Like other countries, abuse by priests in Australia has been almost an epidemic. And like other countries, the Church has tried to cover it up and thereby allow abusive priests to continue abusing. Not too long ago, the Government of Victoria launched an inquiry and there was some publicity around that. Last week, the Government of New South Wales also launched an inquiry - their focus is recent comments by Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, who spent years investigating abuse allegations in the Hunter region. He said the church destroyed evidence, silenced victims and shuffled around accused priests in a bid to cover up abuse. See the video below which includes a graphic (verbal) description of the rape of one boy by a priest. But now, Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard has ordered a federal inquiry. (CBC News)
"Any instance of child abuse is a vile and evil thing. Australians know that," Gillard told reporters in Canberra. "Australians know, from the revelations that they've read in recent weeks, that too many children have suffered child abuse but have also seen other adults let them down. They've not only had their trust betrayed by the abuser, but other adults who could have acted to assist them have failed to do so." The investigation will target religious and state institutions, schools and community groups such as sporting clubs. It will also look into police responses to abuse allegations and is expected to take several years to complete.
Video by ABC News Australia about the NSW inquiry - includes statements by Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox:
In case you haven't been counting - that's three separate Government Inquiries into abuse by priests in Australia and the cover-up by the Catholic Church.
There are a lot of Catholics in Australia - perhaps 30 to 40% would call themselves that - and NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell is one of them. Like a lot of Catholics he said that he doesn't understand how Catholic priests who admit to paedophilia in confession aren't reported to police. He was commenting after Cardinal George Pell told a Press Conference in Sydney that "the Seal of Confession is inviolable" even if a priest confesses to child sex abuse.
O'Farrell continued: "And I understand that as a Catholic, not a particularly good Catholic, that that is an important sacrament within my church. But I struggle to understand that if a priest confesses to another priest that he has been involved in paedophile activities, that that information should not be brought to police."
My suggestion: perhaps the penance (required for forgiveness) should be "Now go confess to the Police".
A pedophile ring?
The Catholic Bishop of Newcastle, whose northern NSW diocese has experienced some of the worst child sex abuse, said it was possible a pedophile ring once existed among its clergy. Bishop Bill Wright said his staff had "tried to join the dots" between individual abusive priests. "One priest who was abusing someone was in a parish next to another priest who turned out to be an abuser. Or one known abuser contributing funds to the defence of another known abuser," Bishop Wright said.
"We've not exactly been able to join those dots. What we haven't got is evidence of them passing victims around, what you would call a ring. It's possible. The Maitland-Newcastle diocese has paid out at least $15 million in settlements to more than 100 victims, while unofficial estimates put the total number of victims at hundreds more. At least two of its priests have been convicted for serial pedophile abuse, with at least one more now on trial. The former vicar-general, Tom Brennan, died this year while facing charges of child abuse and covering up abuse committed by another priest.
Some of this historic abuse took place with the knowledge of other senior clergy, Bishop Wright said. These officials sent the alleged perpetrators for medical treatment, moved them between parishes or lost track of where they were living, without reporting their alleged crimes to police. "(There was a) lack of knowledge, a lack of experience, a lack of established procedures . . . but I won't close my mind ultimately to criminal conspiracy," Bishop Wright said. "If there are people who have got things to answer for, living or dead, (if) what they were doing was in the lines of criminal cover-up, let them be prosecuted."
Meanwhile, another case of abuse by a priest was in court in Melbourne. (Sydney Morning Herald) David Edwin Rapson, 59, appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Tuesday (Nov 13, 2012) charged with one count of rape, five counts of indecent assault, four counts of indecently assaulting a child under 16, and one count of gross indecency. The offences occurred from 1973 to 1990 at Salesian College Rupertswood in Sunbury where Rapson had been a teacher and vice-principal.
Sydney cases continue to surface. 59-year-old Brother Martin Harmata was arrested on the NSW Central Coast and charged with five counts of indecently assaulting two boys aged 12 and 13. A former 58 year-old-lay teacher was also arrested and charged with abusing children at the Patrician Brother's College in Blacktown in Western Sydney. ABC News
The saga of the abuse by priests and 3 Government inquiries continues in Australia. Public opinion is hardening against the Catholic Institution in Australia if you can judge by an opinion piece in the Melbourne Age by Mike Carlton.
Calling Cardinal George Pell “every inch a prince of Rome”, Carlton first quotes Cardinal Pell:
The sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests had been exaggerated, he told a news conference in Sydney on Tuesday. There was a "press campaign" against the church, with "general smears that we are covering up and moving people around''.
"We object to being described as the only cab on the rank … because there is a persistent press campaign focused largely on us, that does not mean we are largely the principal culprits.''
He then continues:
With those few sentences, Australia's most senior Catholic churchman flung aside any lingering shred of moral authority attached either to his person or his office as the Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney. There were one or two perfunctory remarks about "shame" delivered in that familiar treacly baritone, but that was it. Strip away the apostolic airs and he could have been a flack for James Hardie assuring the world that the dangers of the company's asbestos products had been rather overblown.
It was monstrous. It was despicable. To portray the church as a victim in this filthy business was an Orwellian reversal of the polarity of right and wrong, truth and fiction. With self-serving hypocrisy, Pell delivered yet another slap in the face to those hundreds if not thousands of children, and their families, who suffered abuse. For the rest of us, it was an insult to the intelligence.
Nobody is suggesting the Catholic church is the only cab on the rank. In Australia and worldwide, this epidemic of child abuse has extended across the Christian denominations and into schools, state institutions, the Boy Scouts, and sports clubs and teams. In my extended family, I know of a young boy in country NSW abused by an Anglican rector. The brute was quietly moved on when his crimes were discovered. Just this week in Britain, a retired Bishop of Gloucester in the Church of England was arrested on suspicion of sexual offences committed against eight boys as young as 12.
But the truly sickening thing about the Catholic church was the sinister cover-up, which ran for decades and which, for all we know, might still be happening. The statistics are there, and they are shocking. At a parliamentary inquiry in Melbourne last month, a deputy commissioner of the Victoria Police, Graham Ashton, revealed that since 1956 there had been 2110 sexual offences against 519 child victims in that state alone, about 70 per cent of them committed by Catholic priests, brothers or teachers. Not one of those crimes had ever been reported to the police by the church, he said. Not one.
Like the Bourbons, Pell has learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. For him, the primacy of the church is all. His pastoral failure is absolute.
If Pell was a senior VP in a public company, he’d have been fired by now. Mistakes can be forgiven if the organization first acknowledges the problems then seems to be correcting them. Pell is not doing that.