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Compromised inquiry into church sex crimes disrespects victims

Victorian victims of clergy sex crimes and their families have been fighting for justice for years – some for decades. The previous Labor state government did nothing for them. The Baillieu government…

Offenders such as Gerard Ridsdale, jailed on paedophile charges in 1994, must be exposed. AAP/Ballart Courier

Victorian victims of clergy sex crimes and their families have been fighting for justice for years – some for decades. The previous Labor state government did nothing for them.

The Baillieu government, despite being dragged kicking and screaming all the way, has succumbed to mounting public pressure and announced a parliamentary inquiry into the way in which religious and other organisations handle sexual abuse complaints.

The announcement came initially as a relief for victims and their families and, being a first for Australia, it has been applauded. But the applause should not go the government, but to the victims, their families and the many workers behind the scenes who have been pushing for justice in this area for years.

Scratching the surface of this inquiry, though, reveals multiple fundamental inadequacies. This is harmful to the victims. They are telling me they feel let down yet again. Their decades of grief, loss, suffering and anguish are not being met with the respect and regard that such an inquiry must deliver.

The wrong inquiry

The Premier, Ted Baillieu, claims a parliamentary inquiry is the most suitable form of inquiry because it will be “less formal and legalistic” than a Royal Commission and will, therefore, make it easier for victims to give evidence. This is nonsense - victims are neither afraid of, nor intimidated by, a Royal Commission. They have done nothing wrong. Only the wrongdoers could fear its formality and legalistic nature.

Another substantial concern is the politicisation of this inquiry. Already there is dissent and an exchange of cheap shots across the dispatch box in Parliament. The “party line” is interfering and damaging to what are very serious matters. It is a disgrace.

Following the revelations last weekend in The Age of (additional) suicides in the parish of Gardenvale, four further suicides have been reported. The reports of these deaths are constant.

The terms of reference for the parliamentary inquiry are manifestly silent on the issue of suicides and premature deaths. Certainly, the details of the known suicides must be handed over to the Coroner, but it is not the Coroner’s role to determine, for example, the prevalence and incidence of all Catholic clergy-related suicides and premature deaths and their surrounding circumstances.

This is an urgent task for any inquiry and one that must be carried out for the deceased victims’ families and to prevent further deaths. But at the moment, priority cannot be given to this shocking issue because the existing committee’s powers are truncated. Our government is responsible for getting this right.

Putting victims at risk

The many thousands of files and documents held by the church will require close examination and scrutiny. How will a committee of six that is already running two other inquiries, assuming they even have the requisite forensic expertise, have the time and resources to complete such tasks?

The lame threat of sanctions for the non-production of documents may place victims at risk of being called liars, yet again, and would severely diminish the strength of the committee’s investigatory powers. This would be profoundly unsatisfactory and damaging to victims, yet again.

The inquiry is vested with the discretionary power to conduct hearings in private where it considers it appropriate either “in the interests of victims” or “for other reasons”. But what sorts of other reasons? Such broad discretionary powers could interfere with the delivery of justice.

Heads must roll

The church has covered up its crimes for decades. The crimes themselves were committed behind closed doors. Information about the offenders, their crimes and their shifts from parish to parish, has also been kept secret. There should be no opportunity for the church to argue a case for a private hearing – their crimes, the cover-up and the truth must come out.

A parliamentary inquiry of this type is tertiary abuse for the victims. The primary abuse was the sex crimes. The secondary abuse stems from the church’s ongoing vulgar treatment of the victims. And now, the government has given them another kick in the guts.

Any inquiry that is to comprehensively deal with the Catholic Church must parallel its wealth and its legalist, adversarial and arrogant modus operandi.

Heads need to roll. Prosecutions are needed. The church must be held accountable for the decades of crime and concealment, and for the premature deaths and suicides.

That victims and their families need and deserve a well-resourced, uncompromising, forensically sound Royal Commission, is not negotiable.

Join the conversation

20 Comments sorted by

  1. Leslie Shaw

    Retired

    Perhaps the enquiry might get too close to the princes of the church such as Cardinal Pell?

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    1. Harrison Pitts

      Archaeology Student

      In reply to Leslie Shaw

      The problem is we'd never know without a Royal Commission. The problem, and I'm not sure that the Victorian Government quite grasps it, is that this abuse has gone on for too long to be swept under the carpet by a parliamentary inquiry.

      I don't think anyone would nod their heads at a job well done if Ballieu stood up and said "Well hey, they don't want to give us their documents so... uh... yeah. Sorry, hands tied.".

      It is quite typical of a state government though. Wait for as long as possible to do the least amount of work. Great in the short term (if you don't actually care about the victims of course), but in the long term I'm sure that what will end up occurring is a Royal Commission, and that this will just turn out to be another delay in a long series of delays into clerical abuse.

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  2. Blair Donaldson

    logged in via Facebook

    Our cowardly Premier doesn't want to get too close to the grubby details of how the Catholic church covers up its disgusting behaviour, if everything came out, he would actually have to do something. The suicides and abuse are only incidental in the mind of Baillieu and friends.

    The victims deserve a Royal commission at the very least. It's time the Catholic Church faced up to its abuses and was held to account.

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    1. Lynne Newington

      Researcher

      In reply to Blair Donaldson

      Blair you are underestimating Premier Ted Baillieu if I may say so, he has set the ball rolling and with the Minister of Defence Mr Smith, on the tail of the ADF another door may very well be opened.
      It takes men with moral fibre to stand against the tide, whether it be governments or the powerful entity of the Catholic church with all it's legal, political and judicial connections.
      Wait and see.

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    2. Blair Donaldson

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Lynne Newington

      Lynne, I had high hopes Ted Baillieu would set high standards when he became premier but I'm afraid he is a dismal failure. Given at least half of his ministry and the deputy premier are Catholics, are you seriously expecting Baillieu to instigate a thorough investigation that would likely result in the dirty laundry of the Catholic Church being exposed once and for all?

      Baillieu has form. He's treading lightly with the church, he's going against his own calls (when in opposition) for independent…

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    3. Lynne Newington

      Researcher

      In reply to Blair Donaldson

      Blair, I tend to believe he hasn't sured himself up against the church as yet and is overwhelmed at the extent of corruption and incestuous influences.
      There are many decent Liberal supporters encouraging him to stand firm on this.

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    4. Blair Donaldson

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Lynne Newington

      Lynne, I sincerely hope you are correct. I'm just not encouraged by his actions to date. Getting a bunch of politicians to investigate a secretive and gruesome history of abuse by an organisation supposedly professing love and care isn't a good start.

      At the very least he should have called a Royal commission with unfettered powers. I have no doubt there are some decent liberals out there, I like to think I was one of them before I became disillusioned with all sides of politics. I'll be the first to applaud if Baillieu put the victims first but until then, I'll criticise his timidity and poor leadership.

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    5. Lynne Newington

      Researcher

      In reply to Blair Donaldson

      Blair, whilst pondering on your comment, and my varied references in relation to the Inquirey, the Jewish community never faltered in coming forward and signing the petition placed in the media.
      With members in places within society where their voices can be heard and have an impact, Mr Bailieu has support from many sources.
      Barrister Robert Searle for instance, recently appointed Chairperson of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.
      I don't know of any in the church with similar positions in the past, or the hierarchy can claim to have done that for posterity.

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    6. Blair Donaldson

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Lynne Newington

      Lynne, as I recall, the police investigation concluded something like 40 suicides had occurred courtesy of abuses at the hands of Catholic priests in a Catholic institution. Who knows how many other lives have been irreparably damaged all due to the misfortune of being at that paedophile hosting institution? Then we have the countless other abuses occurring in various Catholic institutions around the world. What part of that don't you get?

      Why are you more interested in defending a pompous, out…

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    7. Lynne Newington

      Researcher

      In reply to Blair Donaldson

      I'm with you Blair, but we have to encourage.. How many Premiers have we had in Victoria since abuse began coming to light in this state from the 1980's, Catholic too, with children of their own, and presenting themselves for Communion on Sunday's. Not to mention Catholic solicitors ready to defend and intimidate.
      Abusive clergy within Religious Order's were no better.
      MP David Shoebridge is another who we need to take our hats off to.
      As far as my mentioning the Jewish Community and John Dearle…

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    8. Lynne Newington

      Researcher

      In reply to Lynne Newington

      As far as ..... ....should read John Searle Chairperson of Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights.

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  3. Roger Powell

    logged in via Facebook

    I am not convinced that ANY type of inquiry will get to the whole truth, as long as Catholic priests are required under the Church's canon law to tell lies, if necessary, to protect the "integrity" of the Church. The cover up will go on.

    Certainly, the members of a Parliamentary Inquiry are by definition subject to influence from their parties and their colleagues. It's not the most satisfactory outcome and I have great difficulty understanding why law enforcement agencies have not conducted a search for relevant documents in each and every Catholic premises in the land.

    A Royal Commission would get closest to the truth of this horrendous scandal and I applaud Judy Courtin for her courage in exposing it. I hope she will expand her focus to make it an Australia-wide issue.

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    1. Blair Donaldson

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Roger Powell

      I'd love to see a Royal commission conducted but I think Baillieu is scared witless about upsetting the Catholics in his party and the broader community. Given his dismal efforts regarding the economy, lost jobs, lost manufacturing capacity and apparent denial of science and climate change, he needs all the friends he can get. Every vote counts.

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    2. James Walker

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Roger Powell

      You've nailed it. This won't be resolved until the Federal govt demands that Rome puts all child molestors under Interdict.

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  4. Sean Lamb

    Science Denier

    Child sex abuse is a criminal matter and the correct organisation to pursue them is the police.

    Bypassing the police and insisting that MPs or the Church investigate - a task they are obviously not trained in - is in my view unwise and likely to have poor outcomes

    I urge Dr Courtin, if she has solid evidence of sexual abuse, go straight to the police and not play the publicity game.

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    1. Gil Hardwick

      anthropologist, historian, novelist, editor and publisher at eBooks West

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      Sean, watch my lips, police don't give a shit. They have better things to do that chase up the odd blow job, especially dating back to the 1970s of all periods in Australia's recent history.

      All this is a beat-up to promote Judy Courtin's law practice, like the Brave Hearts crew, anything to make a quid.

      I'm realising the Judy Courtin and Geoff Gallop together are perhaps the most shameless, self-aggrandising, self-promoting contributors to The Conversation I've read.

      No worries, this is public discussion, we'll just keep following it and see where it heads, progressively as the whole truth comes out not just those bits to suit some money-making scheme or partisan agenda.

      And again, wondering how or when any of this is going to make any child safer than they are now, or do anything finally about the actual rates of child abuse in this country.

      The self-righteous hypocrisy and double standards make me puke.

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    2. Blair Donaldson

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Gil Hardwick

      So far better to shoot the messenger eh Gil?

      Your lack of concern for the victims of the church while you quickly condemn a couple of individuals says a lot about where your interests lie.

      I think approximately 40 suicides attributed to paedophile priests qualifies as more than “the odd blow job." Try not to choke when you puke.

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  5. GM Spaner

    logged in via Facebook

    Judy: A well stated analysis and defended position. As I am sure you know and perhaps the other bloggers here know, the inquiries in the USA and Ireland have been very revealing and confirming of the systemic failure of the Catholic Church in responding morally or responsibly to the abuse of children by clerics. Two trials underway at this very moment, one in Kansas City, Missouri and one in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, are against two of the top echelon prelates: Bishop Finn of the Kansas City-Saint…

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  6. Lynne Newington

    Researcher

    Still a lot of to-ing and fro-ing on this. One can only hope that at the end of the day, if this inquiry doesn't prove satisfactory, especially with Labour MP Frank McGuire claiming the inquiry not enough, it could still become a Royal Commission down the track.
    Personally, I believe Mr McGuire, a Catholic himself is only too familiar with the way the church deals with adversity, and the lengths it goes to preserve it's image, and he can't be blamed for that.
    There's many who can testify to that, even putting sex-abuse aside.

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