Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Fr Lucas should stand aside as General Secretary to the ACBC

Earlier this week, the CEO of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conferences' (ACBC) Truth Justice and Healing Council, Francis Sullivan, gave a promising speech on the Church's approach to the Royal Commission.

In it, he spoke of an undertaking 'not to let the victims down', and to ensure the Church did 'the right thing'.

He also spoke of the need for the Church 'to match words with actions'.

That commitment now has a chance to be put to the test, in the light of evidence given to the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese Inquiry into child abuse that names Fr Brian Lucas, General Secretary of the ACBC, as a participant in the cover-up of child abuse there.

Fr Lucas should surely be stood aside pending resolution of this claim.

Fr Lucas knew?

The big story in the media today is evidence given at yesterday claiming that Fr Brian Lucas, currently General Secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, had confessed, in internal documents to knowing about the activities of a paedophile priest and doing nothing.

The evidence was given by the journalist who was primarily responsible for the establishment of the Special Commission of Inquiry into matters relating to the Police investigation of certain child sexual abuse allegations in the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, and based on internal Church documents she had obtained.

She claimed that senior church officials had had knowledge of many of the numerous cases of paedophile priests in that diocese (the numbers amount to around 10% of priests of the diocese), and that far from acting to stop them, diocesan officials had alerted the priests to the police investigations allowing them to evade prosecution.

Dealing with the accusation

According to the Newcastle Herald, Father Lucas made a brief comment to the Herald last night saying:

"I'll deal with this in front of Commissioner Cunneen."

Is that really a sufficient response at this point?

This is a very serious accusation, and it appears to be backed up by documentation.

Fr Lucas is in a very senior position, influencing the handling of the Royal Commission by the Church and much more.

In my view, he should be suspended from his current duties pending a resolution of this claim.

And frankly, regardless of the outcome of this particular case, it is surely time for him to move on from the job given the continuing string of cases he has clearly been involved in handling, such as the Fr F affair.  Fr Lucas was also one of those responsible for developing the clearly failed, at least in the eyes of the victims, 'Towards Healing' process.

In his speech last Saturday to the St Thomas More Society, Mr Sullivan of the ACBC's Truth, Justice and Healing Council acknowledged the problems with the current system, and said that:

"We need to put in place better systems, processes, redress and contrition that says, in one way or another – you are damaged, we believe you, we are sorry, we want to help you heal and we are working to try to make sure that what you went through never happens again...

Many survivors struggle with building trust having been betrayed as children by the very people they depended on: priests, brothers, teachers, family members – people who should have protected and cared for them but ultimately betrayed and damaged them."

Mr Sullivan noted that the Churches recent history in this area is not one to be proud of:

"Priests and members of religious orders have been jailed. More have died without facing a court or being brought to justice.

And at the same time there continues to be thousands of victims prepared to stand up and tell their stories. Stories of being dismissed, threatened, ignored and treated as the guilty by past Church authorities.

Before I go any further I want to make one thing very clear. The approach the Church takes to dealing with clerical sexual abuse now is dramatically different to its approach prior to 1996 and as it evolved over the course of a decade or so prior to that.

Many things have changed for the better – this needs to be acknowledged and I will come to this shortly. And that’s a long way from saying there are not many more things that need to change – because there are.

But the fact is our history has not been good."

If the Church is truly to move forward and face the Royal Commission frankly, it needs to put some distance between it and all those with a vested interest in defending the past.

Currently Fr Lucas is scheduled to give evidence on 10 July; (former Ordinary) Bishop Michael Malone on July 5&8.  Archbishop Wilson (now of Adelaide), who has previously refused to co-operate with police inquiries, will give his evidence in camera, a process the Inquiry's website explains will be used 'so as not to prejudice any potential future criminal proceedings or influence any evidence witnesses might give at any such proceedings'.

Towards Truth, Justice and Healing?

Mr Sullivan's speech acknowledged, for the first time as far as I can see from an official viewpoint, a number of key issues that I've previously flagged on this blog.

He acknowledged that while some in the Church see the media focus on child abuse in the Church as a biased, a clear majority of Catholic Mass attendees think their reporting of the abuse crisis is not unfair.  There is a  basic lesson in this that the Church has yet to learn (in either Australia or the US) in my view, namely if you want to lead in a counter-cultural way, don't give them any legitimate excuses to attack you.

Mr Sullivan acknowledged the lack of transparency and accountability, stating that:

"As it stands there are no reliable national figures available yet, on the incidence and handling of child sex abuse within the Catholic Church in Australia."

Work is underway, he said, to compile statistics on key questions like how many people have come forward to the Church with allegations of sexual assault and how many priests, brothers, nuns and lay workers were involved?

He also acknowledged the cultural issues that have allowed the problem to continue:

"We have to examine a culture which has allowed secrecy and silence, intimidation, legalism and obfuscation to let sexual abuse happen.

We have to look at clericalism and power."


Strangely, the story doesn't feature on Cath News today, rating only a paragraph at the bottom of another story and not mentioning Fr Lucas' name!


Andrea said...

I agree with you, Kate. Fr Lucas should step aside, if he has any integrity. And if he won't step aside, he should be made to. But will the Bishops have the guts?

PM said...

You are right - they have brought this on themselves and need to answer for it.

But I still think the media has a case to answer. TheABC remainns very partisan and biased in its reporting, cherry-picking ghe bits of the Newcastle and Melbourne inquiries that cast the church in a bad light and ignoring everything else (e.g the falsity of the Vic police submission, the very real doubts emerging about Insp. Fox's judgment and conduct, the findings of the Whitlam inquiry that the 4 Corners hatchet job had no foundation). I have yet to see or hear a word on the ABC about the seven abuse cases in SA state schools in the last three years that involve cover-ups reaching as high as the cabinet room.

I wonder what would happen if we had our own version of the Savile case in the ABC: witch-hunt? moral panic?

Kate Edwards said...

The ABC's coverage I agree is far from perfect, and the State of South Australia remains a scandal, but I'm not sure I agree with your take on the various stories PM. I'm not sure any of them are quite as clear cut as you suggest.