Saturday, November 16, 2013

i've a confession to make

Finally, we have a promise from Premier Naptime to do something constructive [sarcasm intended]. The 15 recommendations from the parliamentary enquiry into abuse of children in institutions include a recommendation of mandatory reporting.

There is no question that an enquiry focusing on institutional abuse – and cover ups – was necessary. There is no question that the Catholic Church in particular has a bloody lot to answer for. There is no question that in some cities or towns, an obscene number of boys/men have committed suicide over institutional abuse and cover-ups.

The recommendation for mandatory reporting has been made in the context of child sexual abuse in institutions, but it raises an important question about the sanctity or "seal" of the confessional in a whole range of areas where priests hear confessions of criminal activity.

Standard arguments in favour of keeping the seal include the probability that people will not confess at all if they know their confession can be used against them. The corollary of this is that priests will then not have a chance to counsel wrongdoers about the need to right their wrongs.

The notion of 'forgiveness' is a central tenet of Christianity [or at least the less wacko versions]. If we cannot be forgiven and/or cannot forgive ourselves, we have no incentive to try to do better in the future. If our lives are to have any purpose or meaning at all, we sometimes need to start with a clean slate. [For myself this seems an almost daily requirement].

Although I grew up in a predominantly white and Christian Australia, and in particular within an Irish 'Cartlick' community, I now live in a multi-cultural Australia and must concede that if I don't want "others" to put their own religious or cultural beliefs above the law – or at least those of our laws that do have some merit – then I should no longer accept that the seal of the confessional deserves some kind of legal protection.

The Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne has stood by the church's stance on keeping information on abuse gained through the confessional secret, despite a Victorian Parliamentary inquiry recommending withholding information relating to child abuse be criminalised.

No negotiation with the Church required.
It's time to scrap this crap altogether.

We need look no further than the behaviour of parliamentarians two minutes after they mumble their way through the Lord's Prayer for evidence that this is, in practical terms, a secular society.

But in all of this brouhaha about child abuse Christian – and particularly Catholic – religious institutions have to some extent been used as whipping boys [no pun intended]. We must not lose our sense of outrage over the acts of abuse and the compounded abuse of the way institutions have handled the original acts of abuse. But we must not let this enquiry blind us to the everyday reality of too many of our young or vulnerable people.

I am reminded of a line I heard from some comedian whose name eludes me –
"So many men were hassling me all the time, I gave in and got married. Now I find I am not even safe in my own home!"

I am not advocating excessively complex laws about the multiplicity of ways we cheat children. What we really need is a new-found respect for the common law notion of duty of care. To every one, and all the time.


  1. It's a simple matter of priority. What is more important - protecting children from illegal abuse; or protecting the perpetrators of that abuse?? Since when did an organisation's administrative procedures take precedence over bringing criminals to justice??

    1. I think what I find extraordinary, Red, is that we seem to be crawling along taking centuries to identify one source of abuse at a time. Bizarre that we even have to consider a law specifically directed at organisations in a position of trust.

  2. Very succinctly put FC. Its hard to imagine a time when 'duty of care' will be the norm.. methinks sometimes that the human race is tainted beyond hope!

    1. Sadly, Grace, it was originally a "common law" idea carefully separated from "criminal law". More recently, governments have been incorporating duty of care into their statutes of criminal law - unfortunately usually in a way that protects corporations by limiting the penalties for failing in their duty of care.

      I'm not sure we are tainted beyond hope so much as lacking hope that on our own we can make a difference.