SOLICITOR Vivian Waller summed up the case for legislation requiring clergy to report all child sex allegations to authorities – even allegations raised during confession.
“I think it's about time the Catholic Church was dragged out of the dark ages,” she said on Monday after the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released its Criminal Justice report.
It might have had 85 recommendations to address what commission chair Justice Peter McClellan identified as the almost “insurmountable barriers” currently facing child sex victims when they negotiate the criminal justice system.
But all focus was on just one recommendation that directly challenges the Catholic Church – the seal of the confessional.
Vivian Waller put the perspective of survivors and their advocates: “We can no longer think about sexual offending against children as some kind of forgivable sin.”
In the report the commission acknowledged “the right of a person to freely practise their religion in accordance with their beliefs”.
But it concluded that “the right to practise one’s religious beliefs must accommodate civil society’s obligation to provide for the safety of all and, in particular, children’s safety from sexual abuse”.
There is no doubt the Catholic Church still has problems with the concepts of crime, sin and forgiveness. An abuse victim who resigned from Pope Francis’ child protection commission accused him of being misguided and ineffective on child sexual abuse after cases where he had shown “mercy” for convicted church offenders, and refused to defrock them.
“I feel (he) does not appreciate how his actions of clemency undermine everything else he does in this area,” abuse victim Marie Collins said.
In the final public hearing into the church in February, Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge confirmed the Pope declined his request to remove eight convicted priest child sex offenders from the priesthood, and dismissed just one – Francis Edward Derriman – whose crimes against children were revealed during a royal commission public hearing in 2013. Pope Francis assigned others to “a life of prayer and penance”.
The royal commission was always going to be a test of church and state. The final report is not due until December.