The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse began last Wednesday (April 3).
The Royal Commission’s Terms of Reference are broad-ranging. They are not confined as to the time at which a person says he or she was abused and the definition of institution is broad. It extends from the organised churches through schools, childcare centres and recreational bodies. It also includes any state run institution providing residential care for children and each of the state departments and non-government organisations responsible for organising and supervising foster care arrangements.
Barney Zwartz summarises the Commission’s role here.
At the same time as the Royal Commission is beginning the Victorian state inquiry continues. Zwartz (Church heads ‘ostracised victims’, The Age, April 5, 2013) writes:
Catholic Church leaders in Australia were contributing to the ostracism and scapegoating of child sex abuse victims, showing little leadership and very little ”will to know”, the Victorian inquiry into how the churches handled sex abuse was told on Thursday.
Caroline Taylor, professor of social justice at Edith Cowan University, said church leaders as well as judges and lawyers too readily followed misleading stereotypes that minimised child abuse.
This is a slightly odd statement, I think: given that the Church is guilty of perpetuating child sex abuse by its clergy, this apparent reticence has a much more mundane explanation. But such tepid criticism may also be expected given too the Church’s commitment to and significant expertise in employing the law against both victims and/or critics. Of course, as has been observed elsewhere, the continued suffering to which the Church subjects victims through its policies does not derive from any pleasure gained through such bastardry, but rather because these policies protect the Church and its very material interests. Denial, obfuscation, minimisation of responsibility are functional behaviours in keeping with preserving its massive wealth and power (or at least the interests of its most powerful members: the laity say baa).
”The greatest insurance policy offenders have is the ignorance of the community,” she said. ”I don’t believe the Catholic hierarchy has changed its attitude. There has been no leadership to take this forward. I haven’t seen that probity and will to know, which means setting aside preconceived ideas and being open to learn. It takes courage.”
Instead, Professor Taylor said, when she suggested ways to help educate the community, she was ”severely rebuffed”.
In reality, the Church has its own insurer: Catholic Church Insurers. It’s underwritten by Allianz, “a German multinational financial services company headquartered in Munich, Germany. Its core business and focus is insurance. As of 2010, it was the world’s 12th-largest financial services group and 23rd-largest company according to a composite measure by Forbes magazine”. In other words, it’s Business As Usual, and a zero-sum game for the Church in its battles with victims for compensation.
Notwithstanding the reservations already expressed above, old men for whom the Church has been their central focus and whose lives have been arranged in obedience to it are among the least likely to break ranks and to speak the truth. Within Australia, there are very rare exceptions: Father Kevin Dillon is a prominent critic of the Church’s response to date. Commenting on Church scandal in Scotland, Kevin McKenna writes that parishioners should consider withholding their weekly donations. Invariably, its victims and their advocates who are forced to break the silence.
See also : They survived clergy abuse but are still paying a price, Jane Lee, The Age, September 11, 2012.