Issue #1556 18 July 2012
“God is not mocked”
Last week at a special Mass, Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney Julian Porteous offered prayers for victims of abuse by members of the clergy. Many members of the congregation reacted with anger. Prayers are not enough, and never have been. Victims and their families are now calling for a Royal Commission into the matter.
Responsibility for these crimes does not rest with the clergy alone. Australian governments have taken little action to deal with the problem, and the Church itself has shown disregard for the law. Concealing evidence of a crime is an offence, and senior members of the church have failed to notify police about cases of abuse. The perpetrators were often allowed to continue their duties in different parishes, where the pattern of abuse continued. The abuse became a hierarchical system of denials, cover-ups and lies that reached the highest level of the church.
Twenty-five years ago a magistrate dismissed a case involving one victim, Damien Jurd, on the grounds that he was not as reliable a witness as the accused, a teacher at his school. Tormented by the trauma of his experiences, including the rejection of his case, Jurd later succumbed to drug addiction and committed suicide. As the ABC’s Four Corners program recently revealed, in 1992 the teacher, known only as “Father F”, confessed to an internal Church inquiry that he had interfered with Catholic alter boys over many years.
Father F was formally defrocked, but only after 13 years. Father Brian Lucas, a senior church official who participated in the inquiry, attempted to explain the Church’s lack of action by pointing out that Father F had not given the names of the victims, and that in any case “the first responsibility to report crime is by the victim”. They therefore decided that no criminal investigation could be mounted. However, it was up to the police to make that decision, not the Church. Moreover, anyone who has evidence relating to a crime must report it, regardless of whether the victims have made a complaint or been identified.
Admittedly, the Catholic Church is not the only organisation, religious or otherwise, whose members have committed these crimes, as shown by the recent shocking revelations about abuse of Australian naval cadets. Nor are all priests guilty of such acts. Far from it; most are decent, respected members of the community. However, the Church has a particularly long and intense history of sexual abuse, resulting from its demand that members of its exclusively male priesthood must remain celibate. The stated aim was to remove priests from the supposedly corrupting influence of lust, but its original purpose was actually to ensure that they would not have wives or children, and would leave their property to the Church.
A result of that terrible, avaricious policy has been a thousand-year culture of secret sexual affairs and vice. Girls were particularly at risk because there was less likelihood of pregnancy. Children of both sexes could be frightened into silence, having been taught that the Church represents God, who must be obeyed.
As Damien Jurd found out, if all else failed the perpetrator could denigrate the character of the victim, or rely on psychological pressure. One man has testified that in the 1970s he told the principal of his Sydney Catholic high school he had been sexually assaulted by a science teacher. He said he had not told his parents; he felt he could not do so because they trusted the teacher. In due course the teacher was sacked, but no further action was taken. The victim now intends to lodge a formal complaint about the principal’s failure to notify the police.
The actions of many members of the Catholic clergy are inconsistent with their own religious beliefs, as well as the law. Their behaviour, and the reluctance of governments and the police to take action on these matters, has made a laughing stock of both religion and the law.
The Bible says “God is not mocked”, and neither is the law. The victims and their families are determined that those who have abused children placed in their care will be punished. The Church must also apologise, compensate the victims, and change its policies – and the sooner the better.
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