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Issue #1627      February 19, 2014

Editorial

Vatican claims anti-Catholic conspiracy

Hopes of the faithful that Francis would be a reforming Pope have received a heavy blow. The Vatican responded angrily to a UN report on child sexual abuse by priests, claiming that it is “prejudiced” against the Catholic Church and that it peddles attacks made by anti-Catholic advocacy groups. But while the Catholic Church features heavily in revelations of cover-up and protection of serial offenders, it is far from the only organisation to which children are entrusted to be accused of failing miserably to protect them from sexual predators. The Catholic Church’s claim of a witch hunt doesn’t stack up.

Australia is getting disturbing insights into the extent of the horrors via the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It was revealed two weeks ago that boys at the Bexley Boys Home in Sydney were routinely beaten, sexually abused and rented out to paedophiles for weekends during the 1960s and ‘70s. The Salvation Army, which ran the home, isn’t denying any claims but insists that guidelines and procedures have been put in place to prevent any such practices occurring again. Like the Catholic Church, it has expressed its sorrow for the abuse and sympathy for the victims.

The Royal Commission was called following a report on the ABC’s Lateline TV program on November 8, 2012. Detective chief inspector Peter Fox essentially put his life and job on the line in an interview with Tony Jones. “I can testify from my own experience the Church covers up, silences victims, hinders police investigations, alerts offenders, destroys evidence and moves priests to protect the good name of the Church,” Fox said in a letter to the NSW Premier. The public outcry forced the federal government’s hand despite strong opposition from the Church. The terms of reference are suitably broad though time will tell how the question of compensation will be handled.

The institutions in question will doubtless try to place the criminal behaviour and subsequent cover-up squarely in the past; the “bad old days” before modern regulation and oversight. But this isn’t ancient history. Last month, the Vatican revealed that close to 400 priests left the priesthood in 2011 and 2012 due to accusations of child sexual abuse.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has rightly called the Catholic Church on its recalcitrance in these matters. No Catholic Bishop has ever been sanctioned for protecting offending priests. The Committee has urged the Church to implement its recommendations and to report back by 2017. It was 14 years late in making its submission for the latest report.

The committee has responded to suggestions that it is prejudiced and has ignored measures taken in recent years by Church authorities. “The Committee on the Rights of the Child is not in the business of saying ‘Well said’. We are in the business of saying ‘Well done’. We want to see concrete measures,” Benyam Mezmur, a committee member and Ethiopian academic on children’s legal rights, told the media.

A question for societies blighted by the sorts of institutional practices now coming to light is the increasing role religious-affiliated charity groups play in delivering social services. A major part of the neo-liberal agenda is for governments to step out of their duty to meet the health, education and social security needs of their citizens. Private operators, including many religious-affiliated organisations, will be expected to take charge of the much smaller safety net left behind.

A revealing reaction to the recent UN report on the Vatican’s inaction over child sex abuse came from Austen Invereigh, coordinator of Canadian church advocacy group Catholic Voices. “It takes no account of the particularities of the Holy See, treating it as if it were the HQ of a multinational corporation,” he said. When it comes to the provision of social services, the Catholic Church is indeed a multinational – a very wealthy one that can expect to expand its reach as governments like the Abbott government in Australia press on with their privatising agenda. The public is right to ask how fit these organisations are to carry out these functions.

Next article – Stop Press – Manus Island

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