Catholics accept most of the Royal Commission recommendations
Confession change proves too hard
The easy headline is “Catholics stand firm on confessions secrets” in reporting their response to the Royal Commission into the institutional response to Child Sexual Abuse.
It would be true. But misleading.
The Catholics have made the Royal Commission deadline (of a response within 12 months with three months to spare) and have accepted in some form all but one of the commissions recommendations – the one about confession.
Mark Coleridge, Archbishop of Brisbane Australia’s most senior Catholic and Monica Cavanagh on behalf of the religious orders adopt Pope France’s words: “Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient. Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated”.
Action against cover-ups was a key demand of the Royal Commission, which called for the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ACBC) – the peak council of the local church – to ask the Holy See to amend canon law so that disciplinary processes relating to child sexual abuse are transparent. the recatholic response indicates this is now “normative practice” in the Catholic Church of Australia.
Similarly, removing the time limits for taking action against child sexual abuse under canon (church) law have been removed in Australia and the recommendation has been passed to the Holy See (Vatican).
Religious orders will look at changing their rules about celibacy to address the risks of harm to children and potential psychological and sexual dysfunction. This may include shorter terms of commitment to celibacy.
Some headlines, for example in The Australian, highlighted the Royal Commission’s call for the ACBC to “request the Holy See to consider introducing voluntary celibacy for diocesan clergy.” However the response has been “ACBC has informed the Holy See”. The response also notes “the Royal commission made no finding of a causal connection between celibacy and Child sexual abuse.
There is a gap between the Royal Commission recommendation that “the ACBC request the Holy See to consider introducing voluntary celibacy for diocesan clergy” and the ACBC simply “informing” the Holy See. it appears that the ACBC has not actually made a request for this change but simply passed on the information that the Royal commission had made its recommendation (that the ACNBC request the change).
This interpretation is reinforced by the ACBC noting “that voluntary celibacy is a long-established and positive practice of the Church in both East and West, particularly for bishops and religious life; and that inadequate initial and continuing formation of priests and religious for celibate living may have contributed to a heightened risk of child sexual abuse, but not celibacy as a state of life in and of itself.”
A pattern emerges in the Catholic response.
• Royal Commission requests that can be resolved locally are accepted. Examples of this include compliance with the Royal commission’s ten Child Safe Standards, and a reporting regime of the keeping of these standards. The response goes through how each of these standards will be followed – for example standard number one making sure leaders are properly trained and held accountable for child safety. Another key recommendation the Catholic response agreed to is that priests and other church workers become mandatory reporters outside the confessional.
• Recommendations that require action by Rome have been passed on to Rome. An example is the Commissions recommendation that the vatican courts publish their decisions in child abuse matters and provide written reasons for their decisions. The response simply says the Holy see has been informed, and that the ACBC is in consultation with the Holy See. As with the example of celibacy referred to earlier the language iOS neutral. It is unclear if the ACBC has backed the Royal Commission’s recommendation.
• Finally with the issue of confession, this is the only recommendation not accepted. The Royal Commission recommended that “Laws concerning mandatory reporting to child protection authorities should not exempt persons in religious ministry from being required to report knowledge of suspicions formed, in whole or in part, on the basis of information disclosed in or in connection with a religious confession.” The response states that the Church “supports the retention of the civil law protection of the seal of the confession”.
The ACBC response indicates some movement on the confession – agreeing to work on having an independent adult in the “line of sight” of a child, to provide protection.
In summary, the bulk of the Royal commissions recommendations have been accepted. The centralised global nature of catholicism mean that some have been sent to Rome. And one recommendation has been rejected.