People before principles

CARDINAL George Pell this week argued the Catholic Church had been unfairly targeted by the media in regard to allegations of sexual abuse.

While it is true that the Prime Minister has announced a broad-based inquiry beyond any single denomination or organisation, it is fact that the church has been central to the issue in the past 50 years.

In Ballarat, this reality is stark.

The notable irony of Cardinal Pell’s press conference this week was the time Rhe spent explaining the steps the Catholic Church had taken in Australia to repair the wrongs of the past.

Cardinal Pell detailed the inquiries, reports and documents which proved, he said, that the church was acting pro-actively to stamp out abuse and help in the healing process.

He disputed the notion that he and other church leaders were involved in covering up abuse by priests.

The royal commission will undoubtedly test the church on all these points.

What makes the Cardinal’s job difficult in convincing, not only the media but the Australian public in general that the church is committed with absolute determination to expose paedophiles, is that it is written in the religion’s history.

The Sacrament of Penance, commonly called Confession, is enshrined in the church’s beliefs. The sacred institution is also the antithesis of the message the church wants to present regarding sexual abuse.

With the announcement of the royal commission, almost simultaneously the debate about mandatory reporting of abuse began.

“No one thinks it’s acceptable that if you knew about a crime of child abuse, that you would not protect the child, let alone report the matter to police,” Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who trained as a priest, said: “Everyone has to obey the law, regardless of what job they are doing or what position they hold.” 

To Mr Abbott’s statement we might add “in any circumstance”.

There is an understanding that what our political leaders are asking of those of faith and church leaders is incredibly significant. Yet, for two major reasons, sexual abuse admitted in confession must be referred to police – and such reporting must be supported by the church.

Firstly, it is what the community expects. Secondly, because it would prove over and above the statements this week that the church will leave nothing in its wake in its attempts to eradicate this behaviour.

As we have seen with the Victorian inquiry into abuse, these are difficult days for the victims, the church and communities. The royal commission will provide an even greater focus. Given the lives lost and others destroyed, taking the difficult path is necessary.