Royal Commission into child sex abuse
The truth matters. It matters most when its ruthless pursuit is essential to ensuring justice for people whose rights have been cruelly violated, and to ensuring that any failings in law, policy and practice which may have permitted, facilitated or even turned a blind eye to such abuses, are fully identified and dealt with.
It is of course the responsibility of the State to protect and vindicate the rights of its people. The State is ultimately responsible for ensuring that its citizens - especially those who are most vulnerable, such as children - are properly protected and provided for. Where a pattern of abuse is identified, it is the job of the State to investigate it, bring any perpetrators to justice and ensure effective remedies for victims of abuse.
Australia is about to undertake a remarkable investigation. The newly established Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse faces a mammoth task.
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Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced the appointment of six royal commissioners and the terms of reference for the inquiry into child sex abuse. See all the details here. Below, Cathy Kezelman gives us her analysis.
“Child sexual abuse is an evil crime. Anyone who has ever suffered child abuse deserves to have their voices heard and their claims investigated.
“The Royal Commission will inquire into how institutions with a responsibility for children have managed and responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse and related matters.” These were the words of the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, on announcing the terms of reference for a national Royal Commission into institutional responses into allegations of child sexual abuse today.
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Politicians and social commentators were up in arms this week over the Catholic sacrament of confession.
In a furious media frenzy, MPs from the whole spectrum inveighed the confidentiality of this Catholic sacrament. The sacrament, it was argued, is helping to protect child sex offenders. The prevailing sentiment can be summarized by quoting Nicola Roxon, the head of the royal commission into the handling of child abuse – she sees the seal of confession as “really abhorrent”.
It seems to me that in the heat of the moment our politicians have overlooked a few crucial issues. Considering these issues might help us to make a more informed judgement on the matter.
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When I saw Prime Minister Julia Gillard on television announcing there would be a Royal Commission into child abuse in churches and other institutions I was overwhelmed. I wept uncontrollably. I became breathless. I walked the floor struggling to breathe, trying to comprehend what I had heard.
It was later I realised it was about time the truth was revealed - perhaps it was time for hope and happiness, not sadness. My sister and I lived in the Church of England North Coast Children’s Home in Lismore for more than 22 years - from 1949 to 1964. I was there for 14 years, my sister eight.
Most of those years were full of hatred, bloody brutal flogging, bashing, starvation and sexual abuse. It was a home of hell and fury.
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I’ve only ever been to confession twice, both times when I was a young child. The first time I couldn’t think of anything to confess to so I made up some sins and was rewarded with penance of two Hail Marys.
In hindsight the Hail Marys were probably for lying to God. Our parish priest was a good man who would have known when an 8-year-old was talking it up.
But even then it felt very weird to me that children would be expected to enter a dark little box on their own and open up the conversation with: “Forgive me Father for I have sinned”.
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The English rule against pattern evidence (similar facts) has made it difficult to convict organised criminals and serial sex offenders for 118 years.
People in law enforcement have asked Australian governments to introduce a US exception to the rule for 29 years, without success. Charges laid against a former Catholic priest in NSW on October 18 prompted me to send the following to Premier Barry O’Farrell, Police Minister Mike Gallacher, and Justice Minister Greg Smith on October 23.
I received letters thanking me for my interest, but I will be pleasantly surprsied if the law is changed. This is what I wrote:
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Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox has just joined a very small, specific club; people willing to put their career and reputation on the line in the name of principle, to help others.
Julia Gillard’s announcement last night of a Federal Royal Commission into child sex abuse has been a long time coming. But the pressure became too much for the Prime Minister to resist the moment Peter Fox went public late last week with his demand NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell launch an inquiry into a Church and police cover-up.
His bravery was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back.
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There is a textbook study in how not to handle allegations of systematic child sexual abuse and it was written by the retired Anglican bishop Peter Hollingworth. The mistakes made by Hollingworth cost him his job as Governor-General. They are now being repeated, arguably to an even graver and more offensive degree, by Catholic Archbishop George Pell.
Hollingworth’s biggest misjudgement in the scandal surrounding his knowledge of and response to child abuse in his church was to go on Australian Story and declare that a young female victim of abuse had actually instigated the sexual contact herself.
George Pell had his own Hollingworth moment on Sunday when he declared that he wants the NSW Police to wade through the total number of child abuse cases on their books so that the public can get a sense of what proportion of such cases involve the Catholic Church.
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BREAKING NEWS: Prime Minister Julia Gillard has just announced a national Royal Commission into child abuse - beyond just the Catholic Church to look at abuse in all religious organisations and in state care, as well as schools and not-for-profit organisations. She said any instance of child absue is a “vile and evil thing”, and that “there have been too many revelations of adults who have averted their eyes”. She hopes the terms of reference will be finalised by the end of the year after consultation with victims’ groups and the states and territories.
Meanwhile, Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney and the country’s most powerful Catholic, is acting like a child just when he most needs to man up. In the face of the latest horrific allegations of systemic child abuse and coverups within the Catholic Church he has cried, by turns: ‘it wasn’t me’, and ‘they did it too’.
Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, a senior investigative cop, has revealed new depths in the scandal that has haunted the church for decades. He said “the church covers up, silences victims, hinders police investigations, alerts offenders, destroys evidence and moves priests to protect the good name of the church”.
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Premier Barry O’Farrell should not set up a Royal Commission into sex abuse in the Catholic Church.
It should be up to Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
This is a boil that needs to be lanced at a Federal level.
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The best assessment Cardinal George Pell could offer this week on the Catholic Church’s handling of the decades of irreparable damage caused by paedophile priests was the Church had “an adequate story to tell.”
Even if that were true, “adequate” is, well, inadequate. The worst thing about the episode of 4 Corners that aired on Monday night was that it was just a handful of stories among many.
The young men whose lives were destroyed, their parents, siblings, friends and children permanently damaged, and the priests who appear to have been completely let off the hook, are not alone.
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