Australian politicians this week have an ideal opportunity to stand up for the rights of innocent children and vulnerable adults not to be raped by those in positions of power over them.
This week’s events were set in motion by the recent appointment of Monsignor David Cappo to head the new federal mental health reform commission.
The appointment to such a role of a senior representative of the Catholic Church, an organization that single handedly creates a large swathe of Australia’s mental health problems, is certainly questionable.
Widespread sexual abuse by Catholic priests and other religious, and subsequent re-abuse of victims by Catholic officials causes mental health issues, which, if left untreated, can become serious problems for the victims, their families and society. The Catholic Church’s consistent approach worldwide to dealing with this problem is to deny the abuse occurred, withhold help from all but the most vocal of victims, cover up the nature, cause and extent of the problem, and bully victims into silence.
Each one of these strategies individually seriously undermines victims’ chance to recover from their abuse. Taken together, this is a recipe for disaster.
Yet the man tasked with taking stock of our nation’s mental health issues and finding solutions to the problems is a man whose first loyalty is to an organization causing much, though by no means all, of the problem in the first place.
An organization proven again and again to lie, obstruct justice and enable additional horrific crimes rather than face the truth of its own culpability.
An appropriate analogy would be appointing the chief bully to head an investigation into workplace bullying, or giving a corrupt cop the job of rooting out police corruption.
But even worse than his clear conflict of interest and manifest unsuitability for the position, is the fact, disclosed by Senator Nick Xenophon, that Monsignor Cappo is personally involved in the coverup of rapist priests.
This revelation soon led to the threat to out an accused rapist who has been protected by the Catholic Church, and Monsignor Cappo, and is still in ministry in South Australia.
All Senator Xenophon asked the Church to do was to remove this credibly accused rapist from a privileged position as a priest, which gives him unquestioned access to vulnerable populations.
Possibly still believing themselves above the law and beyond being held responsible for their cover-up of serious crimes, the Church was unwilling to comply with Senator Xenophon’s perfectly reasonable request. Something they should have done anyway without question and without needing to be urged to do the right thing. Something the Catholic Church in South Australia is still unwilling to do.
And so on Tuesday night, in an empty Senate chamber, a lone courageous Australian politician stood up for all the abused children whose lives have been ruined by this arrogant church, and named, under parliamentary privilege, the latest in a long line of rapist priests whose crimes are hidden by church officials.
The church PR spin doctors then moved into overdrive, setting tame politicians and apologists howling about presumption of innocence and abuse of process, frothing at the mouth over the heinous crime of besmirching the reputation of a rapist priest.
Because, while Monsignor Ian Dempsey has not been convicted, it is extremely unlikely that the accusation is false, and his strident denials are absolutely consistent with the behavior of most rapist priests when confronted with their crimes.
Meanwhile no-one wasted the slightest consideration on the suffering of the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of victims of rapist priests, each one of whom was unquestionably innocent, most of whom have been absolutely denied justice and all of whom have callously been given an undeserved life sentence, as have many of their families.
The church is now proceeding to pull out all stops to distract, diminish and undermine the issue of their cover-up of rape by priests, to attack the victim of this particular crime, and to destroy the brave Senator who is trying to hold them accountable for their actions.
Parishoners have been trotted out, petulant and resentful at the suggestion that their parish’s veneer of smug respectability may hide horrific crimes. One unconsciously admits she refuses to consider any possibility contrary to her chosen world view. Another is confident, it seems, that a “good bloke” could not possibly be a rapist.
Church leaders and the accused rapist himself all harp on the fact that the crime happened a long time ago and the victim, Archbishop John Hepworth, wasn’t a child at the time. Of course they do not mention that when targeted by Ian Dempsey he was an extremely vulnerable victim who had already been preyed upon during childhood by other rapist priests.
But none of these distractions should be allowed to undermine the fact church officials are making excuses which imply that the crime of rape is acceptable, and should be ignored, and that rapists should not be held responsible for their crimes. At least not ones in a position to embarrass the Catholic Church.
These very evasions and refusal to face responsibility or consider the needs of victims for one instant are the reason why the Catholic Church’s handling of this issue must be independently investigated, and why law reform is needed to ensure victims have at least a chance of achieving justice.
At the very same time, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) has lodged documents with the International Criminal Court in The Hague, calling for an investigation into leading church officials, including Pope Benedict, for crimes against humanity.
The church is also working to undermine this move, claiming it is a publicity stunt with no chance of success, and hoping to distract attention from the fact that SNAP has been able to obtain 20,000 pages of evidence of the church’s widespread and systematic child sex crimes, despite the church’s best efforts to maintain absolute secrecy, even from law enforcement.
And so, Australian politicians are left with a number of choices this week:
- to support calls for a Royal Commission into Catholic Church cover-up of child sex crimes, and comprehensive law reform of this area of law,
- to support the call for the ICC to investigate the Catholic Church’s crimes against humanity and show the international community that Australians value and protect their children, even if the Catholic Church doesn’t, or
- to abandon defenseless children and damaged victims to more denial of justice, re-abuse, despair and suicide.