The push for a comprehensive and thorough investigation into abuse within the Catholic church has gained significant momentum in recent months.
While the human tragedy of multiple suicides has added to the clamour about the issue in the public arena, it is the weighty recommendations of the Cummins report into child protection that must guide this inquiry. That a possible set of terms of reference for such an inquiry have been developed should be considered a major step forward. Guiding terms of reference were what the Catholic Archbishop Denis Hart had rightfully requested in the hope of pushing toward a just outcome.
These may not be the only or the best terms for such an inquiry, but the response of the state and the church should be of commensurate seriousness to ensure progress is made.
This newspaper supports a public inquiry in the belief that its ultimate course must be about protection and prevention.
An inquiry cannot and should not be about simply attacking the Catholic church. Any sense of private vindication or public vengeance cannot be allowed to deter the higher purpose of ensuring that whatever failings allowed the recurrence of abuse in the past are rectified so as to never be repeated.
One part of the community may well wish one of the grimmest chapters in the Catholic church’s history would just go away but precedents in the US and Ireland have shown that such deep and widespread crimes cannot be ignored.
An inquiry may be a painful catharsis for the church, but it is also an opportunity. Co-operation and full transparency from the church about the past – and we hope and trust these crimes are very much in the past – will not only salve the open wound but perhaps restore some of its dignity.
The Catholic church has undoubtedly suffered a major crisis of external confidence, not so much because predators haunted its ranks, but because of the serious accusation that there was systemic obfuscation and deferral from the very body that should have championed protection of the innocent. An inquiry should independently assess the degree of this wrong and point to how it can be prevented again. This is, in some ways, a critical moral test for an ancient and revered institution. At the same time the shrill voice of public anger that condemns wholesale the many men and women who work for the church with its most abhorrent crimes, might have cause for pause and a clearer sense of justice.