Thursday, May 20, 2010

Church abuse victims deserve compensation without strings

Church abuse victims deserve compensation without strings
Sydney Morning Herald
May 19, 2010

The Catholic Church has delayed proper compensation for victims of abuse for far too long. Photo: Reuters
In the past 50 years an estimated 30,000 victims from 25 countries have reported the crime of child sexual abuse by clergy within the Catholic Church. Only sustained global outrage has finally prised the lid off the systemic cover-up of clergy sexual abuse. It took until last week, however, for Pope Benedict to acknowledge the Church's responsibility for these crimes and to attest that forgiveness does not obviate the need for justice.

The internal processes by which the Catholic Church in Australia "manages" child sexual assault cases, Towards Healing (and The Melbourne Response), have frequently been presented as ones to which other countries can aspire. Overseas we have seen how countless more crimes have been perpetrated as the Church moved its criminal clergy from parish to parish. However, fresh and very disturbing allegations from victims in Australia highlight how Australian victims of child sexual assault suffer not only from the original abuse and its impact, but from protracted and allegedly flawed internal Church processes. Not only have perpetrators not been brought to account but in some cases it would appear, have continued in their clerical roles, with their hierarchical positions honoured. Recent reports about the ongoing presiding roles played by a Sydney priest, Finian Egan and a Melbourne priest, Patrick Maye, despite serious child sexual assault allegations, are chilling.

One would have assumed that all children would be safe in Church. That of all organisations, the Church would have immediately expressed outraged about the abuse of innocent children within its walls. Surely the leadership of another organisation – a child-care facility, a kindergarten, on uncovering these crimes, would have brought such children to safety? Yet ironically the Church's response has often been one of institutional risk minimisation. Not only have perpetrators not been brought to account, but justice has often been denied. In the case of Father Egan it is alleged that victim compensation was contingent upon one of his victims not going to the police.

It is high time for the Church to establish proper funds to enable the long-term expert care for all those harmed by child sexual assault within the Church. And it is time for these funds to be provided without strings or constraints.

The Pope recently put on record a call for all crimes to be reported to civil authorities. One can only hope that monetary settlements and confidentiality agreements will no longer provide a smokescreen behind which perpetrators hide. Hopefully systemic changes will finally mean that child and adult victims receive the care, support and justice they need and deserve.

In the past 20 years, victims of clergy abuse have gained a voice and their revelations have finally shone a light strong enough to penetrate the dark history of the Catholic Church. It is important to stress that despite the number of victims reporting abuse, many clergy are beyond reproach. The Church continues to do good works in many areas helping and supporting those in need. Sadly this scandal has tarnished the work of many well-intentioned and industrious clergy. This is the Church's opportunity to expand its good works into the areas of child protection and pastoral care for victims. For the Church to show real leadership and provide public funds to lead the fight against child abuse, in Australia and globally.

This crisis has highlighted the destructive nature of systems of power that ensure silence and secrecy. The scale of this crisis within the Catholic Church is unprecedented. Yet the crime of child sexual assault is not limited to the Catholic Church. It knows no doctrinal boundaries and a plethora of other institutions and religions have their own crimes to answer. The victims of Catholic clergy abuse have courageously led the way. As the Australian victims who are now speaking out attest, the process of reclaiming one's life is far from easy.

One would hope the tide is finally turning as regards to child sexual assault within the Catholic Church. As further Australian victims add their voices to those of other victims, we anxiously await the Church's renewed response.

Dr Cathy Kezelman is chairwoman of Adults Surviving Child Abuse and author of Innocence Revisited – a tale in parts.

No comments: