Tuesday, 3 February 2015

JUNE 2013: TONTI - FILIPINI The Catholic Church and paedophilia: Learning from failures


The Catholic Church and paedophilia: Learning from failures

Nicholas Tonti-FilippiniABC RELIGION AND ETHICS4 JUN 2013

In a naive Church, the trust in which perpetrators were held was too easily exploited and their crimes too readily forgiven. We have learned, but at a terrible price for victims and their families.
Comments (16)
The current clerical paedophilia crisis affecting the Catholic Church in Australia is a surprise only in that it seems to have taken so long for the extent and gravity of events to have become public knowledge.
That there are priests who abused prepubescent or adolescent children is to be expected. They are prone to the same human frailties as the members of any other professional group. It is has been claimed that in the United States, the evidence indicates that paedophilia (sexual attraction to prepubescent children) affects 0.3% of the entire population of clergy, which is lower than the average for males, and homosexual attraction to adolescent boys affects around 2% of clergy, about the same proportion that affects married males. However, a report commissioned by the United States Catholic Bishops in 2002for the period 1950-2002 produced some disturbing results:
  • 195 dioceses and 140 religious communities were surveyed; 7 of the dioceses and 30 of the communities did not respond to the survey.
  • From the responses, a total of 4,392 priests, deacons and religious were identified to have been accused of such offenses.
  • They represented 3-6% of priests in the dioceses and 1-3% in the communities. The overall percentage of accused in terms of all priests and religious in the United States was 4%.
  • 75% of the alleged incidents took place between 1960-1984.
  • A report to the police resulted in an investigation in almost all cases. 384 of the 4,392 were criminally charged. Overall only 8.7% of those accused ended up being charged.
  • Of the 384 charged, 252 were convicted - a 66% conviction rate. Some of them had more than one conviction on different counts. Those convicted represented only 5.7% of the total that had been accused.
  • As of 2002 (before all the massive costs since then imposed by subsequent court rulings), the cost to the dioceses and communities between 1950-2002 was estimated at about $573 million - $501 million for victim compensation and treatment, and the rest for priest treatment and legal fees.
It is claimed that the incidence of priests abusing their office in these ways would seem to be no greater than for doctors abusing their patients, lawyers abusing their clients, or teachers abusing their students. The main difference may be that the community expects a higher standard of morality for clergy, and sexual crimes by clergy involves both hypocrisy and offence against their high office.
However, it is very disturbing that in my home city of Melbourne, in evidence to the Victorian Parliamentary Enquiry, Professor Des Cahill reported that 14 of 378 priests graduating from Corpus Christi, the diocesan seminary, between 1940 and 1966 were convicted of child sexual abuse, and Church authorities had admitted that another four who had died were also abusers - a rate of 4.76%. I have since confirmed the likelihood that these numbers are correct with some priests who were training for the priesthood during that period (though I am not free to name them).
If the American data showing only 5.7% of those accused were later convicted were indicative of the fate of complaints here, then the proportion of priests in Melbourne about whom complaints had been made would be impossibly high given that 4.76% were convicted. If the data were indicative of a very high proportion of priests being the subject of complaints that might explain why there appears to have been little response to complaints. There would simply have been too many of them. Professor Cahill told the Victorian Parliamentary Enquiry, "I remain comfortable with that figure and the incidence is much higher than in the general population and much higher than for any other professional group."
It is difficult to know what to make of the American data and the low proportion of complaints that result in conviction, and the extraordinarily high proportion of priests who have been convicted in Melbourne and whether that indicates a very high proportion of priests against whom complaints have been made here. It seems significant that in the United States the rate of offending among diocesan clergy seems to be roughly double that of offending by those in religious life. That might have something to do with selection and formation. It might also be something to do with greater surveillance when living in a religious community.
There are questions about whether the high proportion of convicted offenders in Melbourne is related to systemic issues in selection and formation. However, the public concern, rightfully, would seem to have focussed more on the way in which the Church authorities have responded to complaints and proven offences, especially where victims were underage and there was a reasonable suspicion of activity that was criminal in nature.

Deficiencies in clerical and religious formation

In relation to formation, I asked questions of some of those who were trained at the diocesan seminary at Werribee, during the period in question, about conditions in the seminary. One priest told me that the Jesuit community responsible for their formation retired to their own community in the evenings and left the seminarians to themselves. Two priests said words to the effect that some of those who were later convicted were considered a little strange or eccentric, and some were known by their peers to have had other problems, such as alcoholism. Some had clearly identified their homosexual orientation to their peers and the former tended to form their own sub-group. A senior priest was responsible for the formation of the seminarians. The priests I spoke to questioned the quality of the spiritual direction that they experienced.
The selection and spiritual direction of candidates for the priesthood and religious life has been subjected to intense scrutiny since the 1980s when the problem first began to come to notice both in the Church and publicly. It is not a matter about which I have expertise, but I am puzzled why the "Theology of the Body" and the related topics of affectivity and Trinitarian anthropology do not seem to be taught with any degree of enthusiasm in theology programs attended by seminarians. The result is that an opportunity for a strong theological formation in sexuality, relating the vocation to celibacy or to married life to Christ and the common vocation of a Christian to seek communion with God by making a gift of oneself, seems to be being missed.
In my view, the seminarians could be better prepared to respond to the modern realties and the challenges of the sexualisation of our secular culture. Much more could be done to develop a mature, theologically and scientifically informed approach to sexuality in our seminarians that encourages them to integrate their sexual identity into their personal identity as a Christian called to communion with Christ. In that way, they would be encouraged to genuinely celebrate their own choice of celibacy positively as a witness to the Kingdom and a way of upholding the values and attitudes that see marriage as a witness to divine love.

Failure to report abuse

Referring to the period before 1996, the concern that has been expressed by many victims, and those who support them, includes the claim that the Church authorities have been reluctant to report sexual crimes involving underage victims, to the police or child welfare authorities, that they have encouraged secrecy, including offering settlements that required confidentiality, that they have always not acknowledged the gravity of the harm done, or ensured adequate treatment of complainants, and that they have not always removed the perpetrators from office, and, as a result, the latter have been able to reoffend.
Lay Catholics know that priests are as frail as the rest of us when it comes to committing sin, and we would be naive if we thought that there would not be a proportion of those in the priesthood likely to commit many of the same sins in the various categories as in the general male community. The Catholic community often seems to be being willing to forgive the sins of our pastors. It is not uncommon for parish communities to support their priests, even when their past sins are public knowledge.
What is difficult for lay Catholics to accept is that conduct that amounts to a serious crime against a child would not be reported by Church authorities to the police so that justice may be done. This neglect is contrary to current official Vatican policy, which is that civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed.
In many jurisdictions, professions such as doctors, social workers and teachers are in mandated professions and required by law to report that a child is at risk, but priests (and bishops) are not a mandated profession. The obligation to report crime for those not mandated to do so may be a moral and social obligation but, apart from some recent changes to the law in some jurisdictions, it appears not to be a legal obligation, except that if one helps to hide a crime then that may be considered to be an offence of aiding and abetting.
As far as I am aware, until relatively recently, no Church authority in Australia had been charged with aiding and abetting crime for not reporting criminal sexual offences against children, despite credible complaints and even sometimes admission of guilt by perpetrators. The only cases of action for alleged misprision are very recent.
So in the past, the question of Church authorities reporting crime would seem to have been a matter of a failure to meet a moral and social responsibility rather than a legal issue. That situation is now changing. It is also expected that the Victorian parliamentary enquiry and the Commonwealth Commission may make recommendations for further changes to the law with respect to obligations to report a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed against a child.

Failure to remove priests and protect children

Leaving aside the obligation to report a crime, there is concern about the ways in which these matters were managed, particularly with respect to priests known or strongly suspected to have committed crimes against children, and those with unresolved complaints against them, being appointed or re-appointed to circumstances where they had opportunity to re-offend. There is concern about what would seem, in some cases, to have been a failure to protect children, including a failure to warn others in authority about the risk.
Again, current official Vatican policy is that during the preliminary stage a Bishop can act to protect children by restricting the activities of any priest in his diocese. According to the policy, this is part of the Bishop's ordinary authority, which he is encouraged to exercise to whatever extent is necessary to assure that children do not come to harm, and this power can be exercised at the Bishop's discretion before, during and after any canonical proceeding. The policy has been criticised because it permits, but does not require, a Bishop to suspend or remove the priest while the allegation is investigated.
In dealing with the Ireland situation, Pope Benedict XVI said that the Irish Bishops had failed, at times grievously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse, and serious mistakes and grave errors of judgment were made, and failures of leadership occurred:
"It cannot be denied that some of you and your predecessors failed, at times grievously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse. Serious mistakes were made in responding to allegations. I recognize how difficult it was to grasp the extent and complexity of the problem, to obtain reliable information and to make the right decisions in the light of conflicting expert advice. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that grave errors of judgement were made and failures of leadership occurred. All this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness."
Moreover, the Pope asked Bishops to co-operate with the civil authorities. In his pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland dated 19 March 2010, he also said:
"The programme of renewal proposed by the Second Vatican Council was sometimes misinterpreted and indeed, in the light of the profound social changes that were taking place, it was far from easy to know how best to implement it. In particular, there was a well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular situations. It is in this overall context that we must try to understand the disturbing problem of child sexual abuse, which has contributed in no small measure to the weakening of faith and the loss of respect for the Church and her teachings."
The Pope has acknowledged the wrongs, and repeatedly apologised and asked forgiveness on behalf of the Church for its own failures in responding to the child abuse by clergy. In recent years, there has been a great deal of re-writing of policy by Bishops' conferences and the establishment of better mechanisms for investigating and responding to complaints. We can therefore expect the future to be different.
There remains a puzzle however over how it was that, in the past, known offenders, or those who were reasonably suspected of grave offences against children, were not at least suspended indefinitely or removed from the priesthood or religious life. In some instances, even convicted paedophiles, after serving their term in gaol, have been admitted, as religious, back into their religious communities, and presumably a position of trust and respect, even if restricted from contact with children.

Misjudgement of the psychotherapeutic response to paedophilia

In the past, the response to offences against children appears to have been dealt with in a spirit of providing pastoral care to perpetrators and to victims and treating the wrong as a mental and or spiritual disorder requiring treatment and spiritual rehabilitation.
The response appears to be more fitting for a judgment that the perpetrators were good men who had erred on an occasion out of human weakness. That they were in fact criminals who should be punished and the community protected from them, and that they were more likely to be multiple offenders living a life of deception, would not seem to have informed their management.
It is unfair to say that secrecy was preserved in order to protect the Church, because at that time it was generally accepted that confidentiality was in the interests of the victims. The change in psychiatric opinion to an understanding that promotes the need for admission and recognition of the harm done is more recent. If one compares the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of 1980 (the DSM-III) with the DSM-IV of 1994, one of the major changes is in relation to the inclusion of childhood sexual abuse as one of the diagnostic criteria for mental disorders, especially borderline personality disorders. The latter were not even listed in the DSMIII. The DSM IV had the following new entry:
"Numerous studies have shown a strong correlation between child abuse, especially child sexual abuse, and development of BPD [Borderline Personality Disorder]. Many individuals with BPD report to have had a history of abuse and neglect as young children. Patients with BPD have been found to be significantly more likely to report having been verbally, emotionally, physically or sexually abused by caregivers of either gender. There has also been a high incidence of reported incest and loss of caregivers in early childhood for people with borderline personality disorder.
They were also much more likely to report having caregivers (of both genders) deny the validity of their thoughts and feelings. They were also reported to have failed to provide needed protection, and neglected their child's physical care. Parents (of both sexes) were typically reported to have withdrawn from the child emotionally, and to have treated the child inconsistently.
Additionally, women with BPD who reported a previous history of neglect by a female caregiver and abuse by a male caregiver were consequently at significantly higher risk of claiming sexual abuse by a noncaregiver (not a parent). It has been suggested that children who experience chronic early maltreatment and attachment difficulties may go on to develop borderline personality disorder."
The great harm done by sexual abuse and, more to the point, the need to acknowledge the abuse in order to adequately treat it, is something that has emerged within psychiatry. It would thus be unfair to blame those in authority in the Church, prior to the current era, for not understanding the importance of acknowledging the abuse and validating the feelings of the abused person. It would appear that the Church was simply in line with the thinking of the time in not adequately understanding the needs of people who were abused as children.
In relation to the perpetrators, there appears to have been a general ignorance about paedophilia and recidivism and about the inability to treat it. It would appear that the responses of Church authorities were often based on the idea that successful treatment of the offender was possible. Presumably, they were given that advice by experts in the field. It would help the community to better understand the responses of the Church authorities if the advice they received were to be made public.
There was also a belief that the children were better off if less were made of the abuse and parents, doctors and even police seemed to act upon that assumption. There were no specialist units in police forces with the expertise to deal with this issue and to manage alleged victims well. So the Church authorities would have made assumptions and received advice about both the victims and the perpetrators that were quite different from current expert advice, and, if they had gone to the police, there was no guarantee that the victims would have been well managed.
The current thinking, in the recently released DSM-V, on the perpetrators is quite different and is summarised in the followingparagraph:
"Pedophilia, the sexual attraction to children who have not yet reached puberty, remains a vexing challenge for clinicians and public officials. Classified as a paraphilia, an abnormal sexual behavior, researchers have found no effective treatment. Like other sexual orientations, pedophilia is unlikely to change. The goal of treatment, therefore, is to prevent someone from acting on pedophile urges - either by decreasing sexual arousal around children or increasing the ability to manage that arousal. But neither is as effective for reducing harm as preventing access to children, or providing close supervision."
That paedophilia is an orientation that is not to be cured or treated was not understood or at least not well understood. The emphasis on the primary means of preventing harm being to prevent access to children or to provide close supervision is also a significant development. There have thus been considerable changes in the psychiatric understanding of paedophilia.
As a matter of history, the Church authorities were not alone in not notifying the civil authorities when there was a reasonable suspicion or knowledge of sexual offences against a child. It appears that most organisations lacked the capacity to deal with this issue adequately, including not only religious and State organisations that had the care of children, but also the armed forces which recruited pubescent children. The latter seemingly did not provide the protection, supervision and avenues for complaint that are now thought to be essential wherever there are underage persons or persons who are otherwise vulnerable.
Organisations in general were ill-equipped to deal with the problem. Like the Church, most were also naive about the risks and the need to provide supervision. Most organisations and children in their care were easy prey for those paedophiles who had developed a deceptive lifestyle around their criminal activities. This is no more evident than in the recent revelations about BBC legend Jimmy Savile.
A spirit of therapy rather than punishment, the perceived needs of victims and their families for privacy and confidentiality, the lack of appreciation of the gravity of the harm to the victims, and ignorance about the harmful psychological effect of not validating a complaint, might account for the failure to report crime and to seek justice in that respect. However it can only be considered now as a grave misjudgement.
Among other matters related to the investigation and punishment of serious crime and the protection of children, the misjudgement concerns the needs of victims and their families to have their complaint validated and to see that justice was done. They have a legitimate grievance that there appears to have been a failure to recognise and take account of the harm done.
There also seems to have been a policy of pursuing settlements that included confidentiality clauses. It is difficult to explain the latter except as a design to protect either the Church or institution or the alleged perpetrator from the harm that might be done by further disclosure of the matter. There was no other reason to establish such an obligation. Whether or not it was in the interests of the victim to disclose the abuse should always have rested with the victim and his or her family. If anything, the pressure should have been towards disclosure in order to be able to better protect others.
To my knowledge, the policies in place now do not include confidentiality clauses and I would expect the practice to have ceased altogether. The idea that a settlement buys silence does not serve the legal or the therapeutic interests of victims, and it certainly does not serve the interests of the community if it means that the perpetrator can continue to abuse others.
The misjudgement was also about the nature of the perpetrators and the tragic reality that a perpetrator, in this respect, seldom had only a solitary victim. In fact, in some instances, it would appear that perpetrators had lived a life of deception and may have joined the priesthood for the opportunities that it afforded. The high probability of recidivism and inability to "cure" paedophilia are also a matter of more recent knowledge, certainly post 1990-1994. To the credit of the Church authorities, the policies changes soon after the medical advice changed, so that by 1996 the approach had completely changed.
Finally, the misjudgement was in relation to the effect of gross immorality on the office of the priesthood. The therapeutic approach would seem to have missed the significance of the grave harm done to victims and the heinous nature of an offence against a child which could only have been addressed by severe penalties for the perpetrators. The failure to remove them from office, or at least suspend them, also damaged the office of priesthood and has continuing effects on both laity and on other clergy. That a perpetrator of such a grave offence and such a misuse of the office could be permitted to continue in office is a grave scandal.

Failure to impose penalties

The failure to report crime, the secrecy and the adoption of a therapeutic approach, can be explained by the general lack of knowledge of the time about the grave harm done, the belief that it was a curable condition, and lack of understanding about the high risk of recidivism. The failure to impose penalties, however, is more difficult to explain.
That the offences are serious crimes is not new to the Church. Pope Pius V's Constitution of 30 August 1568 designates priestly abuse (sodomy) of children as horrendum illud scelus - that horrendous crime! There was also a ruling by the Third Lateran Council in 1179 on violations of the clerical state requiring those who committed sodomy to be dismissed from the clerical state:
"Clerics in holy orders, who in open concubinage keep their mistresses in their houses, should either cast them out and live continently or be deprived of ecclesiastical office and benefice. Let all who are found guilty of that unnatural vice for which the wrath of God came down upon the sons of disobedience and destroyed the five cities with fire, if they are clerics be expelled from the clergy or confined in monasteries to do penance; if they are laymen they are to incur excommunication and be completely separated from the society of the faithful. If any cleric without clear and necessary cause presumes to frequent convents of nuns, let the bishop keep him away; and if he does not stop, let him be ineligible for an ecclesiastical benefice."
The removal of clerical state for such an offence would probably have exposed the perpetrator to capital punishment by the civil authority for such an offence. Moreover, the Cluniac reforms of the tenth century and the Gregorian reforms of the eleventh were in part to address sexual abuse issues by clergy and in the monasteries.
This is thus not a new problem for the Church: there have clearly been episodes in the Church when widespread sexual offences by clergy had to be dealt with specifically. That there should be penalties for sexual offences against children is longstanding in the Church. It is thus puzzling why it was that, in the period between 1950 and 1996, it appears that some Church authorities, at least, did not think it appropriate to ensure that those who had committed serious criminal offences crimes against children should be prosecuted and punished. There appears to have been little commitment to informing the civil authorities of a reasonable suspicion or even certain knowledge of a serious criminal offence against a child. The burden of reporting crime seems to have been left to the victims and their families.
At the same time, the Church authorities had no capacity to impose penalties themselves, nor the powers of the police and the courts to investigate, gather evidence or compel witnesses. The most that they could do was to remove perpetrators from office and withdraw priestly faculties, and even that could be canonically difficult given the lack of investigative powers to establish wrongdoing in the face of denial. There have been cases of priests successfully appealing to Rome against a local removal or suspension of their faculties in the absence of concrete evidence.
The public apologies have tended to be non-specific. Perhaps they need to address each of these aspects of the misjudgements. There is certainly a need for those who were involved to explain the advice they received and why they did what they did.
There has been a complete change of sensitivity within the Church. It would now seem that we can be confident that those who have been found to have committed offences of this nature are not left in positions where they can re-offend. Nevertheless, there remains an issue concerning the social obligation to report crime to the civil authorities so that justice is done and can be seen to be done. The circumstance in which the victim and his or her family do not report the allegation to the police appears to remain a difficulty.

The complexity of investigations

Because this is not the first time in history in which the Church has been riven by scandal of this nature, we can expect that the Church will survive the present difficulties, but there is an opportunity to limit the extent of the harm done by the scandals by the nature of the response and the restoration of confidence.
The outstanding issue for Church authorities is that some victims and their families do not want action by the civil authorities. The problem then is that an internal investigation lacks the powers and the capacity of the police and the judiciary, with respect to obtaining evidence and acting upon it. There is thus good reason to support making reporting, by those in authority in the Church, mandatory. The other side of the argument, however, is whether such a requirement would inhibit the reporting of offences by victims and their families.
There are also difficulties when a complaint is made and investigated by the police but no charges are laid or charges are laid but no conviction results, through lack of evidence. The Church may then have the matter investigated internally.
One of the oddities of a matter being handled internally is that a finding may be made in favour of a victim on the balance of probabilities and compensation paid, but there may not be sufficient evidence to provide cause to punish or at least remove the offender from office. There are issues of justice involved for both victim and perpetrator when an accusation is made and, with only a small proportion of complaints resulting in successful prosecution, the complaint is not proven. That raises a question about how the Bishop or the religious superior should act in that case when an accusation is not sustained, but it is not disproven either.
When an accusation is made, the alleged perpetrator is likely to stand down or be stood down while the matter is investigated but what should happen when, as is often the case, the matter is not resolved either way? Is this a case in which someone remains innocent until proven guilty and so they are to be returned to office when the case lapses? Is it prudent for the person in authority to return a man to office when uncertainty remains? What is just for both the alleged perpetrator and the alleged victim? What is prudent in terms of protecting children, if some suspicion remains? Is the practice of returning the alleged perpetrator to office, but restricting their activity so that they do not have unsupervised contact with children, the solution? If a man remains a member of a religious community or retains his faculties as a priest, is it realistic that he can be prevented from reoffending especially as others may be unaware of the restrictions and the history, and still treat him with respect and trust? Also deception is commonly a significant aspect of paedophilia and it may be difficult to enforce the restrictions. Does his retaining that position scandalise the complainants and their families because, despite his past actions for which they have been compensated, as far as they are concerned he still holds a respected and trusted office?
After the victims themselves and their families, those most harmed by what has occurred are the vast majority of priests who lead good and holy lives of great sacrifice and devotion. They benefit most from the adoption of rigorous approaches to those who have abused their office. However, they can also become the victims of the change in sensitivity because now an allegation, whether or not it is well-founded, is likely to bring immediate suspension from public ministry for an indefinite time. Such allegations are often difficult to prove or disprove and, in the meantime, during the prolonged investigative process which may ultimately not end in resolution, both victim and accused remain in a state of limbo.
I have seen this happen to a priest who was accused of sexual offences against adults, not criminal matters, nor even matters for police investigation. When nothing was found against him after repeated investigation by a variety of Church agencies, and evidence was also obtained to the contrary, he was still unable to clear his name through the lack of the Church process to act, as a police and a court investigation might, in gathering and presenting the evidence. He has thus resorted to taking defamation actions against the media and the reporters in order to seek a court judgement in his favour exonerating him.
Nevertheless, where children or vulnerable people are involved, I would suggest that the primary obligation is the protection of potential victims from what is grievous harm. There is also an obligation to the alleged victim because we now know that not being believed, if someone has been harmed this way, compounds the psychological harm done. That would seem to require that justice for the alleged perpetrator, who may have been falsely accused, may need to be sacrificed, if significant doubt remains about what occurred. There may be circumstances in which an innocent man cannot be returned to office because of the perceived risk.

The importance of the witness of holiness

A concern I have is that loss of confidence on the part of Bishops will cause them to take a low public profile. I have heard of priests being advised by their Bishop not to be seen in public, such as on public transport or attending a sporting event or the theatre, wearing clothes that identify their priestly status, for fear of being spat on or otherwise badly treated. That is very sad, but perhaps even more a matter of concern is if Bishops and other Catholic religious leaders choose to remain silent on other public issues because of the adverse publicity on this issue.
In my view, in addition to admitting our faults and expressing our sorrow, it is only holiness and genuine witness to holiness that will overcome the damage done by the scandals. At this difficult time, I feel it is most important for Catholics, especially Catholic laypeople, to increase their efforts to give that witness. We especially need to give witness to the importance of chastity and its meaning within our vocation to seek communion with Christ. The "Theology of the Body" reforms have a vital role in providing meaning where so much harm has been done to the Catholic brand.

The Royal Commission

The cooperation with civil authorities that Pope Benedict XVI urged on the Irish Bishops would seem to be advice that would best be taken generally. There would seem to be a need, for those appointed to manage responses to allegations against clergy by Church authorities, to cooperate closely with the civil authorities in order to expedite effective resolution as quickly as possible for the sake of all concerned. In this case, justice deferred is justice denied for all.
The response of the Australian Bishops Conference was to support the appointment of the Royal Commission and to express a desire to openly embrace and co-operate with its work. Shortly after it was appointed, the President of the Bishops Conference,Archbishop Denis Hart announced a council to assist the Royal Commission:
"The Truth, Justice and Healing Council fully supports the Royal Commission and will do everything within its power to cooperate with it and its exploration of truth for everyone who has been affected by the tragedy of child abuse by:
  • Identifying systematic institutional failures that have impeded the protection of children;
  • Promoting lasting healing for the survivors of previous abuse;
  • Identifying all necessary measures to prevent abuse of children in the future."
My major concern with the enquiries, including the Royal Commission, is that I fear they will not reveal what needs to be revealed. At some stage we will reach saturation with the stories of children being abused, including abuse within indigenous communities. Each story is horrifying, but as a community we can only absorb so much.
The identification of perpetrators, at least those still alive, is a task for police, not for a commission, and I doubt the commission will be very helpful in that respect, although it does have the function of preparing prosecution briefs for the police. The Commission will no doubt address the systemic issues, how organisations should act to protect children and to respond to complaints, and issues such as mandatory reporting for clergy.
What is likely to be missing, however, is the second-tier of those in authority who made poor decisions - not reporting to police, not removing known or reasonably suspected perpetrators from ministry or other positions, causing their transfer to other parishes or schools, or not warning other Bishops or religious leaders into whose jurisdiction they were moved, even when there was evidence of possible, probable or even acknowledged criminal behaviour. Those people who were responsible for those decisions have every reason to avoid the enquiries, or to avoid answering questions if they are called. Why should they expose themselves to civil litigation, even, if not, criminal prosecution? Why would they not withhold material if they can lawfully do so?
However, it would certainly help to clear the air if they offered explanations of what they did and the advice on which they acted. As I have suggested, it would seem that the mistakes made, according to contemporary understanding, might be explained if we were to know the assumptions on which the decisions were based, including the authority and his or her advisers not understanding recidivism and paedophilia and that paedophilia is not a treatable condition, and not understanding the extent and nature of the harm done to victims and their need to have their complaints validated.
I suspect that the only way that these enquiries will uncover significant material of that nature is if, in its setting-up, something like the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission were to be achieved. The latter indemnified those who made truthful admissions as to their wrongdoing, against civil or criminal proceedings. That is what we may need. There are some people in the Church who were in significant positions of responsibility prior to 1996 when the current policies were put in place, and are still in high positions.

Learning from the Melbourne Response

I am confident in the current policy in Melbourne, the so-called Melbourne Response. I would prefer that the national policy,Towards Healing, did not involve someone who has been abused by the clergy having to front another member of the clergy or a religious carrying out the investigation or offering pastoral or other support. That must be very difficult for those who have reason to mistrust the clergy. There is also something of a conflict of interest in having priests and religious involved, because the community they belong to as priests and religious is quite small and they are usually well known to each other. There is a danger of an internal group acting protectively towards colleagues.
The Melbourne Response handed the issue across to professional non-Catholics. I do not accept the criticism of the Melbourne Response that they have not referred to the police. The reason for that is that the Melbourne Response does not enquire into anything that is the subject of police enquiry. The rationale for the Melbourne Response was to try to assist those people who had either had their matters dealt with by the police, or for whom there was either insufficient evidence or an unwillingness to deal with the police. The purpose was to assist those who had fallen through the cracks of the government response and to take responsibility for providing them with support, counselling and, in many cases, compensation.
Had there been a requirement that those involved in the Melbourne Response mandatorily report, that would have made it easier, and I support that possibility. Without mandatory reporting it is very difficult to know how to deal with a complainant who will not go to the police, despite being urged to do so.


Reading some of the evidence of witnesses to the Melbourne parliamentary enquiry, I have wondered whether the sexual determinism that pervaded the Kinsey Report and appears to be endemic in our culture, may have extended its influence to some priests and religious, leading them to believe that they had little control over their sexual desires and causing them to act out in the way that "God had made them." However, if that was so, it was the opposite of what the Church teaches about freewill and individual responsibility.
Perhaps those who have been convicted of these awful offences will be able to shine some light on why they did as they did. However, I suspect that the priesthood and religious life were a convenience and not a cause. In a naive Church community, the trust in which they were held was too easily exploited and their brothers in the priesthood and religious life too willing to disbelieve the victims or too willing to forgive what was a heinous crime against a child. We have learned, but at a terrible price for the many victims and their families.
Professor Nicholas Tonti-Filippini is Associate Dean and Head of Bioethics at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne. His most recent book is About Bioethics - Volume 4: Motherhood, Embodied Love and Culture, from which this piece is drawn.

Comments (16)

  • LION IRC :

    17 Jun 2013 5:05:09pm
    I was astonished to see in the transcript from the Victtorian enquiry;
    “Father Gannon said his sexual offences ranged over the years from about 1957 to 1979.”

    Here's my question directed at the governments Royal Commission
    "Why did it take until the year 2013 (it's only been 30 years)
    to FINALLY look into this matter?

    Answer : Better late than never.

    Another question directed at the parents who never reported the rape of their child to the police.
    "Why did it take until the year 2013 to finally hear public testimony from you?

    Answer : Better late than never.

      12 Dec 2013 12:38:55am
      Blaming the victims, then? And everyone else but the actual perpetrators, and their organisation? How disgraceful.

      Yes, "victims" includes the parents of abused children, who may have felt/been unable to approach police or other authorities for any number of reasons, including trust in the church to sort it out, not actually knowing what happened (or possibly until much later), reflexive respect of priests and other church officials, fear of being ostracised from their faith/local community as "troublemakers", etc etc.

      And yes, that's all pure speculation on my part. I don't pretend to know their reasons. But neither do you, and your uncharitably insinuating the worst, presumably as a means to diffuse blame and responsibility, is nothing short of risible victim-blaming.

      Please read David Marr's Quarterly Essay. How many times over the years did the catholic church, and George Pell in particular, deny that an independent government inquiry was even needed, and reject any such suggestion? Yet, it's the government's fault?

      The first failure of "religious morals" was the abuse itself. The second was the patently inadequate (or worse) institutional responses, or lack thereof. Attempts at self-interested deflection such as this have joined that list. Well done, quite an achievement, that.
    • JIM :

      13 Jun 2013 5:39:57pm
      ... continuing my comment

      Misjudgement of the psychotherapeutic response to paedophilia
      Whatever the guidelines quoted from various versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it is obvious to all observers that many of the known offenders were, and were recognised as, unstoppable recidivists. As one blatant example, Chrissie Foster quotes that Kevin O’Donnell’s abuse record spanned over 50 years – surely all clergy aware of such behaviour (even perhaps by “gossip”) were and are culpable of gross evil by continuing to tolerate appalling crimes.
      Validation for victims and families
      Professor Tonti-Filippini acknowledges a need for complaints to be validated and for justice to be done, yet bishops and Vatican authorities have impeded and often prevented such actions as the laicisation of abusive priests.

      As examples:
      • Archbishop Hart acknowledged that the Vatican resisted attempts to laicise Desmond Gannon for 18 years;
      • Archbishop Hart resisted every attempt to have the name of an abuser – Monsignor Penn Jones, removed from a plaque honouring clergy in St Patrick’s cathedral until forced to do so by the then papal nuncio;
      • Kevin O’Donnell’s name is reported to be still honoured on a plaque in the Oakleigh parish church.
      Failure to impose penalties
      No bishop or cardinal has ever apologised for his lack of action in any case under his jurisdiction. There has been no apology from Rome for inaction, unduly delayed actions, or for the acceptance of what appear to have been unjustified appeals by suspended priests.
      Professor Tonti-Filippini writes:
      There appears to have been little commitment to informing the civil authorities of a reasonable suspicion or even certain knowledge of a serious criminal offence against a child. The burden of reporting crime seems to have been left to the victims and their families.
      Perhaps, we could say more accurately:
      The burden of reporting even certain knowledge of serious criminal offences has been deliberately left to the victims and their families according to evidence from Mr O’Callaghan QC.
      The complexity of investigations
      Professor Tonti-Filippini writes:
      Nevertheless, where children or vulnerable people are involved, I would suggest that the primary obligation is the protection of potential victims from what is grievous harm. … … That would seem to require that justice for the alleged perpetrator, who may have been falsely accused, may need to be sacrificed, if significant doubt remains about what occurred. There may be circumstances in which an innocent man cannot be returned to office because of the perceived risk.
      This attitude reflects a proper concern that protection of vulnerable children (and of vulnerable adults) is rightly a high priority. Would that it was observed in practice.
      Perhaps one factor to consider in this context is that real experience, includi
      • JIM :

        11 Jun 2013 11:04:11am
        A response to Professor Tonti-Filippini
        Re: http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2013/06/04/3774696.htm

        Professor Tonti-Filippini appears to be using rose-tinted spectacles when commenting on the Catholic Church and paedophilia. In common with many commentators he conflates the problems of paedophilia and ephebophilia – which is a minor criticism, but one that indicates a general imprecision in a supposedly professional commentary.

        Failure to report abuse
        In his discussion of the failures to report abuse, there is no mention whatever that church policy as defined by the edict Crimen Sollicitationis expressly forbade disclosure of church investigations and conclusions:
        • Crimen Sollicitationis in Clause 11:- Since, however, in dealing with these causes, more than usual care and concern must be shown that they be treated with the utmost confidentiality, and that, once decided and the decision executed, they are covered by permanent silence.

        To say that current Vatican policy is to observe civil law requirements regarding reporting of crimes indicates a barely minimal response by the church – i.e. “don’t break the law!” An organisation claiming to offer moral leadership ought not hesitate to report all crimes to civil authorities for proper investigation, most especially those alleged crimes committed under, and facilitated by, the authorities invested in the perpetrators by that organisation.
        Can anyone imagine a priest or bishop not reporting a burglary to the police? Why are abuse cases so different?

        Professor Tonti-Filippini assumes that these failures are criticised only “referring to the period before 1996” which is quite untrue – the criticisms rightly include the periods since 1996 and include both the Melbourne

        Response and Towards Healing.
        He writes that “the question of Church authorities reporting crime would seem to have been a matter of a failure to meet a moral and social responsibility rather than a legal issue.” That is accurate. Church authorities have failed to meet moral and social responsibilities and so, clearly failed to provide moral leadership.

        Failure to remove priests and protect children
        Professor Tonti-Filippini writes as though all relevant cases are in the distant past, yet documented cases are as recent as 2006 – for example Fr Pavlou in Healesville and the appointment of Barry Robinson to work in the Melbourne Archdiocese after he was known to have had sexual relations with a 16 year-old in USA.
        Those examples illustrate that changes in 1996-7 did not fix all the church’s problems in this area.
        The quotation of Pope Benedict’s admonitions to the Irish bishops rings hollow alongside the policies of Crimen Sollicitationis quoted above.

        Misjudgement of the psychotherapeutic response to paedophilia.
        Whatever the guidelines quoted from various versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
        • GRAEME :

          10 Jun 2013 8:36:07pm
          Decisive action by bishops, provincials, principals and others in charge of students would have been helpful where offences against students had occurred and saved victims much suffering. As Nick points out there are difficulties even when allegations are made and Broken Rites and the public enquiries reveal that a significant number of victims have been intimidated into silence and the offences remain hidden. The offences of a much respected older teacher were not known for some 5 to 6 years after the offender and one of the victims had left the country school in the late 1980s. No word, as far as I knew, ever reached a teacher or the principal or any other adult about the offences. When the victim did let adults know, he received a payout from the Order involved. This illustrates the difficulty for those responsible to take the decisive action required. The offender had died so did not face any charges, as far as can ascertained.

          Strange that Nick did not clearly identify canon law 1395.2 (laicization) as the punishment for the sexual abuse of a minor.

          Again as with Pell, there is an attempt to take refuge in statistics ( no worse than in comparable institutions) as if this somehow excuses or mitigates the enormity of what has been done when really the rate of offending by holy men publically vowed to celibacy and chastity should have zero. Not sure that the Jesuits in the seminaries should be held responsible for adult men giving way to temptation!

          Not sure how the church is going to extricate itself from these scandals without some spectacular purging of those who acted as though these matters were low in priority and regarded complainants as "dwelling crankily on old wounds" or "better late than never".
          • CHRIS :

            06 Jun 2013 10:40:54pm
            Unpalatable as it might be, the Vatican decided some time ago that clergy sex abuse is closely linked to homosexuality--because clergy victims were overwhelmingly teenage boys (not young children). That is why it issued its 2005 Instruction barring gay men from entering seminaries. The Western media generally ridiculed this measure as homophobic, supposedly because it suggests a direct link between homosexuality and sexual abuse.

            Let me say that I certainly reject the idea of a direct link; I regard homosexuality as totally natural and healthy. However, we should seriously consider the possibility that there was, in the past, an indirect link in this way: society gave gay men absolutely no socially-acceptable outlets for their sexuality, and actually it criminalised their relationships. Should we be surprised that gay sexuality manifested in inappropriate ways, or that there were abuses of power and enforced secrecy?

            People say that clerical celibacy was the problem, but actually it wasn't: heterosexual men who had no vocation to celibacy tended to get married, whereas homosexual men who had no vocation to celibacy still went into the priesthood, because marriage was not possible. I feel sure that was an element for many clergy. Anyone who knows the Church realises that it has always had a homosexual subculture : see,e.g. Donald Cozen's The Changing Face of the Priesthood (2002)

            I am arguing for greater acceptance of mature, adult gay relationships. That is actually the reform the Vatican should make. Unfortunately, however, most people lack the wisdom or maturity to discuss these issues rationally. The danger is that many will perceive what I am saying as demonising homosexuals, when my intention is quite the opposite.
            • HUDSON GODFREY :

              07 Jun 2013 12:49:16pm
              If you want to say that in the past, "society gave gay men absolutely no socially-acceptable outlets for their sexuality" then moving forward to the past decade or so we're talking about an era in which the church stands out as living in the past in a couple of ways. I think it is still true and quite problematic that it gives no outlet for homosexuality and even less for priests who still meant to remain celibate. I don't hold religious convictions myself, but I would nevertheless appeal to the view that if there is a god who gave us our sexuality then she might prefer it to be celebrated rather than repressed. That old story about the monk who found a mistranslation (celebrate/celibate) may yet have legs!

              If the truth lies somewhere in between the opinions you're presenting and the figures Nick is quoting in his article then at best we may manage is to reduce rates of offending in line with the average across society at large. Whereas addressing offenders' motives doesn't seem likely to take away means and opportunity.

              Even if you want to split hairs between definitions of peadophiles and ephebophiles or delve into whether they're typically associated with psychopathic tendencies, the fact remains that what may not occur to an offender as guilty behavior is nevertheless well known to them to be wrong, illegal and evidently so by the fact that they cover it up. So there's a moral burden on both the offender and the church they represented to provide victims with recourse before reconciliation may take place.

              Attitudes whereby they prefer not to confront that reality are also rooted in the past, and obviously very much called to question by the current spate of inquiries. Questions about how best to prevent priests, or anyone for that matter, from offending should probably be secondary among good people who aren't afflicted with some sociopathic disorder to coming down on the side of victims.

              It just seems disappointing that we wouldn’t emphasise the psychology of what’s best for the victims in asking whether the best remedy all round might not be swift action to intercede against all offending behaviour as decisively as is reasonably possible. 
            • HUDSON GODFREY :

              05 Jun 2013 10:51:59pm
              I think one of the more problematic oversights in the way that these figures are construed is that even if levels of abuse within clerical ranks were within the national mean the number of victims in some cases is appreciably higher. We're talking about people who've been implicitly trusted around children and in some cases have access to numbers of young people under their care or tutelage.

              You can't just write off reports of up to 500 unreported cases as somehow acceptable, put it or down to the inadequacies of secular authorities and laws. A moral case has to be made that victims are owed recourse before this or any other kind of crime can be forgiven or healing truly commence. We need to ask the question as to why offenders have not been urged as part of how this is dealt with within the church to do what seems to be the minimum requirement for mercy in legal matters, to show remorse by admitting their crimes and facing the consequences.

              The mandatory reporting loophole that may yet exist in some states seems almost certain to be closed. But when it comes to the moral gap between vicarious absolution and outward signs of remorse within the church's thinking on this I am less than convinced that recognition is forthcoming.

              And I really am less convinced that this is truly in the past, because in any number of cases it has typically only surfaced as a suppressed memory once victims are well into their adulthood. The nature of what is wrong with this crime, and what the harm that it does actually consists of seems to get overlooked by theologians who're content to rely on something like the account of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible. Much as we condemn this crime in the strongest possible terms we don't fully understand it. By comparison with other kinds of rape we lack many of the tools that we need either to help victims or to prevent perpetrators from offending and reoffending. But I certainly don't regard doing the best that we can with a limited grasp of the psychology to be anything like a waste of time, or anything like an excuse for ignoring the imperative to try. To retreat to the position that we can tend to people's spiritual welfare while ignoring the real psychological problems of both victim and offender takes a ridiculously dim view of what god or providence gave you a brain for. And yet most of the intelligentsia of a religious persuasion seem to conflate devotion to their faith with fervent apologetics for an indefensible set of responses that they don't believe need to change, even when too many cases and a Royal Commission are telling us otherwise. 
              • RICHIE :

                08 Jun 2013 1:27:43am
                Thanks Hudson

                As a survivor your posts on this issue give me hope strength and courage
              • SUZANNE :

                05 Jun 2013 4:51:17pm
                By not allowing priests to become fully functioning men - by infantalising them in seminaries, making them afraid of their bodies (and of women) and turning them away from their own biology - the church has created a monster of epic proportions. These men claim the highest moral authority - that is why the offences are worse and more significant and searing than those of the general population. Any other organisation that had such a record of institutionalised abuse of little children would have long ago been shut down. The truly risible attempt to blame Kinsey and the sexual revolution made me nearly fall off my chair.
                • RHINO :

                  05 Jun 2013 3:56:31pm
                  "A concern I have is that loss of confidence on the part of Bishops will cause them to take a low public profile. I have heard of priests being advised by their Bishop not to be seen in public, such as on public transport or attending a sporting event or the theatre, wearing clothes that identify their priestly status, for fear of being spat on or otherwise badly treated. That is very sad, but perhaps even more a matter of concern is if Bishops and other Catholic religious leaders choose to remain silent on other public issues because of the adverse publicity on this issue.”
                  With a person like George Pell at the metaphorical helm of the RCC in Australia, keeping a low profile is probably a good thing. After all, when he opens his mouth, it is only to switch which foot he has in it. Comments like, “I put the victim first” which no victims believed at the Victorian inquiry are classic Pellisms. Especially when followed up with evidence he had continued to pay a stipend to convicted priest, has paid pittances out to his churches victims, meanwhile buying $30 million properties in Rome. Even his appearance at the Victorian Inquiry, was not to say sorry, which none of the churches victims believed anyway, Pell was there because he had to be there. The churches actions since the 1990’s in addressing child rape, is only because they have been made to do it. Even then, it was out of a desire to self protect, not help the victim, the case of the Fosters is a classic example, Pell offered them $50k for each daughter raped in a manner that destroyed the faith of Chrissie Foster, the Fosters took his church to court and ended up with 9 times that amount for just one of their daughters. It wasn’t enough, one is dead, the other a permanently disabled. Even some Priests like Kevin Dillon think Pell acted in a completely unacceptable manner. Interestingly, Father Dillion noted that if Melbourne Response and Towards Healing worked, Pell wouldn’t be sitting in that inquiry. Telling isn’t it?
                  Moving on, for the broader priests and such types of the RCC not being seen in public in the robes of office, due to the risk of being harassed makes sense to me. A huge swathe of society now has little to no respect for Pell and his ilk, worse, many are downright disgusted. The church has lost this respect and moved to the level of outright loathing for a very good reason: the ham handed, ineffective, attempted self-preserving, inability to acknowledge how wrong they are is at the heart of it, the claims of piety and morality are shown by actions to be non-existent. When Pell says he is sorry, no one buys it, no one believes it, because he has only said it when he was in a place in which he had to say it.
                  • ANNA :

                    05 Jun 2013 3:23:18pm
                    As an adult survivor of child sexual abuse (although not within the context of a church or religion) I do get tired of the over-use of the term "paedophile". Not all individuals who sexually abuse children are paedophiles. Some offenders are opportunistic and don't care what age their targets are. Children are, to them, easy targets, but their age is not the primary attraction - having the opportunity for sexual gratification and/or power over a vulnerable individual is quite sufficient irrespective of age.

                    To lump all offending priests (or others) under the term "paedophile" is problematic, as it seems to suggest that all we have to do is keep children safe from one category of offender, while other categories of offender (those who target any age group) are quite simply overlooked.

                    What can be said for any Catholic priests who sexually abused children (irrespective of whether they were paedophiles or not): they were entering an institution which was pre-disposed to treat offenders with care, dignity, concern and forgiveness, while their victims could anticipate scorn, doubt and cynicism. A sex offender's paradise!

                    If there is no disincentive to sexually abuse, why stop?
                    • CHRIS :

                      10 Jun 2013 12:57:15pm
                      This is an extremely important point. The term paedophile says nothing about the actions carried out. In some ways it can assist in watering down the visual and emotional impact it has on the public, thus providing further shelter from the crimes for the perpetrators. Rapists and sex abusers are more accurate terms and the church and the media should be using these terms more often when referring to people who have had sexual relations with someone else unwillingly.
                    • DAN :

                      05 Jun 2013 12:40:52pm
                      Thank you for this interesting article.

                      In particular the parts about psychiatry...very interesting. I'm very interested to hear more about the advisory role and influence that psychologists and psychiatrists had in the church

                      • NOVELACTIVIST :

                        05 Jun 2013 9:42:50am
                        The abuse by priests is far worse than by 'ordinary' members of society because they are supposed to be moral leaders. They are not, by the nature of their office, supposed to have the same "human frailties".
                        • HORSE :

                          05 Jun 2013 2:40:55pm
                          Moreover, significant issues are
                          a/ the a/ failure of the organisation world-wide to deal with the consequences of those alleged 'human frailties';
                          b/ the almost uniform way the crimes were exacerbated by offenders being moved on.

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