THE Catholic Church is a world organisation “struggling to come to terms with the safety of children and its responsibilities in that area”, two members of Pope Francis’s child protection commission told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
“I think the Pope does understand the seriousness of it and I think there are many other leaders who do, but I think that the organisation, with the leadership that it has, there are some people struggling to come to terms with it,” psychiatrist and Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors member Baroness Sheila Hollins told the royal commission on Thursday.
Baroness Hollins and papal commission member Bill Killgallon told the royal commission they were under-resourced, under-staffed and had not seen evidence of research-based decision-making in the global church on issues relating to child sexual abuse.
“It seems to me that you’ve had a very systematic, well thought out program and you’ve commissioned research widely into some really important topics,” Mr Killgallon told the royal commission at the 16th, and final, public hearing into the Catholic Church.
“We as a commission can follow that example.”
A recent example of the church making decisions directly related to child sexual abuse involved whether child sex offenders within religious orders should be kept within communities or not, Mr Killgallon said.
“As far as I can see, there’s no evidence base for taking a decision on that. There has been no research that I’m aware of as to whether sending people – detaching them from the community or keeping them in community – whether one works better than the other,” he said.
Commissioner Andrew Murray told Baroness Hollins he was "not yet convinced” of the church’s ability to change the “culture of secrecy and concealment” that led to a global child sexual abuse tragedy.
“Overcoming a culture like that is a massive enterprise,” Mr Murray said.
Baroness Hollins, whose career as a psychiatrist has concentrated on the sexual abuse of adults and children with intellectual disabilities, agreed that to change that kind of church culture was “really, really difficult”.
Papal commission members believed “very strongly” that the church should pay for its work and “we shouldn’t be raising money from outside or from philanthropy, that we should be looking to the church to fund it”.
“But trying to work out what we need to have in place in order to be able to have the influence that we need is quite difficult,” she said.
“We’ve been trying to establish relationships and trying to understand how things are done within what is essentially an Italian kind of organisation.
“When we see the organisation and the competencies involved in the Australian royal commission, we don't have that level of support.”
We’ve been trying to establish relationships and trying to understand how things are done within what is essentially an Italian kind of organisation.Papal commission member Baroness Sheila Hollins
Royal commission chair Justice Peter McClellan told the papal commission members that “we see the work that you’re doing as a very important part of the church’s response, which of course will assist the church to perhaps come to terms with the recommendations we will make in due course”.
“Insofar as this commission has identified… real change will only occur, as we understand the process, if it’s coming from Rome,” Justice McClellan said.
He asked Baroness Hollins why the papal commission couldn’t “go to the Pope and say ‘We don’t have the resources we need to effectively carry out our work’?”
Baroness Hollins replied: “I think that may well be something that we will be wanting to feed back to him when we complete our review that we’re undergoing at the moment. We’re looking at the future of the commission at our next meeting.”