Opinion

Church's litany of deadly sins

The Victorian Government has announced it is going to hold a year-long parliamentary inquiry into the Catholic Church and its handling of criminal abuse cases against children.

Good.

There were many people calling for a Royal Commission, which would have greater powers to compel witnesses to give evidence and to elicit documentary and electronic information, but at least there are moves to call the Church to account for one of the great unspeakable atrocities in our society.

For years we have heard reports of how Catholic priests and brothers have committed horrible acts against children, with Church authorities denying, covering-up or blaming "a few bad apples" when the number of cases seems to suggest a culture that is absolutely rotten to its core.

Premier Ted Baillieu was prompted to action by a police report that detailed at least 40 cases of suicide by people believed to have been abused by Catholic clergy. The report said the Church had been aware of the high suicide rate, but had "chosen to remain silent".

The alleged crimes are so heinous: people in positions of trust and authority praying on the vulnerable and innocent.

Researcher Judy Courtin is doing a PhD on sexual assault within the Catholic Church and wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday: "There is evidence of life-long harm from these crimes for the victims and their families. This harm includes suicide, attempted suicide, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol and drug addiction, loss of education and employment opportunities, difficulties with forming relationships, a distrust of authority figures, grief, anger, breakdown of families and a destruction of people's faith. The economic and social impact of these problems is immeasurable."

And I can't think of another organisation where it would have been allowed to continue. If it had been a school or a sporting club where there had been sustained and proven accusations of child sexual abuse, it would have been shut down years ago.

But, until now, the Church seemed to be above the law and above the reach of governments.

I hope this is not just an exercise in appearing to do something. I hope it reaches across state borders. I hope it brings justice to victims and their families, and I hope the Catholic Church can admit to what it has done and fundamentally change its ways.


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