The final hearing of the Church at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse begins on February 6 and will run for three weeks, writes Francis Sullivan, CEO of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council.
Unlike the case studies, this hearing will be less forensic in nature and more of an exploration of the causes and contributing factors for the institutional responses from Church authorities to child sex abuse cases.
This is an important hearing and is vital to the overall assessment the Commission will make of the Church’s response to this scandal.
Last year I mentioned that we all need to be mindful of the "time warp" that can trap our thinking about the incidence of and response to child abuse. The history of abuse in the Catholic Church has been confronting and shameful. There is no excuse for it. There may well be reasons why it occurred but the fact that it did cannot be merely contextualised away.
The Royal Commission, during private sessions and through data collection, has an estimate of the extent of the sexual abuse of children within the Church. I am sure this will be made public in the hearing and I for one am bracing myself for this revelation.
This will be the first time anywhere in the world that the data of the Catholic Church on child sexual abuse has been compiled and analysed for public consideration. The data and the evidence from expert witnesses will make for an intense examination of the abuse scandal.
It will point to cultural and sociological issues in the Catholic Church in Australia — how decision making occurred, who was involved and why. It will look at where responsibility fell and to what degree accountability and compliance processes were effectively deployed.
The hearing will seek to provide an understanding of how priests and religious were selected and trained in decades past as well as in current times.