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.