One month after the announcement by the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, of a national Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in religious and other institutions, the Catholic Church in Australia announced its own body.
The so-called Truth, Justice and Healing Council.
Sounds like it will achieve some good, doesn’t it?
Sounds like something new is being done, something has changed, actions are being taken, and those pre-historic attitudes and processes are finally being overhauled.
And with a Chairman and CEO who are not actually catholic officials, could it be that child protection will finally take priority over institution and predator protection?
Not as such.
We have seen such exercises before.
After the Boston Globe brought the issue of widespread child sexual abuse by catholic religious in the US to worldwide attention in 2002, the US Catholic Bishops Conference introduced diocesan Review Boards, comprising both religious and prominent lay people, to oversee the management of child sex abuse cases.
But ten years later, we have had a chance to see how these Review Boards really function.
The US Review Boards are not able to do their job, at least not their publicly announced job, because some cases are kept from them, and those cases they are allowed to review often feature misleading or missing information. And bishops are under no obligation whatsoever to implement any recommendations from Review Boards.
The Chairperson of the Philadelphia Board commented that church officials failed “miserably at being open and transparent”.
Known offenders are still being kept in ministry, evidence is still being hidden from law enforcement, children are still being endangered and still being abused, and victims are still being denied assistance and reabused when they attempt to recover.
This outcome has been demonstrated again and again by official investigations, by civil court cases and by the occasional criminal case which manages to survive the almost insurmountable hurdle of predator friendly statutes of limitations laws.
So, if Review Boards are not actually delivering truth, justice or healing, or even child protection, or co-operation with law enforcement,what is their real purpose?
To make it look like something has changed, and to take the heat off the bishops.
The prominent people filling Review Board seats are lending their reputations to US bishops, so that the bishops can be seen to have outside scrutiny, while keeping the Review Boards in the dark as to what is really going on.
Just like this new Council in Australia will borrow the reputations of the Chairman, Barry O’Keefe and the CEO, Francis Sullivan, and any other lay appointees, to appear as if Australian catholic bishops are handing over control and management of this issue to independent parties.
Except there is already an independent party which has been officially appointed to manage this issue, and which has the legal power to control it.
It’s called a Royal Commission.
It is no accident that this smoke and mirrors stunt has been pulled prior to the appointment of any Commissioners, and before the Royal Commission’s Terms of Reference are announced.
Church officials have manipulated the timing gap between the announcement of the Royal Commission and the appointment of Commissioners, so that this Council of Spin is a pre-existing body to the operation of the Royal Commission, and so there are no Commissioners in a position to respond to the formation of the Council. Nobody is yet officially appointed to the job of the Royal Commission’s investigation. Nobody can officially dismiss the catholic church’s opportunistic and arrogant body right from the start, with the message that it is not needed and serves no purpose except to obscure the truth and obstruct the lawful operation of the Royal Commission.
If there is any genuine public need for this Council, at all, why only catholics?
If there is any genuine role for the Council to perform, surely every institution under scrutiny by the Royal Commission will require its own Truth, Justice and Healing Council?
Or is this yet another example of special treatment for the catholic church?
Another special exception which puts catholic church officials above the laws which apply to every other citizen?
Another loophole which facilitates the continuation and coverup of the widespread and systemic rape of defenceless children and other vulnerable populations?
Another betrayal by those who demand moral authority and respect they in no way deserve?
Clearly it is hoped this most deceptive Council will centralise and sanitise comments about evidence provided to the Royal Commission by victims, their families and supporters, police, lawyers, psychologists, and whistleblowers.
In this way, the church can keep the lid on those increasingly embarrassing incidents where George Pell and other church officials speak to the media without first being coached on what to say in order to appear to think and respond appropriately. They clearly need to put a stop to church officials unconsciously letting slip their true jaw droppingly callous and self serving attitudes towards the routine enabling and coverup of child sexual exploitation by serial predators. Most revealing of all from such admissions is the understanding that though these entitled medieval princes now realise they must pretend it is not acceptable to rape children, they don’t really get why it is so bad. At all.
Someone has finally got the message through to the bishops conference and the religious leaders conference, that they can no longer get away with such unintentionally revealing comments. Thanks to investigative media and victims speaking out, today people are paying attention to what they actually say, instead of mindlessly swallowing their excuses. And those people can put two and two together.
By comparison, lay people do not live in the alternate reality and moral vacuum of catholic religious life, where the only good is what is good for the church, and for those who benefit most from her power and wealth.
Lay people speaking for the church removes the problem of an out of touch hierarchy, each of whom may face charges over the coverup of child rape if our justice system is ever allowed to operate transparently, simultaneously shooting themselves in the foot, shoving both feet in their mouth and handing out inadvertent admissions of knowledge of and possibly also complicity in these crimes.
Public statements by those appointed to this Coverup Council demonstrate the intention to remove church officials as far as possible from the negative PR that will be flowing their way as the evidence is finally, publicly revealed. The Council is not guilty of these crimes, having only just been appointed, but will provide a shield between the previously hidden actions of the bishops, and bishops facing responsibility for those actions.
Speak to the hand, to the Council, not to the bishops themselves.
If the smokescreen Council miraculously delivers, as if from god above, some fraction of the evidence held by bishops that they are prepared to finally hand over, the link between this damning evidence and the bishops will be obscured, or even, hopefully, broken. As will the link between these crimes and the orders from the Vatican which threatened dire punishment for those who publicly revealed such crimes, but understanding and forgiveness for those who committed them. And continued to commit them.
But apart from delivering evidence to the Royal Commission, a job which can only be performed by the church officials themselves and requires no third party, what will this Council actually do?
To hear Francis Sullivan and Barry O’Keefe talk, the Council will do the job of the Royal Commission.
They say they are going to deliver justice to victims.
And what will the Commissioners say, when they are appointed, about the existence of a supposedly independent body, directed and funded by those whose interests it exists to serve, which wants to do their job for them?
Will they say, “Oh great, thanks guys, that’s really sweet, we’ll just take it easy for a while until you come up with some recommendations”?
We better hope not.
If this Royal Commission is anything other than a sham, the new Commissioners, when appointed, will thank the Council very kindly for their efforts and instruct them firmly to head on home and leave the job to the professionals.
Happy holidays and stay safe everyone.