Church welcomes abuse inquiry 

THE Administrator of the Canberra/Goulburn Catholic Archdiocese has come out in support of a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.

Monsignor John Woods is also calling for meaningful recommendations on a possibly long-running inquiry.

He told the Post that child abuse was a ‘cancer’ that needed to be addressed not only in the Catholic Church but across a broad spectrum of society.

Msgr Woods said the Royal Commission could run for a number of years, as was the case in Ireland, when the church there carried out a thorough and all-encompassing investigation which took nine years.

“…I have heard people say the investigation could take anything from two to 10 years,” Msgr Woods said.

“But I think time should be secondary to well founded recommendations.”

In terms of how the inquest should be carried out, he told the Post that most sex offenders were usually known to the families involved, and that this could add a great deal of emotion and heartache to the victims.

He believed terms of reference should be broad ranging.

“The breadth of it is addressing this matter across society and it should be responsive to facts on the ground,” Msgr Woods said.

“Most paedophiles have either been married, are part of the victim’s extended family, or are certainly known to the family.

“This whole Royal Commission should be broad-ranging, and an area of particular focus should be on children who are or were in institutional care.”

Msgr Woods has heard of some pretty confronting cases in his time, as he was the convenor of the church’s Archdiocesan Professional Standards Group (APSG).

“I have been party to matters applying to the APSG, because it deals with issues of paedophilia and other pressing matters,” he said.

“Some cases even refer to a perpetrator that has unfortunately either recently deceased, or died quite some time ago, and therefore nothing more can be done.”

But he also believes that the Catholic Church has been dealt a heavy blow with all the allegations of sexual abuse over the years. He said there was no question the Church had been deeply hurt by this.

“One thing I do believe is that the priority should be given to the appropriate care of victims,” he said.

“The ‘cancer’ of child abuse has affected all of us not only within the church, but across society, because the allegations have undermined the good reputations of people.

“It has also unfortunately given ammunition for people to attack the clergy. But what I will say is that the vast majority of clergy and the Catholic faithful in general realise that these paedophiles are a minority.

“Obviously we as a society need to be punitive of perpetrators before the law.

Good law tries to restore for the sake of the common good. The wellbeing of the victim needs to be addressed, though, too.”

Msgr Woods also agrees with Cardinal George Pell’s comments that the confessional is sacred, but only to a point.

“It is a fact that the confessional is inviolable, but any priest can withhold absolution if he believes the confessor is not genuine in their remorse,” he said.

“I strongly believe in the inviolability of the confessional, but if the matter is not seen in that light, it would be logical to suggest that there is any number of other matters that people would push for as reportable.

“Unless we address the concern for the perpetrator, he or she could still run the danger of being bound by their offence.

Due process should be adhered to, and we therefore need to consider forgiveness and moving forward.”

In other Catholic news, there’s been speculation a new archbishop will be appointed soon. Monsignor Woods has been an interim administrator for the Archdiocese since May and says that there should be a new archbishop soon.

“I hope that we will have a new archbishop before Easter 2013, but this is only speculation at the moment. The main aim for the time being is just to ‘keep calm and carry on’ with the business of the Archdiocese.”

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