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Posted | 22 comments

Shining a Light on Child Sexual Abuse

Shining a Light on Child Sexual Abuse

Within hours of putting our Quick Poll in the field, the Federal Government announced a wide reaching independent Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in all institutions, not just the Catholic Church. So – what were our poll results? And what does the church’s response say about … the church?

Quick Poll Results:

The poll results were not at all surprising – they clearly reflect the opinions of the wider community. When asked whether the Federal Government should announce a Royal Commission style investigation into the sexual abuse of children within the Catcholic Church, here is how you responded:

A number commented – why single out the Catholic Church? Why not investigate all institutions? 

It turns out that that’s exactly what the Government has chosen to do. Obviously, the Catholic Church is not the only place where these atrocities may have been committed.

Reaction of the Catholic Church’s Leadership

However given its prominence and the very specific allegations made not only of abuse, but of systemic cover up of that abuse by the Church, the Catholic Church does serve as a powerful case study.  And it’s that case study that I would like to examine briefly to see what you and I can learn about church and moral leadership.

There have been widespread allegations of abuse and cover up. One of the people making those allegations is a policeman who spent years investigating sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in NSW. Despite this, the most senior Catholic leader in Australia, Cardinal Pell, resisted calls for an investigation, claiming that the whole thing was being blown out of all proportion.

Once the Royal Commission was announced by the Prime Minister, he shifted his ground.  Quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) Cardinal Pell said that the investigation would be:

an opportunity to clear the air, to separate fact from fiction … [but] … We object to being described as the only cab on the rank.

According to the SMH, he went on to ‘castigate the press for smearing and scapegoating the church with exaggerations and generalisations’.  The remainder of his press conference was what can best be described as a spirited defense of the church and it’s position. A central tenet of his argument was that the church, in statistical terms was no worse than any other segment of society.  

A Case Study in Church Leadership

The defensiveness of the leadership of the Catholic Church at best, makes it appear to be a moribund organisation in the public eye. At worst, an evil one. Or perhaps the answer, in terms of public perceptions, lies somewhere in between.  Whatever the answer, brand “Catholicism” has been trashed, and by association (whether we like it or not) brand “Christianity” and … most importantly brand “Jesus” have been tarnished. That, to put it bluntly, translates into a roadblock to faith in Jesus, for many.

Any moral authority that the Catholic Church may have had has been flushed down the toilet, despite Cardinal Pell’s assertions that the general public certainly understands we are serious about this.  

In the face of a compelling, prima face case of abuse and systemic cover-up, why didn’t the church’s leadership go to the government and request a Royal Commission? Why didn’t the leadership take pre-emptive and proactive action in the interests of its people to bring the truth to light, whatever that truth might be?

Answer: because it was apparently more concerned about protecting the organisation and in so doing has greatly diminished that which it seems to value above all other things – it’s reputation. 

Here is the biblical principle that the church leaders have ignored:

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them. For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. (Ephesians 5:6-14)

It seems to me that the role of a church leader is to shine the light on deeds of darkness and to expose them.  Instead – at least as far as public perception is concerned – the church seems to have been intent on the exact opposite, justifying their actions by saying, in effect, “well, we’re no different to the rest of the world in this area”.

My point?

We – the church – should be different. Very different. We’re in the light business after all, aren’t we? 

No, none of us is perfect. But we should expect far, far more from our church leadership, whatever brand or denomination. And if that sounds a little harsh, here’s why I’ve said what I’ve said. 

Sometimes … we need to call a spade a spade. Sometimes we just need to speak the truth in love. 

A Final Word

If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes! Jesus (Matt 18:6,7)


  1. Let us first acknowledge that, as Christians and human beings, our ONLY concern is for the welfare of the victims. My heart is broken for the dear children whose lives have been so terribly wounded, shattered, abused by vile adults who have taken advantage and acted criminally towards them. As a community we know this evil stain has covered our land for more than half a century. The greatest shame is this sin has been perpetrated on our children by the very adults who should have protected them. To my horror, I now know that two colleagues I worked with in the 1990’s were involved in this evil, one was murdered by a victim, the other suicided when he learned his heinous acts were about to be exposed. One had been a Member of Parliament, the other a highly respected Councillor. I had no idea of the darkness surrounding these men. I am led to understand they were associated with a paedophile ring that was later suggested to include members of the judiciary.
    For the sake of these horribly abused children, the Royal Commission must turn over every stone to bring these perpetrators to justice. Nothing less will bring peace to those so horribly treated and until now poorly supported by society. The statement by Bishop Ingham gives a glimmer of hope and we thank God for him. Thank you to our political leaders for showing the courage to investigate on a broad basis. Let us pray the Royal Commissioners will bravely and transparently pursue this Inquiry wherever it may lead. Thank you to Berni for publicly and passionately raising this heart-wrenching issue. But let us all understand, the matter goes far beyond the Catholic Church.

  2. A statement on the Royal Commission by the Catholic Bishop of Wollongong, Peter Ingham. I like it! Someone get this man representing the Catholic Church in the Media please.

    • A heartfelt and sincere apology and a transparent and serious approach to dealing with this issue moving forward.

      What a refreshing change to the insincere Machiavellian spin we get from other prominent leaders of the Catholic Church!

      Forget about just making him the media spokesman for the church…elevate him to Cardinal and then to Rome!

  3. Here’s a comment I received by email from “Mark”:

    When Christians criticise each other publicly, only Satan benefits.

    As I pointed out the other day and thankfully Julia thought the same, the Royal Commission will look into child sexual abuse in Australia, not just in one church.

    Your survey question was restricted and obviously biased by your own agenda.

    Let’s see whether George Pell’s allegations of exageration will be borne out or not by the Commission.

    Let’s also listen to the majority of Australian Catholics who want this fully investigated and are dismayed by the lack of effective action by our leaders, abused children’s parents and the police.

    Let’s hope that those parents of abused children who knew, but did nothing in terms of making complaints to the Police also bear some repercussions as a result of this Commission, although I have never heard one comment in the media about this.

    I hope that what ever problems you have with the Catholic Church (which I have noticed in your emails on previous occasions) can be sorted out and that one day you will will work for unity among Christians, as God surely wants.

    • The attitude of keeping it quiet amongst ourselves is in alignment with the approach adopted by the Catholic Church on this issue.

      Also, it may imply that it is acceptable for Christians to criticise the actions of non-Christians…a very “us and them” approach which serves to divide rather than unite.

      Thankfully we live in a society where the rule of law governs all regardless of whether one believes in Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, Satan or the tooth fairy.

  4. I am pleased to see the Royal Commission will have very wide terms of reference and not just focus on the Catholic Church, given child abuse is a crime we must take responsibility for as a society.

    However, as Berni suggests the Catholic Church does make a good case study, and as a recovering Catholic I have a personal interest.

    There are literally millions of good Catholics serving their communities and their church and I feel for them given much of the hierarchy of their church struggles with arrogance, hypocrisy, secrecy and wrong doing. Brand “Catholic” is very much in crisis in Australia.

    The abuse of children by clergy in positions of trust is criminal and morally reprehensible, and the covering up of that abuse by certain members of the hierarchy of the church is even more criminal and morally wrong. Those found to be guilty of abusing children or concealing such abuse should be subjected to the full force of the law.

    There is a separation of chuch and state in this country and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church must understand they are not above the law.

    In order to regain the trust of their flock the hierarchy must show strong leadership and root out the paedophiles as a first step, and then move forward acting with greater integrity and transparency.

    And the Catholic Church would also be well served to reconsider its position on various beliefs which are no longer embraced by a great number of Catholics including papal infallibility, the sanctity of the confessional, the vow of celibacy, excluding women from the priesthood, opposing contraception etc.

    There is a lot of work to do to repair the “Catholic” brand, but protecting the safety and innocence of children is far more important than protecting any brand or organisation, religious or otherwise.

  5. “Why didn’t the leadership take pre-emptive and proactive action in the interests of its people to bring the truth to light, whatever that truth might be?”

    “Answer: because it was apparently more concerned about protecting the organisation and in so doing has greatly diminished that which it seems to value above all other things – it’s reputation.”

    I totally agree with the above observation/statement, concerning the cover-up of child abuse within the Catholic Church and the Royal Commission.

    Furthermore, to Cardinal Pell I would say… “SHAME on you Cardinal Pell” and shame on any so-called Christians who condone your actions, or lack of.

    CHRISTIANITY: the first six (6) letters of the word “Christian” leaves no doubt as to who genuine Christians follow.

    I would also like to remind everyone, that such a successful cover-up could only have been possible with a corrupt Australian Government aiding and abetting, and after such an elaborate cover-up by so-called Christians, it took an Atheist Prime Minister to at last help bring about some sort of JUSTICE by way of a Royal Commission – is this an example of how the Lord works in mysterious ways?

    I can only hope that Justice will also prevail concerning the convoluted situation mentioned below in the email which I sent today.

    Whatever the age group, from first breath to last breath in this world, may Justice prevail for all, especially for the most vulnerable.

    God Bless all genuine Christians!

    (PS: trouble posting comment – so I’ve removed the email)

  6. Yes I agree there should be a royal commission.

    These terrible thing need to be brought into the light in the hope they don’t continue to happen.

  7. But rather expose them yeah there is a difference between love covering a multitude of sins and covering up sin we’re not supposed to do that there can be no healing without confronting it I was recently re reading Richard Wurmbrands book Tortured for Christ and he pretty much said the same thing he loved his communist torturers but still exposed communism for what it is if there is noone exposting sin and calling for repentence nobody ever will when i read some of the sermons in the bible i recognise that Peter said in one sermon whom you with wicked hands have cruscified and slain he did not shrink back from confronting WHEN THE HOLY SPIRIT LED THAT WAY as a result his hearers were cut to the heart (convicted) takes a lot of courage though.

  8. As a Catholic, I am deeply saddened and angered by the systematic protection and cover up by the Catholic Church. Agree the Church
    shuld have instigated the Royal Commission. My heart aches for all those who have been wounded by the evil actions of countless priests and hope the Royal Commission begins their healing process.

  9. Myself I was shocked to hear one priest saying it was God’s fault because He made us this way.The thing here is to tarnish the word christian.The devil is cunning because unsaved people who were planning to go to church for help will start to dought.That is why a group of eastern country people who were here in Australia said they would like to be called followers of Christ instead of the cover name christians.People out there who are unsaved start to wonder where they can get proper help.They do not know the difference.The thing is God is God we can never manipulate Him with our comments.He will never change what He commanded in the Living Word.We can cover up horrible crimes but we can never hide from the wrath of God.Investigating this is okay because we do not want the same thing to happen again.The world is full of beautiful women but why boys and the under age?We need to be careful with what we do.The devil is out there to destroy us.Let the children enjoy their freedom without fear of abuse.Thank you.

  10. I cannot understand the congregations not rising as one with loud voices to stop priests being moved from parish to parish. Years ago maybe, but in last decade or so the issue has been more public. Cardinal Pell’s “cab in the rank” remark is deplorable. Perhaps we as Christians need to be a bit louder and prouder with our faith in Jesus, so we are not all tarred with the same brush. Shine the light on the good elements of Christianity and as Eunice and Geoff point out, no more silence.

  11. Straight up, I would like to say that as a Christian, these sexual abuse cases are wrong and justice should be served to those who were involved.

    However, I see you’re jumping on the Bandwagon I see, Berni?

    You say, and I quote, the Catholic Church did not take “proactive action” “because it was apparently more concerned about protecting the organisation and in so doing has greatly diminished that which it seems to value above all other things – it’s reputation.” Well, I believe, you, by writing this blog, have ignored a biblical principle, which is to not judge others (Mt 7:1). You do not know the reasons why they covered it up, you’re merely assuming the worst. Maybe that had other reasons, other than reputation, for hiding the abuse cases? Seems like you have a piece of wood in your eye (Lk 6:42).

    At the very end of your article you say, and I quote “Sometimes we just need to speak the truth in love.” You claim to be doing this in love, but I am willing to bet a substantial amount of money that you have not submitted this to the Catholic Church formally, rather have just used the net to gain support. It is only love, if you had contacted the Church leadership and submitted this. But like I said, I’m willing to bed that you haven’t.

    *My* point of this response? Well, your article is nothing more than something that will inflame the situation and gain popularity for your organisation. We should be supporting the Catholic Church. The statistics show that the Church is no worse than any other organisation. Yet you decide to try and make the situation worse by exploiting your media connections.You’re right. Sometimes we need to speak the truth in love.

    I will be expecting a return response via email from you personally Berni, defending your article on this issue.

    • Mark if you think the bible means not to judge others I think you need to go back and read it again. These issues are straight evil, speak to a victim and say that line. Christ is real so should we be… sorry if I offended but we do need to stand up and have a voice.

  12. Evil persists when good people do nothing. A royal commission is not the full answer but it will help. It may assist victims make sense that as community we stand with them and what has happened is not acceptable.

  13. “All it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do (say) nothing”

    …says it all.

  14. All main organised Christian denominations have become corporations of business first, politics second, and religion third. The protestant denominations run the most expensive and exclusive private schools, health care facilities and retirement villages. The roman catholic denomination runs clubs that seek revenue from gambling. How can the leaders of organised Christian denominations challenge and question politicians and business leaders? How can they stand for the christian values and beliefs of the bible when their business and political interests are in conflict?

    The children abuse issue is seen as damaging to the business and political aspect of organised religion. The deliberate attitude has been to save the brand and the public image. It has been left to a politician to do what should have been done by religious leaders.

  15. Christine is right, there is as much abuse of children in other ‘professional’ circles as in the catholic church, and while I agree we need to root out this evil practice, and expose those who are corrupting children, we also need to look at ALL the areas this happens, I hope the inquiry focuses far and wide beyond the boundaries of the church, which of course is the easy pick.

    Cynically of course this whole Royal Commission is a stunt by PM Gillard to detract the public (and resources) away from her recent lack of willingness to openly answer corruption allegations herself re the AWU, the timing is everything.

  16. I do not understand what a Royal Commission will do, so I hesitate into entering this debate, however I know that the Catholic church is not the only place where sexual abuse has been covered up. There are many other organisations that have not been targeted who have done just as good a cover up. I know of one large, well respected, Christian organisation who ran children’s homes. The women who came out of those homes knew that it was expected that they would be sexually abused. This organisation also moved ministers around to stop abuse issues becoming public. As one of the people who falls into the category of sexual assault victim, I do not have a priest to blame, just a family member. It was equally covered up by the family because of the church association. Part of the organisation that I have mentioned above. I actually agree with Cardinal Pell, they do fall into the ‘normal’ statistics. Do we expect the Catholic Church to be ‘more pure’ than the rest of us? Vilifying the Catholic Church and not examining the rest of society is not a good idea either. I agree with what Mary wrote, doesn’t help to point fingers at them.

  17. I agree that things which have been brought to the light can bring light to those affected and hurt by sexual abuse within places that allow sexual or any abuse….it has robbed many, and hopefully many can be restored and set free from this sins consequence in their lives

  18. Pray, Pray,Pray, for Cardinal Pell, that he is given wisdom from God going forward.
    Please don’t add further to condemnation going out to him and the Catholic Church.
    Don’t you realise who it is that is the’ accuser of the brethen’. The devil delights in
    seeing church against church. I’m sure mistakes and bad judgements have been
    made, nevertheless to be out in the public domain ‘putting the boot in’ only serves
    the purposes of the devil. Remember the importance in keeping the unity of the brethren, it is key to our strategic advantage in the spiritual war that wages all around us.

  19. Yes they should have come out and asked for the royal commission . To say there like no other is not right . Out of them being exposed there needs light to come out of all this

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