherwise. But he could've made this into a political wrangle like the Libs have made every other thing Labor has done, and which I find incredibly tiresome. I'm very glad he didn't.

So today, I give him a hat tip.
posted by Georgina at 2:33 AM on November 14, 2012


It's strange being in the position of defending Abbott.

It happens to all of us eventually. Broken clocks and all that.
posted by Mezentian at 2:39 AM on November 14, 2012


he could've made this into a political wrangle like the Libs have made every other thing Labor has done

Agreed. His usual obstructionism would have given the Catholic church time to set up more roadblocks and get their usual media and political mouthpieces blaring about how unfair it was. By just rolling with it things got started too quick for Pell to get an organised opposition going.

The Hamster Wheel had a good little bit on this last night (iview). Pell wants the royal commission to clear the good name of the Catholic Church in Australia; the rest of us want it to help victims of sex abuse.
posted by harriet vane at 9:13 PM on November 14, 2012


I don't think Royal Commissions are there to help victims; they're really just government inquiries backed up by the power to subpoena witnesses. I think the best we can hope for is to fix the institutional structures that apparently allowed abusers to operate with impunity.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:23 PM on November 14, 2012


Yeah, I probably should have said "potential victims". However, a lot of people who made submissions to previous Royal Commissions (deaths in custody, etc) reported that it helped them recover from the trauma by having their claims taken seriously instead of covered up.

One of the recommendations that victim's advocacy groups are pushing for is the removal or a big increase in the statute of limitations for child abuse. By the time many people are capable of pursuing justice, the legal period has closed and they have no reddress at all. So if that goes ahead, there could be a few cases coming out of it.
posted by harriet vane at 12:25 AM on November 15, 2012


Have you got a link for the statute of limitations issue? Indictable offences generally have no limitation period.
posted by robcorr at 1:39 AM on November 16, 2012


Whoops, sorry, no link for that - I picked it up from reading news articles over the last few days, and kind of absorbed it as if it were an established fact. My impression was that it was because people were attempting to engage with the Catholic Church as an organisation in the courts, rather than individual priests. I'll see if I can find what made me think that.

Meanwhile, an interesting take on the Seal of Confession issue as one of competing rights, not between the perpetrator and the victim, but between the victim's rights as a child and the confessee's freedom of belief.
posted by harriet vane at 2:39 AM on November 16, 2012


It's an interesting take on the issue of mandatory reporting, but I think it's a bit of a derail. This investigation is apparently about institutional child abuse. I think that the cases in which someone becomes aware of institutional child abuse by hearing confession must be rare, but we've heard of plenty of cases where someone witnessed abuse or was approached for help, but didn't help.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:59 PM on November 17, 2012


Yeah, I'm coming around to that way of thinking too. I don't know of any cases that solely turned on the seal of confession. The way people turn a blind eye, and how bishops shuffle the priests away from facing the consequences, is the heart of the matter really. I think I just let Pell rile me up :)
posted by harriet vane at 3:27 AM on November 18, 2012


Can someone who knows about this explain the idea of confidentiality in Catholic confession to me? Is it merely strategic, a means of reassuring people who would otherwise not be willing to confess, or is it intrinsic to the confession itself? Would a confession in which it was stipulated that the listener might report suspected abuse not be a valid confession?
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:14 PM on November 18, 2012


I can only speak from my experience as a Catholic who's confessed, not in any official theological capacity (Jahaza knows more about that side of things, I believe). I'm getting some extra information from this link though: Catholic Encyclopedia. The Seal of Confession section starts just after the halfway point of the page.

It says that the Seal of Confession binds the priest to inviolable secrecy. He's not allowed to tell what he heard during confession under any circumstance - even "to further the ends of human justice" - unless the confessor gives him permission. It refers to natural law and Divine Law, and offers as evidence the fact that the early church had severe penalties for breaking the promise of secrecy. Catholics believe that where the Bible is unclear or silent, the traditions upheld by the apostolic succession (popes, bishops, etc) are the next best guide. In this case, Jesus didn't say anything about it, but secrecy was an important component since the very early days.

I don't see that as being intrinsic to the sacrament, but reliance on tradition was one of the many disagreements I had with Catholic doctrine! I think the Catholic Church's lawyers would argue that it is definitely intrinsic, but on what justification I don't really understand.

A valid Sacrament of Reconciliation requires several elements: a priest with jurisdiction to hear it, genuine repentance, and 'satisfaction' by doing the act of penance which the priest requires. If the priest judges that these conditions have been met, then the sin is forgiven.

So I think a reported confession would still be valid for the confessor. A priest has the religious authority to decide that a sin has been forgiven, but if he notifies police of the crime (or even hints about it) then he'll have committed his own sin. I think a priest would be much more likely to urge the confessor to go to the police as part of their penance, or as a way of demonstrating their repentance. They can't force compliance with this, of course, nor can they tell if the confessor lies to them about reporting it, so I don't think that's a workable solution in the case of child abuse.

In my opinion, a better solution for the priest would be to refuse to give absolution to complete the sacrament, and tell everyone (or at least the police and other priests) why he'd done so. I'm sure that with the current culture of the Catholic church right now, that'd lead to the same sort of ostracising that whistleblowers usually face, but he would have a clean conscience. But I'm not sure what the current policy is on stopping a confession partway through, or refusing to hear one from someone you believe will fake their contrition.
posted by harriet vane at 10:32 PM on November 19, 2012


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