Catholic Church must open way to transparency

Sydney Morning Herald | February 10 | Catholic Church must open way to transparency

The following opinion piece was published in the Sydney Morning Herald as well as online nationally.

It highlights the need for transparency by the Catholic Church, and all institutions in the context of the Royal Commission and recent UN findings
Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is a global first. Its private sessions and public hearings, including those into the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing Process, have given a voice to victims. The royal commission, Australia and the world are listening and bearing witness to a litany of abuses and failures within the church as well as other institutions. More is to come.

The commission is helping to bring the deep-seated, pervasive and devastating issues of child sexual abuse into the light. It is an open and transparent process to uncover the systemic failures of institutions to protect children and respond appropriately to these alleged and established crimes. It is leading the way in how these investigations should be handled. Hopefully, this will be reflected around the globe.

Another world first is the unprecedented and scathing report from the United Nations into the Vatican’s handling of child sexual abuse. The UN has deemed the Catholic Church to be in breach of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a human rights treaty prioritising the rights of children, to which it is a signatory. This finding confirms what survivors and survivor groups have long known: tens of thousands of children have been betrayed, harmed and violated within and by the church, its clergy and workers.

The Vatican attests that the church has done more than any other institution to address these issues with repeated protestations implying distortion and exaggeration of survivor testimony.


Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA) supports the UN’s call that as a bare minimum all clergy and church official workers suspected of or found guilty of child abuse or putting children in harm must be removed immediately; that known sex offenders are removed from the ranks and turned over to authorities. These actions would indeed be in the best interests of the child.

The UN committee was gravely concerned, not only that the Holy See had not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, but also had not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and protect children. In fact it was found to have adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of abuse by clergy, while ensuring the impunity of the perpetrators, and those complicit in covering up their crimes.

The findings of the UN and the experiences of thousands of victims who assert that they have been re-traumatised in the process of seeking pastoral support, compensation and justice, need to drive real change. The time is long overdue for large and powerful institutions, such as the Catholic Church, to acknowledge their wrongdoings and take action. For decades victims, individually and collectively, have sought for church officials to respond with compassion and accountability.

Experience has taught us that any shift in hierarchical acknowledgement or processes requires pressure from outside of the church. Large numbers of victims have been party to internal church processes and few, it would seem, have left feeling that they have been heard, supported or justly treated.

The Vatican announced in December that Pope Francis would create a commission to study how to prevent abuse and help victims. The details of this initiative have not yet been released. The formation of another internal mechanism, without true independence and the scrutiny that brings, implies continuing efforts to keep this in-house. To date this has been at the expense of child safety and victim support. The church – and all institutions – must be held accountable to the laws of the land. Criminal acts or serious allegations should be referred to secular authorities.

Abuse flourishes in closed systems and within cultures of hierarchy and secrecy. The UN report demands immediate and decisive action, action which puts an end to the ”code of silence” which has seen the church prioritise its own needs over that of victims. The world needs this immediate action.

ASCA is calling for attitudinal change from the Catholic Church and, in fact, all institutions seeking to handle such matters internally – it’s time for open, independent transparency. We want to see every suspected case of child abuse investigated with the proper judicial processes within which the public is kept in the loop.

The church must demonstrate a real desire to uncover the truth in its ranks without obfuscation or cover-up. And we need global support with the full co-operation of all institutions.

We need to deal with this as a community, as we are doing in Australia with the royal commission. The testimony of survivors before the commission has led the way. Their experiences and their courage must count for something.

Church abuse victims deserve compensation without strings

Church abuse victims deserve compensation without strings

(published National Times May 20th – by Dr. Cathy Kezelman)

The Catholic Church has delayed proper compensation for victims of abuse for far too long. Photo: Reuters

In the past 50 years an estimated 30,000 victims from 25 countries have reported the crime of child sexual abuse by clergy within the Catholic Church. Only sustained global outrage has finally prised the lid off the systemic cover-up of clergy sexual abuse. It took until last week, however, for Pope Benedict to acknowledge the Church’s responsibility for these crimes and to attest that forgiveness does not obviate the need for justice.

The internal processes by which the Catholic Church in Australia “manages” child sexual assault cases, Towards Healing (and The Melbourne Response), have frequently been presented as ones to which other countries can aspire. Overseas we have seen how countless more crimes have been perpetrated as the Church moved its criminal clergy from parish to parish. However, fresh and very disturbing allegations from victims in Australia highlight how Australian victims of child sexual assault suffer not only from the original abuse and its impact, but from protracted and allegedly flawed internal Church processes. Not only have perpetrators not been brought to account but in some cases it would appear, have continued in their clerical roles, with their hierarchical positions honoured. Recent reports about the ongoing presiding roles played by a Sydney priest, Finian Egan and a Melbourne priest, Patrick Maye, despite serious child sexual assault allegations, are chilling.

One would have assumed that all children would be safe in Church. That of all organisations, the Church would have immediately expressed outraged about the abuse of innocent children within its walls. Surely the leadership of another organisation – a child-care facility, a kindergarten, on uncovering these crimes, would have brought such children to safety? Yet ironically the Church’s response has often been one of institutional risk minimisation. Not only have perpetrators not been brought to account, but justice has often been denied. In the case of Father Egan it is alleged that victim compensation was contingent upon one of his victims not going to the police.

It is high time for the Church to establish proper funds to enable the long-term expert care for all those harmed by child sexual assault within the Church. And it is time for these funds to be provided without strings or constraints.

The Pope recently put on record a call for all crimes to be reported to civil authorities. One can only hope that monetary settlements and confidentiality agreements will no longer provide a smokescreen behind which perpetrators hide. Hopefully systemic changes will finally mean that child and adult victims receive the care, support and justice they need and deserve.

In the past 20 years, victims of clergy abuse have gained a voice and their revelations have finally shone a light strong enough to penetrate the dark history of the Catholic Church. It is important to stress that despite the number of victims reporting abuse, many clergy are beyond reproach. The Church continues to do good works in many areas helping and supporting those in need. Sadly this scandal has tarnished the work of many well-intentioned and industrious clergy. This is the Church’s opportunity to expand its good works into the areas of child protection and pastoral care for victims. For the Church to show real leadership and provide public funds to lead the fight against child abuse, in Australia and globally.

This crisis has highlighted the destructive nature of systems of power that ensure silence and secrecy. The scale of this crisis within the Catholic Church is unprecedented. Yet the crime of child sexual assault is not limited to the Catholic Church. It knows no doctrinal boundaries and a plethora of other institutions and religions have their own crimes to answer. The victims of Catholic clergy abuse have courageously led the way. As the Australian victims who are now speaking out attest, the process of reclaiming one’s life is far from easy.

One would hope the tide is finally turning as regards to child sexual assault within the Catholic Church. As further Australian victims add their voices to those of other victims, we anxiously await the Church’s renewed response.

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

Time for the church to focus on the victims

Time for the Church to focus on the victims



March 23, 2010 – 6:19AM

Illustration: Robin CowcherIllustration: Robin Cowcher

The Pope’s letter to 15,000 victims of Irish clergy abuse, while expressing his shame and remorse along similar lines to his apology in Australia and US in 2008, falls well short of the mark. While it rebukes Irish bishops and lower ranking officials it makes no mention of any sanctions against them over their “grave errors of judgment” in not responding to sex abuse allegations. He suggests that the church’s own laws, properly applied, should lead to the expulsion of clergy who sexually abuse children. However, the scale of this scandal would suggest otherwise. The church is facing a burgeoning crisis in countries all over Europe, including in the Pope’s native Germany and most recently in Brazil.

This letter also fails to address the role of senior Irish clerics, or most importantly, the Vatican’s own accountability. It would appear that the Church’s policy has helped to protect sex offenders in its midst while failing to prevent further crimes or appropriately care for victims. What appears to be a systematic cover-up of sexual abuse by the highest echelons of the Church is arguably the most morally reprehensible crime of all. The Church has for many lost its moral and sadly, its spiritual authority.

This apology is a long-overdue attempt to unlock the conspiracy of silence and secrecy, which protects perpetrators and perpetuates abuse both inside and outside of the church. However, the church is still not tackling its ultimate responsibility for the horrendous harm suffered by countless victims. It has not demanded the resignations of those spearheading the cover-up or committed to bringing all of the perpetrators to justice through the criminal justice system. The policy of the church has effectively put the lives of scores of children in danger. The scale of the harm generated is only now coming to light. Tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of children’s lives have been impacted and so have those of the adults they have become. As this situation has now reached tipping point, undoubtedly many more victims will now find the courage to speak out.

The impact of abuse does not stop when the abuse stops. The human brain is not fully developed until a person is in their 20s. When a child is abused in those crucial developmental years it affects every aspect of their development, arresting their emotional maturation and their ability to make empowered and informed choices. When the perpetrator of that abuse is a person in position of authority and trust and in this case a spiritual leader the damage is potentially even greater. When a child discloses, or for that matter, an adult, it is crucial for them to be heard, validated and supported. It takes incredible courage to overcome the inappropriate shame and self-blame survivors feel in speaking out, especially when tackling an institution with the power and authority of the Catholic Church. The failure of the Church to embrace its victims and provide a truly pastoral response has further compounded the damage to victims.

It is time for real reform and that must begin at the very top of the Catholic Church, with a review of canon law. Canon law seemingly has failed to establish clear and transparent mechanisms for dealing with sexual abuse within the Church and this failure has allowed those crimes to continue unabated. The Pope again failed to clarify whether the church considers secular law a higher priority than canon law in dealing with sexual abuse within the Church. In past decades, as the number of victims coming forward increased, the church closed ranks seeking to protect the institution and its clergy. It failed to put proper boundaries in place to contain the inappropriate behaviour of offending priests and so protect the innocent in its care. This papal letter has failed to reassure victims and other concerned parties that effective changes will be put in place and will be enforced to fully protect children in the Church’s care.

The Pope’s letter does not call for the resignation of the head of the Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, who swore two child victims to oaths of secrecy in 1975, so ensuring their silence. Cardinal Brady has sincerely apologised for his mistakes of the past and asked Irish Catholics for forgiveness. However, he has stated that he will only resign if the Pope asks him to do so. Yet the Pope has not called for his resignation or for that of others at the top of the Church in Ireland.

Three Irish government-ordered investigations published from 2005 to 2009 documented how 15,000 Irish children were raped, molested and suffered systemic abuses at the hands of priests in their parishes and by nuns and brothers in boarding schools and orphanages.

The investigations, undertaken by senior members of the judiciary, ruled that Catholic leaders protected the Church’s reputation from scandal at the expense of children. In fact, Irish bishops did not report a single case to police until their hand was forced in 1996 after victims began to sue the church. The Pope has suggested that the Irish Bishops involved didn’t understand the scale or criminality of child abuse until recent years. However, the investigators found cases in which Catholic officials in the 1960s had reported school employees to police for abusing children, showing they understood even then it was a crime. This further abrogation of responsibility does little to appease the anger of victims or show real commitment to change.

The Pope has stated that priests and religious workers guilty of child abuse must answer for these crimes before properly constituted tribunals. It is not clear whether he means that they must surrender themselves to police and face justice through the channels of the criminal justice system. This needs to be clarified. It is reassuring to see that Germany has taken a stand by saying that all cases of child sexual abuse within the church will now be referred immediately to the police.

Pope Benedict XVI, who served as Archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982, has yet to speak about the hundreds of abuse cases emerging in Germany, which are now affecting two-thirds of diocese there. He approved the transfer of a priest accused of child sexual assault for treatment instead of informing German police. This priest was subsequently reinstated and went on to allegedly abuse more children. In 2001, while a cardinal at the Vatican, the now Pope wrote a letter instructing bishops worldwide to report all cases of abuse to his office and keep Church investigations secret under threat of excommunication. The Vatican insists the secrecy rules serve only to protect the integrity of the Church’s investigations, and should not be taken to mean the Church should not tell police of their members’ crimes.

With scandals burgeoning in Italy, Switzerland, Austria, The Netherlands, Poland and Brazil in addition to previous crises in Canada, the US and Australia, it is time for fundamental change. And it is high time the Church’s priority shifts from institutional risk minimisation and protecting sex offenders within the church and focuses on protecting children and dealing with the needs of the victims.

Dr Cathy Kezelman is chairwoman of Adults Surviving Child Abuse.