EDITORIAL: Confessional is not the issue

MUCH has been made of this week’s federal government announcement of a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.

It’s a chance for voices to be heard and justice to be served, many have claimed. That might be so but important as it is, people should not get carried away with the powers of this inquiry.

The commission will not be able to prosecute offenders and ultimately, police and juries will still be the arbiters.

So, the best we can hope for from this inquiry is a greater awareness of this heinous crime, its devastating impacts and a far better system of reporting.

For some institutions, that will be a leap in itself.

The Catholic Church has borne the brunt of criticism over its handling of child sexual abuse allegations.

By any analysis it has performed poorly in investigating itself; of 650 complaints upheld internally, none have been referred to police, the 7.30 Report revealed on Wednesday night.

When they were reported, investigators were often hindered, some senior serving police have claimed.

Archbishop of Sydney George Pell inflamed feeling on Wednesday by saying a priest’s admission in a Confessional of child sexual abuse should not be reported to police.

Many, including NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell and federal opposition leader Tony Abbott struggle to understand why the Confessional should be sacrosanct. It is not the same for most members of the public who are subject to the NSW Crimes Act and mandatory reporting.

Archbishop Pell’s forthright response has put some sectors offside. But his stance is correct. As administrator of the Canberra/Goulburn Archdiocese, Monsignor John Woods and retired priest Fr Laurie Bent point out today, the Confessional is inviolable.

It not only goes to the separation of church and state but the relationship between the penitent and God. If abuse claims are reportable, where does a priest draw the line?

There are other ways to address the problem and clearly when it gets to this stage, there’s a willingness for reform.

The narrow focus on the Confessional is essentially a side issue.

Surely the proper care of victims and ensuring a fair and tr ansparent process is more important. That goes for all institutions, not just the Catholic Church. The Post has reported extensively on the senate inquiry into Children in Institutional Care and those allegedly abused while in the Salvation Army’s orphanage in Goulburn.

Amid all the hype and expectation of this royal commission, we should not be singling out one organisation or tarring all priests with the one brush.


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