The media spotlight has been on child abuse claims in the Catholic Church. But the Prime Minister is wise enough to realise that sex abuse is so widespread that it is not just a problem in one denomination. This inquiry extends beyond the highly-publicised failings of the Church to state-run institutions, government schools, non-profits like the Scouts and sporting groups, child service agencies and even the police.
It promises to be a deeply emotional affair which could last as long as five years. Two other inquiries into child sexual abuse, mostly targeting the Catholic Church, are already under way in the states of New South Wales and Victoria.
The senior Catholic prelate in Australia, Sydney’s Cardinal George Pell, has agreed to cooperate fully with the royal commission. He says that it will clear the air. “We are not interested in denying the extent of misdoing in the Catholic Church. We object to it being exaggerated,” says Cardinal Pell. “We object to being described as the only cab on the rank. We acknowledge, with shame, the extent of the problem and I want to assure you that we have been serious in attempting to eradicate it and deal with it… This commission will enable those claims to be validated or found to be a significant exaggeration.”
Unhappily, nailing and jailing sexual predators is the easy part. This is not a law and order crisis; it is a cultural crisis. Ensuring that it won’t happen again – in the Catholic Church and elsewhere — could be all but impossible in a society which is awash with incitements to sexual activity.
Fortunately, the most frequent reason advanced for pessimism about change is no reason at all: that celibacy will remain mandatory for Catholic priests. Critics inside and outside the Church have claimed that celibacy is the cause of psychological disorders. This is complete nonsense. Married rabbis, scout masters, teachers and Protestant ministers have all been convicted of child sexual abuse. The causes of paedophilia are obscure, but many paedophiles are married men. Abolishing celibacy seems about as sensible as forcing bachelors to marry.
The second reason is institutional. Critics of the Church have accused it of secrecy, of turning a blind eye to abuse, and of deliberately evading the civil authorities by transferring priests to keep their crimes a secret. This has happened in the past, although protocols are in place now to ensure that offenders are brought to justice in a court, not shielded by other priests.
Most interesting. I wonder whether Archbishop Hepworth will make a submission to this Commission.