“ALTHOUGH you’re not to be punished for the institutional response, what happened was scandalous. This boy was not the only victim of clerical abuse in the Melbourne archdiocese, nor the only victim whose welfare was ignored while the church took active steps to protect the priest and itself.”
These were the words of Victorian County Court Judge Felicity Hampel yesterday in sentencing a priest who sexually assaulted two Melbourne boys in 1970s. It puts into total focus the need for today’s release of a parliamentary committee report into institutionalised abuse to reinforce the community’s plea for a strong new approach to this issue.
The report comes after more than one year of hearings and interviews designed to finally unmask the dark and hidden depths of abuse in institutions which, for many people, form a significant part of our everyday lives.
The inquiry has heard calls for legislative reform that would allow organisations to be sued for their inaction or cover-ups.
It also heard of new pleas for mandatory reporting responsibilities for church leaders and for the creation of a compensation system to support victims who have been left devastated by attacks.
The state report is a precursor to a more complicated and wider-scoped royal commission which is ongoing.
That inquiry however, should be preclude strong and decisive action on the recommendations of the state report. We expect those recommendations will reflect the depth of sentiment conveyed not only by those directly impacted but the wider constituency.
The recommendations should reflect that where in the past governments have recoiled from tackling the toughest of problems that in this case it meets them head on.
As this newspaper has stated on numerous occasions, our city is deeply tainted by past acts of abuse. We hope and wish that we can move on.
However, it is not possible to do so until the painful stories have been told, until accountability is restored, or until governments and organisational leaders can act to ensure it never happens again.
Because only at this point have we truly responded to provide justice to the victims, their families and our community.