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<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

Healing Be Damned

The next pope will need to come to grips with the generations of systemic sexual abuse within the Catholic church. But in Australia, the spotlight is now on the credibility of protocols set up by the church to handle such claims.

Even before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse starts, Australia’s Catholic bishops know they have a problem.

Of all the matters the royal commission is expected to delve into over the coming years, the church’s own protocols for handling allegations of abuse will be one of the most important.

The Catholic church in Australia has two separate abuse protocols: Towards Healing, covering most Australian dioceses was introduced in 1997. The Melbourne Archdiocese is covered by what has come to be known as the Melbourne Response, introduced by Archbishop George Pell (now Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney) around the same time.

The problem for the bishops now is that huge holes have already been blown through the credibility of both Towards Healing and the Melbourne Response, in the course of the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into sexual abuse, which is due to report at the end of April.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

Cardinal George Pell

Two submissions to the inquiry were especially devastating, one from Victoria Police and the other from respected family-law specialist Professor Patrick Parkinson of Sydney University.

Victoria Police accuses the church of attempting to dissuade victims of sexual crime from reporting to the police, alerting suspects that they were under police investigation, removing files, moving or protecting offenders, and obtaining injunctions and imposing legal professional privilege to prevent the release of evidence — all since the church’s abuse protocols were introduced.

Noting that the Archdiocese of Melbourne had admitted on its website to making compensation payments to about 300 victims in the previous 14 years and identified 86 offenders, of whom 60 were priests, Victoria Police says the archdiocese never referred a single complainant to police.

“It is evident in the mandate of Towards Healing as well as the Melbourne Responses that their focus is not on bringing offenders to justice,” the submission says.

Appearing before the parliamentary inquiry on October 19 last year to give evidence that one MP later described as “chilling in its detail and its analysis of a culture”, Police Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton described the church’s existing protocols as “fundamentally flawed”, and said they were focused more on internal issues, such as legal liability and public relations, than on the long-term interests of victims.

He told the inquiry that the church’s current protocols “lack transparency, government oversight, public interest and a rehabilitative focus’’.

“These protocols continue to drive underreporting and adult victim impacts,” Ashton said.

“The Catholic church’s lack of co-operation with Victoria Police will continue to impede investigations, prevent the identification of other victims of child sexual abuse during the course of investigations of alleged offenders and decrease the organisation’s ability to understand the complexities of child sexual abuse and long-term impacts,” he said.

Victoria Police has been especially critical of Peter O’Callaghan, QC, the independent commissioner employed by the church to run internal investigations under the Melbourne Response. The police question whether he really can be regarded as independent when he is employed by the church under canon law. They also accuse him of a conflict of interest because he provided “authoritative advice” to a victim that a criminal case against a member of the church would be unlikely to succeed in court. In another case, police say the independent commissioner informed a suspect that he was being investigated by police, giving him the opportunity to destroy files. O’Callaghan has since issued a statement calling the police submission “seriously misconceived and plainly wrong”.

Professor Parkinson was asked by the Catholic church’s national professional standards committee to conduct an independent review of Towards Healing in 1999, and again in 2008. Both times Towards Healing was revised as a result of his recommendations. He told the Victorian inquiry that it was important to give the church a great deal of credit. The church had taken “a very genuine step” to try and make amends for the suffering of victims with Towards Healing, he said, and victims were strongly encouraged to go the police. “At its best it is a pastoral approach which works very well. It has also got lots of weaknesses,” he said.

“I have seen first-hand the efforts the church has made to cover up its failures and wrongdoing in the very recent past.”

But Parkinson told the inquiry that he had now withdrawn his support for Towards Healing, because “I have seen first-hand the efforts the church has made to cover up its failures and wrongdoing in the very recent past. The national committee, which is meant to be in the vanguard of providing a just response to the problem of sexual abuse within the church, was largely responsible for the cover-up to which I refer.”

Parkinson says that in 2010 the church’s standards committee suppressed a report he wrote that was highly critical of one of the church’s largest and most powerful male religious orders, the Salesians of Don Bosco. The cover-up involved strenuous efforts by the national and international leadership of the Salesians to block the extradition of three of its priests wanted in Australia over allegations of sexual abuse. Two had been shunted off to Samoa, where the local archbishop was left totally in the dark as to the accusations that had been made against them, and the third was working in the Vatican.

“The Salesians have been described by one of America’s leading experts as the most unrepentant and defiant order he has ever come across,’’ Parkinson told the inquiry.

“Indeed, on the issue of sexual abuse I would absolutely endorse that. I would say they are not only unrepentant and defiant, they are untruthful. The lies which were told, the cover-ups, the attempts made to suppress my report, were breathtaking.’’

The submissions by Victoria Police and Parkinson are by no means the only criticisms that have been levelled at the church’s abuse protocols. Since 1997, many victims have complained about being required to sign confidentiality agreements, which they understood as the church paying them for their silence.

The Melbourne archdiocese and Peter O’Callaghan are scheduled to appear at the Victorian inquiry before it wraps up in April. O’Callaghan has already indicated that there is much in the Victoria Police submission that he is keen to refute.

On November 12 last year, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference released a statement welcoming the national royal commission. In that statement the bishops also defended the church’s recent record.

“Much of the public discussion is about how the church dealt with cases 20 or more years ago,” they wrote. “Critics talk as though earlier failures are still present. Major procedural changes in dealing with these matters have been implemented by the Church since then. ... It is unacceptable, because it is untrue, to claim that the Catholic church does not have proper procedures, and to claim that Church authorities refuse to co-operate with the police.”

But there are signs that Australian bishops are beginning to think Towards Healing and the Melbourne Response are a lost cause. When the bishops conference discussed the future of both protocols at its most recent meeting, late last November, the mood behind closed doors is said to have been in marked contrast to their vigorous defence of the church’s procedures just two weeks earlier. One senior insider told The Global Mail this week that there was “a growing realisation” among the bishops that “this is a disaster ... Towards Healing has never really worked and it’s time to go back to square one.”

There is “a growing realisation” among the bishops that “this is a disaster; Towards Healing has never really worked and it’s time to go back to square one”.

The Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, appears to be one of the bishops who feels this way. He has already signalled that, rather than continuing to fine-tune Towards Healing, “we may be moving now into a post-Towards Healing phase”. And he has suggested the royal commission could help the bishops with what that new phase might look like.

Former secretary general of the Australian Medical Association Francis Sullivan was recently appointed chief executive of the Catholic church’s new Truth, Justice and Healing Council. Like Patrick Parkinson he is careful to give credit where it is due, and says there is “no question that if measures like Towards Healing had been in place in previous decades, a lot of these atrocities would not have occurred”. Sullivan says he has not yet been privy to discussions at the level of the Australian bishops. “But there is no doubt our Truth, Justice and Healing Council will be rigorously reviewing the effectiveness of Towards Healing and the Melbourne Response in the light of international best practice.”

But raising international best practice is beside the point. It is precisely the fact that the Catholic church and many of its religious orders are international in their structure that is undermining the integrity of its Australian abuse protocols, and that’s what is making this such an ongoing PR disaster for the Australian Church. The problem for the Catholic church is essentially structural. The Vatican, and the leadership of orders like the Salesians, are beyond the reach of Australian law. This is a major issue that the national royal commission will need to come to grips with, given that it was set up to look at how to “eliminate or reduce impediments that currently exist for responding appropriately to child sexual abuse and related matters in institutional contexts.”

Meanwhile, Francis Sullivan says the new Truth, Justice and Healing Council is awaiting authorisation by the bishops of its own terms of reference. “I anticipate that part of our brief will be to examine Towards Healing and the Melbourne Response,” he says. “It’s not a question of waiting around for the royal commission. We need to get on with it.”

Former Irish President Mary McAleese recently spoke to Stephen Crittenden about sexual abuse in the Catholic church, and her latest book Quo Vadis? Collegiality in the Code of Canon Law.

25 comments on this story
by Roxee

This institution claims for itself, with the support of the faithful, a moral authority whose views on subjects such as gender equality, equal rights for the non- heterosexual, human reproduction, and death and dying. It clearly does not deserve such a title as it's statements and the religious text upon which it claims this right are immoral, and anyone who has studied the history of the origins of both the text and institution also fraudulent. I hope that as we move through this century humanity will leave these old superstitions and myths behind and get down to deciding an ethical framework based on humanism from which we can all draw on to lead more peaceful lives free from religious dogma.

February 12, 2013 @ 6:38pm
by Lisa W

How anyone can support a religion that supports the sexual abuse of children by condoning it is beyond me. Bring on the Royal Commission.

February 12, 2013 @ 8:49pm
by Jerry Slevin

Thank you, Stephen, for your usual incisive and informed analysis. The Catholic hierachy's games continue, as the Pope's scripted resignation just showed. Please see my "Pope Benedict XVI and the Next Pope: What's the Rush?", accessible at:

February 13, 2013 @ 12:56am
by Amanda McKenna

I think that to say the Vatican didn't know is pure nonsense. According to directions to bishops coming straight from the Vatican in 2001 the protocol was to refer ALL cases of sexual abuse to the CDF (read: Ratzinger as the then head of the CDF). What's more, once cases were under investigation, bishops were not allowed to take the matter to any authorities under pontifical secret according to Crimen Sollicitationas. Had the bishops taken the information to the police once a case was underway, for instance, they stood a chance of being ex-communicated. I call that being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Regardless of whatever laws a country may have in place, it beggars belief that anyone in the Church hierarchy would think that the treatment of victims that we have seen, or the silence that has been imposed regarding these cases, could in any way be 'for the good of the Church'. I wonder which 'Church' they are thinking of? It certainly isn't for the good of the People of God who actually make up the Church. All I can see is that it saved the bacon of the perpetrators of these crimes along with their superiors at the expense of children's lives and the lives of their families.

As others have said: bring on the Royal Commission!

February 13, 2013 @ 1:17am
by Rev James Moran

Pope takes an "early retirement!" I did too but for a different reason -- Nine months prior to my ordination I was raped by a priest in the parish I had been assigned to. That was 1970. In the fall of 2001 I had a flashback, and struggled to remain in ministry until 2006. At that time I was not longer, in conscience, able to "represent" (or be an apostle to) the hierarchy due to their horrendous and dispicable way they were handling the sexual abuse crisis.

What I do not understand about the pope's retirement is the IMMEDIACY of it. As a priest teh celebrataion of Holy Thursday is very important - we celebrate the establishment of the Priesthood, as well as the Eucharist. Then thee is the remainder of Holy Week and Easter. What's the rust? Is there something else we are not being told about? Is there another scandal about to break? I she going to address the situaton in the United States with Mahony, George, and Finn among others? It would be nice - but I am not holding my breath!

February 13, 2013 @ 3:59am
by Judy Jones

Pope Benedict made several apologies to victims who were sexually abused by clerics, etc, within the Catholic church. Yet to this day, he has taken no decisive actions to punish any high ranking church official for enabling, empowering, and covering up sex crimes against innocent kids.

Many should have been fired. Just to name a few..
--Cardinal Law, who was given a plush job in the Vatican, is still in that high ranking position
--Bishop Finn, who is a convicted criminal is still the bishop of the KC-St Joe diocese
--Cardinal Mahony, horrific cover up of sex crimes per thousands of recently released LA archdiocese secret documents, he is still a cardinal and can now vote for a new pope.

We hope there is someone within the college of cardinals who could be a pope with integrity, who will start to take immediate actions to stop these crimes against humanity.

Children are safest when child predators and those who enable and conceal their crimes are held responsible.

Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA, 636-433-2511.,
"SNAP (The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) is the world's oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. SNAP was founded in 1988 and has more than 12,000 members. Despite the word priest in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, teachers, Protestant ministers and increasingly, victims who were assaulted in a wide range of institutional settings like orphanages, summer camps, athletic programs, Boy Scouts, etc."

February 13, 2013 @ 6:37am
by Jane Sullivan

This is by far the most thorough examination of the issues around the royal commission to appear in the media yet. As a non-Catholic, I've always been perplexed by the three monkeys attitude church leaders have displayed with child sexual abuse. But as Crittenden succinctly outlines, it isn't the ignorance, its the deception that's most deplorable.

The fact that they are only now realising the whole thing is a catastrophe - not just for the lives of victims, but the entire church - is testament to the fact the power-base in the church is full of yesterday's men. Welcome to 2012.

February 13, 2013 @ 12:01pm
by Roxee

I watched Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the house of god today. I was crying by the end. The Catholic church has known it has had paedophiles within its ranks for hundreds of years according to this documentary. The last pope increased the ability of the church to keep it secret by centralising reporting to the office that the current pope was in charge of. Ratzinger may have used words condemning the paedophiles, but his actions didn't match his words. Despite this the cardinals voted to promote him to pope! One of the cardinals complicit in the cover up, an italian, is being floated as a candidate to be the next pope. How can the faithful continue to support these people having any say in their church? Moral authority! It would be hilarious if it wasn't so terrifyingly horrible, indeed evil.

February 14, 2013 @ 12:47am
by Therese

Roxee you ask: How can THE FAITHFUL continue to support these people ??!! However you forget that thanks to the largesse of Australian taxpayers it is our entire nation that supports THESE PEOPLE. The Catholic church is also Australia's biggest employer after the Australian government and therefore the many non-Catholic employees in Catholic institutions are just as much stakeholders in the continuing oppression of victims as are the church faithful. In fact it is the disgusted Catholic faithful who have been deserting the church in droves while non Catholics keep propping up Catholic institutions allowing them to maintain business as usual. It is time now everyone took responsibility for what has been happening and concentrate on helping survivors rather than playing pass the parcel of blame.

February 14, 2013 @ 2:33pm
by juduy lawson

I would like to make a point that the church also needs to address the physical and psychological forms of abuse perpetrated by Religious , female as well as male. The effects of this can be as traumatic for the victims as sexual abuse. To deny or ignore this is inexplicable to me. I am constantly appalled by the narrow minded emphasis on abuse.

February 14, 2013 @ 5:46pm
by judy lawson

This story just underlines the patent dishonesty of church authorities. Why woud anyone who has experiences any form of abuse, sexual, physical or psychological want to belong to an organization whose ethica are so flawed.

February 14, 2013 @ 5:48pm
by vivien

Great Interview with Mary McAleese. Very pertinent commentary as we look to the election of a new leader who might actually attend to these very signs of the times.

February 14, 2013 @ 9:59pm
by Michael D. Breen

"Former secretary general of the Australian Medical Association Francis Sullivan" is this correct?
Isn't the word Catholic in there somewhere?

February 15, 2013 @ 3:19pm
by Dr Michael Furtado

I would like to comment on Mr Crittenden's journalistic skills. Ever since he presented Religion Report for ABC Radio National the quality of his analysis and reportage struck me as being a cut above others contributing to the genre. In particular, his interview with the formerr Irish President shows him to be a keen observer of the politics of the Church, especially Catholicism, both Roman and Anglican, and with an incisive political edge to it that reflects the superlative benchmark set by that doyen of religious commentators, the outstanding Englishman, Clifford Longley. Longley's remarkable skill, shifting religious commentary from the sentimental and self-censored to a new level of analysis, is widely recognised and supported by several superior media outlets, including the BBC and The Tablet. Above all else, Crittenden has demonstrated a willingness to take on several issues of social justice in the Churches that tend to pass under the radar of other journalists. I wish Stephen Crittenden every success in bringing to a tired and obscure corner of Australian public culture commentary, especially in a highly indifferent and substantially religiously illiterate climate, the voice that Longley and a few illustrious others, such as John Allen of the United States and Peter Hebblethwaite of the UK, have brought to religious journalism on a global scale. Kudos indeed to The Global Mail for publishing him!

February 16, 2013 @ 2:58am
by Jon Longworth

Like the Builders House, the Teachers Children and the Mechanics Car. We now have the Priests Morals.

I think this institution will effectively cease to exist in the developed world before too long. And it won't be the fault of secular society. Far from it. People need spiritual and moral guidance as much today as they ever did.

The Church has permanently disqualified themselves from providing it.

February 16, 2013 @ 11:35am

I have never seen a depiction of Jesus Christ laughing or any other state of happiness - always cutting a sad and dejected figure. Perhaps he foresaw what was awaiting the little children at the hands of those who minister in his name in the years to come. Deuteronomy 4:9 “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children—

February 16, 2013 @ 2:31pm
by stephen crittenden

@Michael D. Breen. It is correct. Francis Sullivan also served as CEO of Catholic Healh Australia from 1994-2008.

February 16, 2013 @ 3:48pm
by James Brown

The church is to pedophilia as the mafia is to organised crime; it is a morally bankrupt institution which should no longer enjoy the tax privileges of a religious organisation because it patently is not one.

February 16, 2013 @ 8:35pm
by John Frederiksen

As a victim of sexual assault whist attending St Vincent's college Bendigo in the 1960's and as a victim that has been through the Towards Healing process I agree with the article. In my case Towards Healing used ex clergy to do the investigating. They also organised a mediation session with the head of the Vincentians who was very sorry that I was assaulted and admitted the offence had occurred then offered me $5000. I refused the insult as the church has spent in my opinion 1 million dollars keeping Fr Hugh Murray out of court in NSW for the past 10 years. I have now joined three other victims and we are seek our own private justice.
This is a great article exposing the hypocritical, two face approach of the catholic bruderbond.
Keep up the good work. John Frederiksen

February 17, 2013 @ 9:10am
by sherry stumm

I just can't understand how the churchs have escaped the law by not reporting on sexual crime, especially as every other organisation is held accountable for non reporting. Since when have they been a state within our state? I just don't buy their argument that they can fix the issue internally or by transferring offenders interstate or overseas. Why are they exempt from reporting? Why have they been allowed to bury these horrible offences against children for so long. Surely the government authorities and lawyers who knew about these offences should be held accountable as well. Sexual crime against children results in lifelong pain and injury and can distort their lives if suicide does not put them out of their misery first. Shame on all churches, no wonder the number of agnostics is rising!

February 17, 2013 @ 12:18pm
by shane watt

Keep up the good work Mr John Frederiksen.

February 19, 2013 @ 11:23am
by Armin Fahnle

Can a lawyer please explain how the Catholic Church is not a legal entity that can be sued but is, it seems, sufficiently a legal entity to claim the protection of solicitor client privilege? There can be no confidence in the community that the Catholic Church is dealing with the issue until
1. They report to police the names and location of every priest ever moved or accused of sexual abuse ... And provide affidavit evidence in respect of those conversations.
2. The bishops who oversaw the obfuscation and diversionary tactics own up to exactly what they have done and resign from the ministry.
3. The Dioceses seek incorporation under Australian law as a single national entity that is subject to liability for all matters that rise from the disparate entities that are thus incorporated
4. The rogue Orders that report back to Rome, and I understand that is most of them, are made accountable directly to the Australian Roman Catholic Church.
5. Massive compensation is paid to victims and the families of deceased victims
6. The church issues an unequivocal statement that it recognises the sovereignty of Australia and the supremacy of its laws over and above those of the Vatican. I.e they are a church within not above the state.
7. Each catholic organisation that has been associated with abuse publish a heartfelt unequivocal apology on it's web sites and in the press as a permanent record of its disgraceful history.
8. All catholic organisations dealing with children come under the oversight of an independent community or government appointed board that puts in place clear processes for inviting investigating and reporting all claims of abuse in those organisations. The church cannot be trusted to act as Christ would ... Without self interest.
9. The Catholic Church stop generalising the issue by claiming abuse occurs everywhere. It may well do ... But in the systematic way it has in the Catholic Church ... I doubt it. And in any case.. First remove the speck from thine own eye !

Frankly... The above is a bare minimum. If a community based organisation or a company had such a record of child abuse ... We would ensure it was shut down.... That's if the press and the police do their job!

February 22, 2013 @ 1:04pm
Show previous 22 comments
by Julie Ho

Armin, this is a good analysis of how to deal with the abuse of privilege. And we would expect members of the church, including prominent Catholic politicians, to come out and agree with you too.

March 2, 2013 @ 5:22pm
by CJ

Armin, 100% AMEN!

March 9, 2013 @ 10:17am
by Rose

The problem is the Vatican has been allowed to be a State recognised by the UN. So when it suits the heirarchy are part of a sovereign state; but then the international orders should be assumed to be ultimately legally responsible to the Pope in this particular matter.

June 30, 2013 @ 2:55pm
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