Friday, 26 April 2013

Do we really need a Royal Commission? Yes, we do!

There are reports in the Fairfax media today that the CEO of the Office for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland, Mr Ian Elliot, who has been hired by the Australian Church to provide advice, doesn't think statutory inquiries into child abuse are worth the money they cost.

I'm sure that's music to the ears of many of the bishops, as no doubt also the argument in right-wing rag the Quadrant from two psychiatrists to the effect that the Royal Commission is just a 'bread and circuses' diversion from the Gillard Government's travails.

Do these arguments hold up though?

The Irish Diocesan audits

Mr Elliot is quoted, in the context of proposals for a UK Inquiry, as saying that such inquiries tell us nothing new:

"Announcing his new job this week, Mr Elliott told an Irish newspaper that state-based inquiries into institutional abuse were long, costly and often failed to establish anything new.

During six years leading the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland - a church-run group - Mr Elliott and his staff completed audits of procedures and safeguards in 16 Irish dioceses and four religious orders, with reports due on another 10 dioceses and 100 orders by 2015.

Mr Elliott's comments on statutory inquiries came in response to the possibility of a new statutory commission on child sex abuse in the British-governed province of Ulster.

''I'm not a fan because they tend to be very costly, take a long period of time and often tell you what you already know,'' he said.

He added that much of the evidence in his most recent audit, which brought adverse findings against the diocese of Clogher, had been voluntarily supplied by church authorities.

''Why do you need a statutory inquiry for it if you can get it another way?'' Mr Elliott asked.

But can you get it another way? Well not in Australia at the moment!

Transparency won't come without external pressure

It is certainly the case that the Irish Church is now being very open indeed, allowing the organisation Mr Elliot has headed to publish a series of audits of dioceses and religious orders that have been very critical indeed of individual bishops.  The audits look at the things like the appropriateness of procedures, how particular cases have been handled, the adequacy of penalties imposed on priests and compliance with decisions.  And the reports are public.

But a number of obvious questions arise.  Would those audits have been able to occur if it hadn't been for the Irish Inquiry?  Would they be so frank about past failures in the absence of the Inquiry's findings?  Would they be as positive on the progress being made if they were being undertaken by a truly independent auditor as opposed to an organisation funded by the Church itself?  And given that Mr Elliot (a protestant) is due to finish up his term on the Irish Board this year, will they continue to be so frank under whoever takes over from him?

Certainly in Australia it is hard to find out even basic information about abuse complaints available publicly except through sources like Broken Rites - except of course in Victoria where much information has been released courtesy of the Parliamentary Inquiry there.

Indeed it is only now, with the Royal Commission and Maitland-Newcastle Inquiries actually underway that the idea of doing anything similar - an idea which should be applauded by the way -  seems to be being contemplated for Australia.

Seeking truth

There have been a number of cases of accusations of cover up by senior Church officials in Australia.

In the light of the complicity of police, magistrates, judges and others in cases like the Fr F affair, one can have no confidence that anyone will do the necessary digging to find the answer one way or another without external pressure being applied.

Indeed, one can only await with interest the proceedings of the Maitland-Newcastle Inquiry due to get underway next week, on May 6, for which Archbishop Wilson of Adelaide (a former Vicar General of the Diocese), ACBC Secretary Fr Brian Lucas, and the diocese itself have all been granted leave to retain counsel.  We may have to wait a while for the outcomes, however, as some of the hearings seem likely to be taken in camera, lest they prejudice any subsequent criminal proceedings...

Reform and conversion

One can understand why Church officials are less than enthusiastic about statutory inquiries.

In Ireland, there has been a high cost for certain individuals and religious orders, in terms of their reputation and more, and something of a bloodbath in terms of the collapse of lay support.

Psychiatrists, I would suggest, also have a similar vested interest in wishing the Royal Commission would just go away, hence the Quadrant article.

The reality is that the psychiatry profession deserve a serious share of the blame for the handling of the abuse crisis.

It was their profession that decided that child abuse was an illness not a crime.

It was the psychiatry profession that decided, in the absence of any evidence whatsoever, that paedophiles and other abusers could be 'cured' through their efforts.

And many bishops - though it might be argued they should have known better than to accept a deeply flawed, secularist paradigm and to reject common sense - relied on the advice of psychiatrists in good faith.

One of the key objectives of the Royal Commission is to ensure such a thing can never happen again.

No wonder psychiatrists don't like it.


A Canberra Observer said...

The Australian episcopate, their advisors and seemingly bishops around the world seem to live in the land of the Far-away-tree, not the same one I do.

R J said...

I think, Kate Edwards, that you should print out this post and mail a copy to the psychiatrists who wrote that foolish and (in its inchoate way) pernicious Quadrant article.

Of course AD2000 has been, after a somewhat more muted fashion, running the same anti-Royal-Commission line, mostly in its correspondence columns, as Quadrant.

PM said...

Indeed the bishops should have known better - their behaviour was contrary to all demands of truth, justice and charity. But if their successors wanted to play a cynical kind of political hard-ball they could start by outing their lawyers, consulting psychiatrists and psychologists for the self-serving advice they gave.

And if they really wanted to play dirty they could enlist a team of private detectives to out the ranks of pervert politicians, judges, lawyers, police, arts and media celebs, captains of industry etc - starting in that paradise of social reform on the Torrens, and movign on to the meat-market at The Wall in Sydney. Then the royal commission would become a reactionary moral panic and a fascist homophobic witch-hunt.