Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Australia -- Another blow for victims of clergy sexual abuse

The Catholic Church's process for handling the victims of sexual abuse by clergy members has left many victims unhappy. Photo: Angela Wylie

Another blow for victims of clergy sexual abuse

July 19, 2010

The Vatican's juxtaposition of women's ordination and child sexual assault as a "grave crime" is another attack on the victims of clergy abuse.

Melbourne's Archbishop, Denis Hart, has since stated that "the Church is merely clarifying its position" regardiing what it thinks is serious, but this does not mitigate the blow for those people awaiting justice for their ordeals.

The Vatican document further states that any priest seeking to ordain a woman is open to being defrocked. The new Vatican rules for dealing with the crime of child sexual assault have also reviewed the mechanism for defrocking paedophile priests, with the most grave cases being referred "to the Roman pontiff". While this does speed up the process, the guidelines fall short of making such defrocking mandatory in the case of paedophilia.

Archbishop Hart stated in his Melbourne pastoral letter that the Church had "not always dealt appropriately with offenders" and that any attempt to conceal sexual abuse was unacceptable. However, only a revelation in The Age saying that the Church's standard letters to victims were misleading and potentially intimidating has opened the Melbourne church to reviewing that process.

Many a victim of clergy abuse has, according to recent reports, been a further victim of the "Melbourne Response" and the "Towards Healing" process, after being left with the belief that accepting compensation would nullify the possibility of any further claims for their sexual abuse.

Sydney Archbishop George Pell has held up "Towards Healing" globally as a model for dealing with child sexual assault cases by the Church. But one does not have to go far to find scores of victims who have felt traumatised by the process, in turn advising fellow victims to pursue any course of action towards justice and support other than that of the Church internally.

While the new Vatican rules have added some positive amendments to the guidelines, the handling of child sexual assault cases still remains an internal Church process under the auspices of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith. There is still no obligation for bishops to report cases of clergy child sexual assault to the police or make the hierarchy accountable under canonical law for covering up cases. In fact, canonical trials have perennially been held under the strictest secrecy, with victims often believing that they couldn't go to the police.

The need to maintain the secrecy of Church trials has been defended by the Vatican "in order to safeguard the dignity of all the people involved". Yet many victims would feel that their dignity has been betrayed by the process, while the Vatican's further assertion that "all Christians are required to obey civil laws" has not reaped justice to date.

The new rules extend the statute of limitations in reporting sexual assault crimes another 10 years, up to the age of 38 years, with a loose provision to extend it further in some cases. While this concession is welcome, it fails to reflect a genuine understanding of the real legacy of child sexual assault. The impact of this crime in and of itself, and especially when perpetrated by a moral and spiritual being, leaves many victims unable to speak out. To do so takes enormous courage and solid support and often happens only when the victim reaches their 40s, 50s or 60s.

Sadly many victims never speak of their abuse. Any bar in the way of the victim is one too many, and the Church's track record is one of endless bars. The statute of limitations should be removed and all victims openly encouraged to come forward, and be heard.

This month, Bishop Bill Morris from the Queensland diocese of Toowoomba gave hope to victims. Not only did he openly admit the Church's liability in the sexual abuse cases, but he sought to minimise any further trauma to the victims through an apology and the offer of an "expeditious resolution to compensation claims", proposing a mediated settlement to be overseen by a former High Court judge.

The Catholic Church, in Australia and globally, has a long way to go to follow Bishop Morris's lead. For it is the needs of victims and the protection of children that is paramount — and the time is long overdue for the Church to focus take real responsibility for the bottom line.

Dr Cathy Kezelman is chairwoman of Adults Surviving Child Abuse and author of Innocence Revisited – a tale in parts.


The Catholic Church condemns my 'soul' to 'hell' for the 'crime' of not believing their fairytales, yet, a priest can abuse a child and wait 20 years and get off scot free? Appalling. I want nothing to do with this sort of 'morality'.
Bill | Canberra - July 20, 2010, 7:59AM

"The Vatican's juxtaposition of women's ordination and child sexual assault as a "grave crime" is another attack on the victims of clergy abuse."

One really has to question this organisation's ability to offer moral guidance - it's becoming clear that their conduct is truly medieval.
Erebus | QLD - July 20, 2010, 9:03AM

Great picture for this story! Say a rosary! That says it all. Ask Mary to STOP those damn, heretic women from being ordained. While you're at it, ask her to protect pedophile priests, and the bishops, archbishops, cardinals and pope, who SLOWLY coverup for them! She'll understand!
Jeannie Guzman | USA - July 20, 2010, 9:25AM

How can the abusive "Soul-Rape" of a child be morally equivalent to ordaining a woman? Can someone with the moral understanding of a 2nd Grade, First Communicant please explain this to me?
Jeannie Guzman | USA - July 20, 2010, 10:45AM

The catholic churches policies and procedures state one thing (compliance to constitutional law) but deliver nothing but smoke and mirrors, endless delays and ultimately protection of their own. I wonder how many thousands of children have been molested by catholic priests over the centuries. Until recently, victims would not have had the avenues to speak out because it would question the authority of the church. I just don't get this unquestioned legitimacy that surrounds the catholic church. When the catholic church controlled education in European countries they were able to indoctrinate people. Now, education systems are controlled (quite rightly) by secular governments. The legitimacy and authority of any religeous organisation relies on a mass of people attending and donating money - the catholic church is one of the biggest frauds in human history.

So please, could all people of reason, education and intelligence stop going to church and stop giving money to church organisations.

Also note that the catholic church (and other religeous organisations) preach faith in their doctrines yet when it comes to crimes committed by priests they demand incontrovertible evidence. Ironic? If a school teacher is accused of sexual misconduct they are out the door immediately. If the catholic church was serious about this issue priests should be de-frocked immediately. The catholic church should be exposed for what it is. It has lots of money to spend on PR but underneath it is a nasty, controlling, underhanded and greedy organisation.

As John Illsley wrote "The church stands tall, the people still in rags"

sandrevan | Melbourne - July 20, 2010, 11:57AM

Where as if scripture is to be followed there is no provision for female clergy in any of the middle eastern theocratic traditions. This is obviously a result of patriarchal influence in the formation of these religions and as they are traditional in their application of these parameters, it is not surprising that this situation continues to this day. If one is to follow the tenets of said institutions then one must be bound by their traditions. Otherwise form your own cult or what ever takes your imagination as to what "god" is worshiped and how.

The idea that god is "one" and all worship the same god,is a preposterous platitude. The other question of equality with paedophiles, is a seriously venal attempt a covering a section of the "Christian" movement, that although it condemns female ordinaton, has no restrictions or moral sanctions on the ordination of paedophiles.

Exenon | NSW country - July 20, 2010, 12:31PM


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