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Thursday, 02 February 2017 09:05

How do we respond to Royal Commission wrap up on the Catholic Church?

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thinking on bench150On Monday, 6th of February 2017, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will begin Case Study 50 which will run for three weeks, looking into the factors which might have contributed to the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. These hearings are a culmination of around four years of public hearings for the Royal Commission, and it will be the last major news featuring the Commission until it releases its final report, which is due in Parliament on 15 December this year.

Mr Francis Sullivan, CEO of the Catholic Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council, said the hearing will look into issues such as celibacy, seminarian training, clericalism, the structure of the Church, canon law and how they may have contributed to clerical child sexual abuse.

“It will reveal a horrific picture of the extent of the claims of abuse by priests and brothers whose responsibility was to protect and care for children.

“The data will shock and confront the community and will once again make plain the extent of the suffering, damage and loss victims of abuse have endured.

“It is absolutely important that this information is made public. It is part of being transparent and ensuring the complete story is told,” he said.

Mr Sullivan said that over the past 20 years and particularly the past four years the attention of the Church on issues relating to child sex abuse has come into very sharp focus. “We can never be complacent, but the Church today is a very different place to what it was when most of the abuse which has been examined by the Commission took place, ” Mr Sullivan said.

How do Catholics respond and accompany each other, particularly the victims and those affected by sexual abuse?

The Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, has released a video message which will be played at Masses across the Brisbane Archdiocese this weekend and will also be sent to all Brisbane Catholic Education school parents. "Through these three weeks there will be some grim moments and there will be some shocks, inevitably. But there will also be a chance to tell a better story of what has been done and what is being done now and what will be done to ensure that the future is very much better than the past."

He urged everyone to take part in changing the culture that led to the mishandling of the abuse by Church leaders. "Together we can do everything possible to ensure a better future for the Church; a better future particularly for young people; and even more particularly for those who have survived abuse. That justice and healing may be done to them," he said.

The President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC), Archbishop Denis Hart, has touched upon what may be discussed in these proceedings and again offered an apology on behalf of the Australian Catholic Church in a message to the lay faithful.

"For the victims and survivors, for the Catholic community and for many in the wider Australian community, this hearing may be a difficult and even distressing time, as the Royal Commission reviews the evidence it has already received and seeks to understand why and how this tragedy has occurred.

Deeply mindful of the hurt and pain caused by abuse, I once again offer my apology on behalf of the Catholic Church. I am sorry for the damage that has been done to the lives of victims of sexual abuse. As Pope Francis said recently, ‘it is a sin that shames us’.

Over the next three weeks, evidence presented during the Royal Commission hearings will be analysed, statistics about the extent of abuse will be made public, and the way forward will be explored. Many of our bishops and other Catholic leaders will appear before the Royal Commission. They will explain what the Church has been doing to change the old culture that allowed abuse to continue and to put in place new policies, structures and protections to safeguard children. Pope Francis has urged the whole Church to, ‘find the courage needed to take all necessary measures and to protect in every way the lives of our children, so that such crimes may never be repeated’."

Monica Doumit of The Catholic Weekly, a publication of the Archdiocese of Sydney, anticipates this period will be challenging for Catholics and the media's rolling coverage will focus more on the sensational (and sensationalised) extracts from the 60-plus hours of testimony. 

"The Church needs good people to remain within it to ensure the factors which allowed the initial abuse to occur and then be subsequently covered up never, ever happen again. I also think it is crucial to ensure that we have proper information. The Commission will likely be the subject of conversation in the office and around the dinner table, and so it will be important that we are equipped with more than what we have read in the newspaper."

Media inquiries: Michael Salmon (Truth, Justice and Healing Council)  +61 417 495 018

For transcripts and updates throughout the course of the hearings, visit the website of the Truth Justice and Healing Council (TJHC), which coordinates the Catholic Church's response to the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Watch Archbishop Mark Coleridge's video message ahead of the final hearing into the Catholic Church at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

pdf Download and read the Australian Bishops' Message to the lay faithful re Royal Commission Catholic Church Final Hearing (129 KB)

Read the media release from the Truth, Justice and Healing Council "The Catholic Church’s final Royal Commission case study starts Monday".

Suggested prayers in praying for victims, survivors and all those affected by sexual abuse.

Access these resources  and services that support victims, survivors and those affected by sexual abuse.

Read Monica Doumit's article in full from The Catholic Weekly.

(Image: Aurora Magazine, a publication of the Diocese of Maitland Newcastle)