The Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry was the first of the current trio of investigations into the coverup and enabling of widespread child sexual assault by religious institutions.
All three inquiries are officially named in softer, and more complicated and inclusive language, but the core issue is that hundreds of priests and religious have been raping and sexually violating tens, if not hundreds of thousands of kids, and their bishops and cardinals have let them get away with it.
Not only have the self described religious “leaders” helped the rapists to escape law enforcement and continue offending, they have acted decisively to prevent victims being heard or receiving the help we so desperately need. They have made every effort to prevent any independent scrutiny of this issue. They have blocked any legal or political moves to enforce a more compassionate or law abiding response.
And children continue to be exposed to danger, since more than 99% of all child sex criminals, and likely an even higher percentage of this carefully protected subspecies, are still free to reoffend, most with their reputations and identities protected, and with privileged and unquestioned access to kids.
The Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry was widely criticised by many, including myself, at the time of its announcement, for the many deficiencies of its terms of reference. Drafting the terms of reference was a political decision, made by a Premier no longer in power, and is no reflection on those conducting the inquiry.
But despite its inadequacies, this is nonetheless an extremely important inquiry, a crucial milestone and indeed stepping stone towards nationwide attempts at justice, and a strategic testing ground for this issue.
Without the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations we would probably not have the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Or rather, we would probably not have it yet.
This first announcement, on 17 April, 2012, softened up the church hierarchy to the fact that it was no longer politically acceptable for them to continue to be allowed to get away with their criminal conspiracy. This first blow to the bishops’ previously inviolable secrecy paved the way for the more powerful and comprehensive national inquiry announced on 12 November, 2012.
Victorian Attorney General Robert Clark admitted on the 7.30 Report on 20 April 2012 that the Victorian Government had negotiated extensively with Catholic officials and their lawyers in the twelve months prior to the announcement of the Inquiry.
Hullo? Does no one in this country understand the meaning of the word “corruption”? Or is the problem rather that those in power, in all spheres, understand it all too well? The government does not ask permission of drug bosses or bikie gangs before investigating their crimes, or negotiate the conditions of any investigation. This situation is no different, except perhaps that religious criminals commit crimes that disgust even the most hardened ordinary criminals.
The fact that such negotiations took twelve months, despite a clear direction in the Cummins Report from the year before that an inquiry was needed, and public disgust at the growing numbers of suicide deaths coming to light which resulted directly from the appalling response of the catholic church, shows how very hard it was to get the church’s permission to investigate its crimes.
Once again, are we living in the Dark Ages? The church is supposed to be subject to our local laws and answerable to the Government, not the other way around.
For those unsure how this secret influence over Australian governments has been achieved, a brief reading of the Seven Mountains strategy should be illuminating. The actual Seven Mountains strategy is practiced by a different cult, fundamentalist loonies, but it does spell out what the catholic church has been doing for millenia in their attempts at world domination.
Basically the Seven Mountains strategy aims to equip what they call “change agents” to become educated and burrow their way into positions of power and authority in the seven cultural mountains of influence. These change agents are instructed to go into the world and make disciples and teach them to obey the commands of Jesus (as interpreted by them, of course). They believe culture is shaped by only a few operating at the top of a cultural mountain of influence. (world domination, anyone?). They speak in the language of inclusiveness but are actually deeply conservative. Once having achieved the desired domination (they are often known as dominationists) we can be sure they would soon introduce an authoritarian theocracy.
An example of the catholic version can be seen in attempts to control and profit (even more) from mental health services in Australia by ensuring the appointment of a senior church official to the inaugural position as Mental Health Commissioner. This was a man personally responsible for many mental health problems experienced by thousands of survivors, through his role in developing and implementing Towards Healing. The prospect of the countless thousands suffering from the effects of brutal sexual, physical and psychological abuse by religious institutions receiving the help they need would shrink dramatically under such stewardship. Thankfully he was forced to resign from the role before he could do much damage, but the system is such that there are sure to be many others pursuing the church’s agenda in or near such strategic positions, throughout Australian government, courts, academia, arts and entertainment, the media and business.
And no doubt, the Royal Commission.
The process of infiltrating and perverting our culture and government can be reversed by people standing up for what is right over what is expedient for a bunch of rich, well connected old crims playing dress ups.
Note that the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, only found it necessary to phone Cardinal (I’m not the head of the church in Australia) Pell and warn him he was going to have to get a lot more familiar with a concept called the truth. As far as we know there was no extensive consultation, indeed there was no time for it to occur, unlike in Victoria just months earlier.
But I believe the church hierarchy’s insistence that the terms of reference of the Victorian inquiry be widened to other religions and indeed other institutions will backfire and end up shooting them in the foot. First of all, despite their constant whining about being unfairly targeted (try being a defenceless long term child victim of a rapist priest, and then you will know about unfair targeting), no-one has ever suggested the catholic church is the only place of refuge for dangerous serial sex offenders.
It is clearly one of the best and most accommodating host institutions for such vermin, but no one disputes that child rapists exist everywhere, except perhaps where they cannot access their prey.
Did catholic officials really believe they could hide from view in the crowd of other abusive institutions who sacrifice children to protect themselves? Do they not understand the immense and horrific scale of the problem they have allowed to flourish, compared to others. Or do they really only look as far forward as being able to say “Nah, nah, told you it wasn’t just us!”
This strategy of being one of the crowd comes apart when it comes to recommendations, however.
The catholic church always ensures it operates under a series of special conditions, receives special treatment, official or unofficial, which gives it undeserved and unfair advantages over other organisations.
And over victims seeking justice or even protection from ongoing sexual assaults.
But if these crimes are being investigated across the board, as church officials themselves insisted, any recommendations must surely apply uniformly across the board.
The evidence will no doubt support going further than that and imposing especially stringent scrutiny for catholic institutions. Unfortunately that will never happen as the squawking about unfairness would be unending. Rest assured though, the public simply will not accept the catholic church being given any more free passes to continue to commit crimes unchecked.
That alone will be pretty hard to endure for those who believe themselves above the law, and entitled to be above the law.
One item sure to test this issue is the heavily promoted “sanctity of the confessional”. This attempts to place a religious practice, changeable and subject to the whims of a criminal cabal ruling what is claimed to be a sovereign foreign country, above Australian law relating to some of the most serious of crimes against some of the most vulnerable in society. It endangers children, obstructs justice and thwarts law enforcement.
Continuing to give credulity to this nonsense makes a mockery of our legal system.
Other ways in which this inquiry has paved the way is the shocking evidence revealed via public hearings throughout 2012, and the widespread media coverage of that evidence.
This factor is vitally important, as many in the wider public do not have the advantage we survivors enjoy, of knowing just how bad the situation truly is, just how evil and cruel these self serving officials are, and just how desperately significant change is needed. Every incident of media coverage increases public understanding and reduces the chances of the church hierarchy being successful in any future attempts to sweep this under the carpet yet again and carry on with their crimes as usual.
Most significantly, this inquiry provided an opportunity for senior Victorian police to officially stop protecting church officials from the truth, and start telling it like it really is. The results were explosive.
Unfortunately from the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry evidence, it would seem some senior NSW police are still being pulled in two different directions between telling the truth and religious affiliation. Or should I say intimidation?
The evidence revealed in the Victorian public hearings is enormously beneficial to survivors. It is also traumatic and triggering, but hearing the truth told and listened to and believed in public, in a formal, official setting, for the very first time, can help to heal the immense additional damage inflicted by mistreatment at the hands of officials concerned only with covering up.
It can inspire victims to become survivors. To ask for help. To tell their own stories. And to seek justice and healing.
Hearing church officials being asked hard questions about their actions by an official inquiry for the very first time is also something this inquiry has offered to survivors throughout Australia. This inquiry did not ask enough questions, did not cover enough details, and did not go deep enough, very far from it, but it did put the entitled princes of the church under the spotlight and hold them accountable for a few hours.
For that we are very grateful.
We look to the Royal Commission to finish the job. No matter how large.
Many survivors did not manage to write a submission or front a public hearing in the totally inadequate time allowed, so their evidence was not heard or taken into account. Hopefully in the meantime they have found the strength and the support to contact the Royal Commission and have their say that way.
The flaws identified in the Victorian Inquiry’s Terms of Reference resulted in pretty much what was expected. An inquiry that was too short, too shallow and didn’t get the full job done. Thankfully we now have the Royal Commission to fill those gaps. And in the meantime, with the help of this inquiry, the Australian public, Australian media and Australian politicians have moved some distance from the appalling neglect, cowardice and complacency which allowed these atrocities to flourish unchecked for so long.
One delightful aspect of this inquiry has been to see a group of somewhat inexperienced, and certainly inexpert politicians on the Family and Community Development Committee grow into the role suddenly foisted upon them. They rose to the task without exception and now are finished the immeasurably difficult job of drafting recommendations.
In many ways, knowing what is needed is brutally simple.
Protect children, not criminals
Support victims, not criminals
Hold the criminals accountable, don’t cover up their crimes
Prevent the criminals from continuing to commit these crimes, don’t give them the perfect conditions in which to reoffend
Such simple, obvious concepts. That tragically, appallingly, have never, ever been implemented in this country. Certainly not in the catholic church, and not elsewhere.
Our children deserve this at the very least.
But ensuring workable recommendations that will actually be implemented is horribly complicated.
Hopefully this will be seen as an opportunity to trial some innovative recovery and support strategies, such as the excellent and very practical proposal developed by survivors in Ballarat.
My advice to the Committee, were they to seek it.
Don’t limit yourselves.
Make the most of this once in a lifetime opportunity.
Honour the suffering of all the victims, particularly those precious and far too short lives lost to suicide.
And do everything possible to prevent any more innocents from being added to our number.
The report of the Parliamentary Inquiry is expected to be released on Wednesday morning.
However, the Committee can only make recommendations to the Victorian parliament, for implementation in Victoria. And the implementation of those recommendations will be dependent on support from political parties who until now have shown themselves to be more interested in religious voting blocs and the influence of church leaders than what is best for our children.
Some religious apologists will criticise any recommended actions to protect children. They will argue unfair treatment, violation of religious freedom (do they really want to admit their religious practice requires the rape of little children?) and a range of conspiracy theories.
Officials, if they have any sense, will not argue, at least not in public. Ferocious behind the scenes lobbying and threats will however attempt to remove, water down, delay or otherwise render ineffective any recommendations.
The response to these recommendations will be a test of the integrity of church officials and politicians alike.
Will they serve the best interests of society, and demonstrate they deserve their positions of authority?
Or will their response merely be self serving?
Stay safe everyone.