THE Australian Government should ignore the church/state divide and put “massive pressure” on the Catholic Church to name child sexual abuse as a crime in church law, says the American Catholic cleric who first blew the whistle on the global abuse scandal in 1984.
“The church gave up this privilege long ago when they started to enable sex abuse, lie about it to society and cover up for abusers,” said Dominican priest Tom Doyle after the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’s final report in December recommended major changes, including to celibacy and the secrecy of the confessional.
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The government must link tax concessions with the need for significant change in the church because “when enough money goes away they start to feel the reality”, he said.
Australian politicians needed to end the “deference and preferential treatment” given to the Catholic Church because “the deference accorded by many sectors in civil society has done its part to enable this harm, by allowing the churches to escape accountability”, he said in response to Newcastle Herald questions.
The results of the royal commission will be read and studied by people in any country where there has been sexual abuse by clergy, which includes just about every country on the planet. The reports will give rise to other reports, action, proposals and protocols, and it will also provide incentive for people in other countries to press for similar investigations.Father Tom Doyle
“There is no sane reason why such deference and preferential treatment should exist. The Catholic Church alone has caused massive and irreparable harm to society because of its intentionally irresponsible manner of dealing with child sexual abuse.”
Father Doyle said the royal commission’s recommendations – including that priests should report child sex disclosures during confession to police and the Vatican should make celibacy voluntary – needed the strong backing of Australian governments because Australian bishops “will not be bold” in arguing the case for change with the Vatican.
“I don’t know of any group of bishops who have ever been bold when facing off with the Holy See,” he said.
A lay Catholic, and not a bishop, should steer the Australian Catholic church’s responses to the royal commission, including a recommended national review of the church to include the participation of lay men and women, transparency and the management structures of dioceses and parishes, he said.
The church gave up this privilege long ago when they started to enable sex abuse, lie about it to society and cover up for abusers.Father Tom Doyle
Celibacy should “absolutely be closely examined” because it is a “powerful symbol of the elite and exalted nature of the clergy but in actual practice, it is and has been a failure”, he said. It “devalues women in a terrible way” and devalues all relationships as “lesser than the solitude of the celibate life”.
It was a “bizarre, unrealistic and destructive traditional attitude towards human sexuality and sexual expression”, he said.
Father Doyle gave evidence at a final royal commission public hearing into the Catholic Church in 2017 in which he said the church’s “troubling” views on human sexuality led it to commit the “soul murder” of child sexual abuse victims.
He told the commission he wrote a report for the church in 1984, which he was told was handed to Pope John Paul II, calling for an investigation of the extent of child sexual abuse in an American diocese after several shocking cases of abuse were raised.
He said he was “exited” from his position as a canon lawyer working for an American Papal Nuncio after his report became public in 1986, after some of the victims took court action and the action was publicised in the media.
Fr Doyle said meeting a child sex abuse victim, aged 10, “changed my life”.
He said the Australian Government should “completely ignore” any claims by the church that recommendations flowing from the royal commission would be interfering with internal church business.
“The government now has the church on the defensive where it should be. The force of the government behind the proposals adds mightily to their credibility and relevance,” Fr Doyle said.
The government now has the church on the defensive where it should be. The force of the government behind the proposals adds mightily to their credibility and relevance.Father Tom Doyle
It is essential the Australian Government apply “massive pressure” on the church to act on a royal commission recommendation to name child sexual abuse as a crime in church law, rather than a sin or moral failure, he said.
“By persisting in calling sexual abuse a moral failure the institutional church is continuing to try to avoid the true nature of child abuse, as well as its own accountability. Its insistence on calling it a moral failure is tantamount to claiming there are two standards of accountability and the church is ‘special’, with the right to respond to sexual abuse within its own system and its own standards.”
Father Doyle said the Australian royal commission had gone “far beyond what any other country or organisation has accomplished” on holding organisations, and particularly the Catholic Church, accountable for a global tragedy.
“The results will be read and studied by people in any country where there has been sexual abuse by clergy, which includes just about every country on the planet. The reports will give rise to other reports, action, proposals and protocols, and it will also provide incentive for people in other countries to press for similar investigations.
“The Australian investigation has been the result of a massive investment in Australian tax dollars which is most important because it shows the value placed on children and the vulnerable and the state’s obligation to protect them.
“The Catholic church does not, in reality, place much value on children and the vulnerable.”
The final royal commission report said the majority of survivors who said they were sexually abused in religious institutions – 61.4 per cent – said they were abused in Catholic institutions.
The next highest rate of abuse allegations – 14.8 per cent – was reported in Anglican institutions, followed by the Salvation Army (7.2 per cent).