Julia Gillard’s greatest triumph (her only one), The Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse published its 17-volume report today. As is usual with such reports there are a million recommendations written in the turgid style expected of such institutions.
The report will be noted, implemented and ignored as usual and the recommendations likewise.
One of the things I noted in the process was the arrogance and the contempt of the commissioners towards religious leaders from all denominations. Naturally this attitude comes out in the recommendations. Yes I read them all- I have no intention of reading the 17 volumes of the report, though.
So here are the notable recommendations relating to religious institutions:
State and territory governments should amend laws concerning mandatory reporting to child protection authorities to achieve national consistency in reporter groups. At a minimum, state and territory governments should also include the following groups of individuals as mandatory
reporters in every jurisdiction:
a. out-of-home care workers (excluding foster and kinship/relative carers)
b. youth justice workers
c. early childhood workers
d. registered psychologists and school counsellors
e. people in religious ministry.
Laws concerning mandatory reporting to child protection authorities should not exempt persons in religious ministry from being required to report knowledge or suspicions formed, in whole or in part, on the basis of information disclosed in or in connection with a religious confession.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to amend the 1983 Code of Canon Law to create a new canon or series of canons specifically relating to child sexual abuse, as follows:
a. All delicts relating to child sexual abuse should be articulated as canonical crimes
against the child, not as moral failings or as breaches of the ‘special obligation’ of
clerics and religious to observe celibacy.
b. All delicts relating to child sexual abuse should apply to any person holding a ‘dignity, office or responsibility in the Church’ regardless of whether they are ordained or not ordained.
c. In relation to the acquisition, possession, or distribution of pornographic images, the delict (currently contained in Article 6 §2 1° of the revised 2010 norms attached to the motu proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela) should be amended to refer to minors under the age of 18, not minors under the age of 14.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to consider introducing voluntary celibacy for diocesan clergy
Consistent with Child Safe Standard 5, each religious institution should ensure that all people in religious or pastoral ministry, including religious leaders, are subject to effective management and oversight and undertake annual performance appraisals.
Religious institutions which have a rite of religious confession for children should implement a policy that requires the rite only be conducted in an open space within the clear line of sight of another adult. The policy should specify that, if another adult is not available, the rite of religious confession for the child should not be performed.
In a democracy, the State is required to be separate from the Church (and other religious institutions). The State does not have the ability to tell religious groups what to do, or believe.
The Royal Commission thinks that it can tell the Conference of Bishops to tell the Vatican to change Canon Law. The Royal Commission thinks that it should tell churches how to conduct confessions. The Royal Commission thinks that it has the right to overturn centuries of Catholic practice to require priests to reveal what they are told in confidence in the confessional, despite the history of priests going to prison or even death rather than reveal a confession.
The Royal Commission thinks that it has the right to tell the Vatican that celibacy is a bad thing, despite the evidence that sexual violence is about abuse of power not about sexual frustration, and that the primary indicator of potential for abuse is unsupervised access to children.
The Royal Commission thinks lots of people should be “mandatory reporters”, including clergy, but not the one group which has the most access to children and often the most trust of children, teachers.
All these recommendations are all very well but in the end they won’t do much for the protection of children. You can have all the rules in the world and the truly evil person will get around them. You can tell priests that they can only hold confessions in the sight of another person, but the priest who is determined will make sure that the supervising adult is someone who supports his evil ways.
The best thing to come from the Royal Commission is the realisation that churches and other institutions that relate to children cannot cover up abuse or ignore it. Everything else is likely going to be just the usual bureaucratic bulldust requiring people to have policies and procedures documented.