Saying sorry not enough

A day late and a dollar short.

That was the phrase used by Dr Tom Doyle, a non-practising Catholic priest to describe the church’s apology, at the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care last month, to those damaged by clergy sexual abuse.

Dr Doyle has been researching this issue since the 1980s when, as a canon lawyer stationed at the Vatican embassy in Washington, he was one of the authors of a 1985 confidential report on clergy sexual abuse of minors written for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

He has been involved with pastoral care and advocacy for victims and families and has also been a consultant and expert witness in civil and criminal cases in many countries. In March, he gave an extensive submission by video link to the royal commission as part of its public hearings on redress after abuse in faith-based institutions and the entities the churches control.

In other words, he knows his stuff.

Victims of clergy abuse have also been dismissive of the apology, delivered by Cardinal John Dew, and who could blame them, given what has been revealed over the years here and elsewhere about the way the church has dealt, or not dealt, with those who have been abused and their abusers?

That it has taken so long to get this far in this sorry story means there is little trust from those affected in anything the church might say now.

Apologies at the commission hearings were also forthcoming from The Salvation Army and the Anglican Church.

Embarrassingly, for the Anglicans, who had been talking up their church’s improved approach including reference to a dedicated hotline for complainants, when Bishop Ross Bay was asked to call the number at the commission hearing, it showed the number was not active.

Abuse survivors and their advocates seem to be agreed on the need for an independent body to oversee the redress process, and the sooner the better.

They are also clear its processes must be survivor-led.

Any idea that individual churches could adequately run their own processes to deal with current complainants is surely passe, given the history of these issues and the survivors’ lack of confidence in them and fear of being re-traumatised.

Without knowing what form an independent body might take, it is perhaps understandable the churches have been guarded in their support for such an organisation.

The Catholic Church has supposedly recognised and acknowledged independence but has said it has yet to fully discuss the matter.

A lawyer representing the Catholic Church, Sally McKechnie, was quoted as saying there was a risk that it could be seen as the church passing the buck.

"It’s acknowledged that many survivors have no desire for spiritual healing and do not wish to come back to the church, but it is a feature for many survivors that they do."

This tin-eared stance appears to be confusing the need for reform within the church hierarchy and systems to ensure abuse does not continue, with the need to redress the damage already done.

An independent body is necessary. We acknowledge it may not be a simple thing to establish but that should not be a reason to avoid it.

We look forward to the royal commission’s response to the issue of redress. It said it would start work on this immediately, after its public hearings on faith-based institutions finished last month. (In May, the next public hearings in the commission’s investigations will concentrate on the abuse and neglect of children and young people in residences run by the State, and by the independent sector on behalf of the State, such as boys’ and girls’ social welfare homes and family homes, and institutions that provided combined care and protection and youth justice care.)

For all those affected by this abuse over decades, change cannot come soon enough.

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