Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse case study 50 | day three

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse | day three

Dr O’Hanlon, a Jesuit priest, has just sworn to tell the truth to the royal commission, in a gorgeous Irish accent.

He was ordained in 1978. He is just outlining his career, and is being asked when the issue of child sexual abuse first came to his attention. He said it was in the late 1980s and early 1990s. When he was a provincial, in Ireland, it became a major part of his responsibilities.

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How it happened

  • 7.12pm The royal commission has adjourned for the day. Dr O’Hanlon is struggling with a heavy cold. The commission will resume at 10am on Thursday with a panel on church discipline and secrecy. Panelists will be Dominican priest Dr Tom Doyle, who gave evidence on Tuesday, author in the area of canon law, Kieran Tapsell, and canon lawyers Dr Rodger Austin and Sister Moya Hanlen. 
  • 6pm The royal commission has resumed to hear evidence from Dr Gerry O’Hanlon from Ireland.

From the 1990s it became apparent it was a huge problem for the Catholic Church in Ireland, he said.

He set up a committee comprising a psychologist, a civil judge and a Jesuit to advise him.

“On occasions I met the people who had been abused, and I think that was probably the best learning experience for me. I had read literature, I had attended conferences, but I think the most relevant learning occurred when I sat down and people told me their stories,” he said.

The “learning” included the “devastation it had wreaked on their lives”, not only for the survivor but for the survivor’s families.

He told O’Hanlon about a survivor who feared touching his own children, who had been “imprisoned” by the consequences of being sexually abused by a priest.

He finished as provincial in 2004, and joined a Dublin centre for truth and justice.

He is being questioned about the Murphy report which was released in 2009. It was the report that revealed the extent of child sexual abuse within the Irish Catholic Church, which focused on Dublin.

“In the first millennium the church was a more synodal church – with the participation of lay people – until the second millennium when it became more vertical, more monarchical, with power concentrated at the top,” O’Hanlon said.

The Second Vatican Council, in the 1950s, established a template for a more collegial church, but under the papacy of John Paul II there was a strong return to the top down governance model of the church, which O’Hanlon described as a contributing factor to the child sexual abuse crisis.

He has talked about the “creeping infallibility” concept, which is roughly translated to mean that whatever came from Rome – the Vatican – was taken to be infallible. This led to bishops being followers who didn’t take responsibility, rather than leaders.

“There was a real lack of freedom of speech and public opinion within the church. When people wanted to speak about other issues in the church perceived to be controversial, or not following orthodoxy, they were likely to be censured.”

That was particularly the case on issues of sexuality and gender, he said.

“There was an overall character of the church of lack of freedom of speech, deference to priesthood, if you like almost a sense that they were right, and that was an unhealthy situation,” he said.

Counsel assisting the royal commission, Gail Furness SC, has asked if there were particular instructions from Rome on the issue of child sexual abuse. He said the bishops were forced to take responsibility because the media and the public forced them to.

There was a real lack of freedom of speech and public opinion within the church. When people wanted to speak about other issues in the church perceived to be controversial, or not following orthodoxy, they were likely to be censured.

Jesuit priest Dr Gerry O'Hanlon

O’Hanlon said there was a dialogue going on between the Irish bishops and the Vatican, but “it would seem the Irish bishops were ahead of Rome in terms of the proper way to handle this issue”.

The Irish church began engaging with civil authorities, although church teaching was against that.

O’Hanlon said Pope Francis was trying to change the culture of secrecy in the church, but up until the very recent past that was not the case.

He is now talking about Pope Benedict, who wrote a letter to the Irish people that was seen as “overly spiritual”, and not engaged with the actual issue of the devastating impacts of child sexual abuse.

O’Hanlon said there was nothing “inevitable” about the church’s very poor response, and there were “theological resources to imagine a different church” – he is talking about Vatican II and the greater involvement of lay people.

When the upheaval of Vatican II had settled down by the late 1970s, an older model took over. Vatican II included recommendations to have church synods involving lay people.

“It looks like the people who took over being in charge of managing reforms in the church, were against those reforms.”

The upheaval left the church very poorly equipped to respond to the child sexual abuse crisis, and the people “below” the levels of power silenced.

O’Hanlon has agreed with the view of clericalism put to the commission by other senior Catholics over the past few days, including senior priests and child sexual abuse survivors’ advocate Dr Tom Doyle.

Ordination, under clericalism, allowed priests, and the public, to see priests as higher beings. O’Hanlon has told the commission that view has been destroyed because of “the tragedy of child sexual abuse”.

He has cited a recent Irish study where a majority of people, asked to describe priests, used the term “paedophile priests”.

O’Hanlon is talking about the “blue sky thinking” the church needs to go into the future.

He has referred to problems within the Brazilian Catholic Church, and Brazilian bishops going to Pope Francis for help. O’Hanlon has told the commission Pope Francis told them to go back to Brazil, come up with some solutions, and get back to him. O’Hanlon supports that approach.

He said the “blue sky thinking” should include women in the Catholic Church, and he seemed to indicate women in positions in authority. I would expect Furness to ask him further questions on this.

Furness is questioning him on mandatory celibacy and whether it was a causative factor in the child sexual abuse crisis.

O’Hanlon said there were serious questions about mandatory celibacy, which was a discipline issue and not a doctrinal one – in other words, it can be changed. 

“The Catholic Church needs to look at mandatory celibacy, but what I’m not sure about is its importance as a factor here. It’s not a good thing for an organisation like the church, where teachings about celibacy and sexuality are in the hands of celibate males,” he said.

“The fact that this teaching had its source in, and was promulgated by, a small group within the church, seems to me another example of governance issues within the church.”

Justice McClellan has asked O’Hanlon how the church ever came to view crimes against children as moral failings or lapses.

O’Hanlon said bishops were educated people who had a moral framework that respected the law on things like traffic matters, theft and homicide. Those matters would have been seen as crimes and reported to civil authorities. But those people were in a cultural blind spot on child sexual abuse.

McClellan has put to him that the church might have seen child sexual abuse as a moral failing rather than a crime, because to admit to crimes would have affected the standing of the church.

O’Hanlon has said that for the church in Ireland to have admitted it was a crime might have incurred financial costs and burdens, and the church might have wanted to avoid that. He felt that was a more likely reason.

He said the reputational damage would have been the same, whether the church saw child sexual abuse as moral or criminal. The issue was the abuse itself, which the community was always going to judge harshly.

McClellan has put back to him the proposition that treating it as a moral issue was a way of avoiding the criminal consequences.

O’Hanlon: “There was a reluctance to go to civil authorities. It is true that if the church had been left to its own devices, it would not have done so. The church owes a lot to the voices of survivors and the media, for putting pressure on the church.”

3.19pm The royal commission has adjourned until 6pm when it will resume to hear evidence from Irish theologian Dr Gerry O’Hanlon. The blog will continue at that time.

2.04pm The royal commission has resumed.

Barrister Jane Needham, SC, is questioning Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge about women in his diocese. He has taken issue – slightly – with Dr Maureen Cleary’s concerns about the difference between being advised by paid diocesan employees, and independent lay people who are directors of autonomous boards.

Coleridge is being questioned about Professor Parkinson’s view that the church’s governance structure is, in many respects, “feudal and monarchical”. Coleridge agreed, in some respects, but pointed to some restrictions placed on bishops.

Coleridge said “if possible, I would prefer to appoint a woman” to positions within his diocese. He didn’t specifically say why, although in earlier evidence he said the church had a “real responsibility” to appoint women to senior positions because women cannot be priests.

Coleridge has said the church has to listen to voices that aren’t just “convenient and congenial”.

Coleridge: “I think at times the church has been better at the mouth than the ear, which doesn’t preclude the speaking, but starts with the listening.”

Coleridge described the questionnaire issued by the Vatican as part of its 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family as “incredibly clumsy”, in response to his rather jarring evidence earlier in which he described the responses as tedious and predictable.

Coleridge said he kept a blog during the synod, and how he was surprised at the public response.

He said the blog was about “inclusion”, so that Catholics felt included in the bishops’ synod.

He wasn’t asked whether the church holding a synod about families, where participants were largely celibate bishops, wasn’t further proof of the church’s inability to consult with Catholics.

Commissioner Jennifer Coate is questioning Coleridge about his evidence about the powers of bishops. He has said the power of bishops is circumscribed, although “I am not saying I don’t have power and authority, but it’s not the power of a monarch”.

Coleridge: “The Catholic Church in general is an unusual interplay between the decentralised and the centralised.”

Commissioner Fitzgerald: “How does the vow of obedience work within that?”

Coleridge: “With my own clergy, it’s always negotiation.”

Coleridge is explaining what happens when he rings priests to tell them they need to go to parishes. He said five or six times priests had said no under those circumstances.

McClellan asked what Coleridge did if priests weren’t doing well in a parish.

The vicar for clergy would speak to the priest, with feedback to the vicar general and/or the bishop. The next step might be a talk with the bishop.

The priest might then be offered confidential counselling.

Coleridge: “There are various options. If none of that helped, you might sit down with the priest and ask if the priest wanted to continue in the priesthood.”

Coleridge said the canonical process of defrocking a priest was long and arduous.

McClellan asked what would happen if there were child sexual abuse allegations. Coleridge said the priest would be stood aside and the church investigation process would start, largely Towards Healing.

Coate: “Would you be able to say with confidence that dioceses using the Towards Healing process would follow that process?”

Coleridge: “The problem with Towards Healing is not the processes, but the appalling inconsistency of its application. Individual bishops were making decisions in all sorts of ways. That lack of consistency has been a problem.”

Coate: “Is there a resistance to that consistency inside the Bishops Conference?”

Coleridge: “No, I think bishops have recognised it cannot be business as usual.”

Commissioner Murray has asked why that inconsistency has occurred, and why they were so great, and very current, and has opened the issue up to all panels.

Murray: “Was there a genuine commitment to it in the first place, in spirit and the application of the principles?”

Peter Johnstone said canon law gives the Pope ultimate control over bishops, overall, which allowed the Vatican to maintain control effectively.

The inconsistency of the application of Towards Healing across dioceses was a “critical damnation” of the way the church works in response to child sexual abuse, Johnstone said.

Coleridge has responded to questions about accountability by the church, by telling the commission that there were often problems with authority.

Problem priests often had problem with authority if they were questioned by more senior clergy, and they were often authoritarian in their dealings with people they regarded as below them – parishioners.

Coleridge: “There’s no question that if priests were employees of the bishop, it could be helpful but it could have unintended side-effects.”

Parkinson has cut in here, and said the bigger problem for the church is the lack of structure across the church.

Parkinson said the problem was the number of dioceses and orders that were only accountable to Rome, and Rome is a long way away and has not dealt with the governance issue, or the child sexual abuse crisis, well.

The issue “was not about how individual dioceses run their shows”, but about governance across the country.

Peter Johnstone said he was worried about Coleridge’s earlier comment that change within the church is “slow and painful”, and argued for what some would see as a radical move.

“I think there needs to be a circuit breaker in the church. The Pope could appoint 50 per cent of positions within the curia as progressive women theologians, who could do that as well as any of the blokes who are there at the moment. That would change the dynamic tomorrow,” Mr Johnstone said.

“We are dealing with a church that does not treat women as equal. Under canon law there’s a dubious provision that women can’t do governance, and that could be changed.

“It’s abuot people who live normal lives and about recognising the gender imbalance, which is unjust.

Mr Johnstone said his organisation, Catholics for Renewal, had just conducted a survey of Catholics on bishop selection, and they argued governance in the church was unacceptable.

1.04pm The royal commission has adjourned for lunch. It will resume at 2pm for questions to panelists by counsel for the Catholic Church. The commission will finish early today but resume at 6pm for evidence from Dr Gerry O’Hanlon, Adjunct Associate Professor of Theology, Loyola Institute, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.  

11.59am The royal commission resumes.

Archbishop Coleridge has defined clericalism as church hierarchy geared to power and not service. Clericalism has been raised as a significant factor contributing to the child sexual abuse crisis, and development of what was described on Tuesday as “a caste set apart” of priests. It’s also been described as a “clerical club”.

The late former finance manager of Maitland-Newcastle diocese, John Feenan, once described the church and clericalism as “the ultimate boys’ club”.

Coleridge said he agrees with having lay people, and women particularly, in decision-making processes with real responsibility.

He has told the commission that if the Catholic Church cannot ordain women as priests, it had a responsibility to put women in positions of “real responsibility”.

Furness has asked Coleridge if he has introduced anything in his diocese similar to what is in place in Adelaide diocese, where women have some authority over priests.

Coleridge said one of the most important of his advisory bodies is made up of lay people, although he and his vicar general also sit on that body. We have already heard evidence today from Dr Cleary that such a model is not necessarily the best one, given the “authority” of clerics.

Coleridge is now talking about “the church doing its own thing, being a law unto itself” on the issue of child sexual abuse, and looking at it as a sin and forgiveness matter, rather than as the wider society looks at it, as a crime and punishment issue.

Furness is picking him up on why priests were able to keep on “sinning and being forgiven”.

Coleridge has just talked about compulsion and the confessional, and when a priest talks about a “compulsion” within the confessional.

Furness has asked him to consider the matter outside the confessional, and how a bishop should see the matter if allegations are repeatedly put outside the confessional.

Coleridge has just told the commission the “sin and forgiveness” model might have applied in the past, but if he was told of repeated allegations he would have to advise the priest it was criminal, and had to be raised with authorities.

Coleridge was not asked, so did not answer, if he would be the one reporting to authorities.

Coleridge is just talking about what needs to change within the church.

Cultural change, he said.

“I am absolutely convinced at the heart of this mighty challenge we are facing, we have to focus on that which is systemic and cultural within the Catholic Church. We can’t put up a sign saying business as usual,” he said.

Coleridge said the church needed to see through the eyes of survivors and others. Clericalism was a major component of the church’s current culture that needed to change. 

Commissioner Murray is now asking Coleridge whether canon law and other mechanisms, either imposed from outside or changed from inside, are strong enough to drive genuine change.

I am absolutely convinced at the heart of this mighty challenge we are facing, we have to focus on that which is systemic and cultural within the Catholic Church. We can’t put up a sign saying business as usual.

Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge

Dr Cleary is now responding to the issue of church law and how it works with civil law.

Peter Johnstone says canon law needs to require the church to hold plenary synods, as the church is proposing to hold in 2020, in response to the royal commission. But the plenary synod would be a waste of time if individual dioceses did not hold their own synods. The synods would only be useful if those involved were across a broad spectrum.

He is now responding to some of Archbishop Coleridge’s evidence.

“I still remain absolutely unable to understand how a bishop, knowing about child sexual abuse, did not respond to that child sexual abuse. The fact that the church actually moved children, bishops moved abusers to new places to abuse more children, is to my mind in part because of the lack of support and leadership for bishops from the Holy See,” Johnstone said.

Commissioner Fitzgerald is questioning Professor Parkinson about legal incorporation, and how that imposes accountability and transparency standards.

Fitzgerald: “What specific regulatory change do you have in mind for us to consider?”

Peter Johnstone said there should be a standard provision for mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse, and the church should introduce it into canon law.

Dr Cleary said the Catholic Church in Australia has great political clout with politicians because of its huge role in welfare and the provision of services in Australia.

Dr Cleary said there is a big link between “power, size and politics” in Australia.

McClellan has asked Dr Cleary about the role of incorporation of dioceses and church structures.

Professor Parkinson said lay people didn’t have power and responsibility within the church, which still remained with bishops.

In response to further questions from Justice McClellan, Dr Cleary said her suggestion would be company limited by guarantee, but “whether that would actually fit a diocesan legal entity, I’m not sure”.

Dr Cleary has challenged Archbishop Coleridge’s view that he has a lot of lay people involvement in his diocese. There is a difference between having paid employee executives and lay people in governance positions.

Commissioner Murray is questioning Coleridge about transparency and whether the church actually accepts transparency. He points to the fact that he is not aware of any diocese that has released the kind of figures released by the royal commission on Monday, and doubts that any diocese ever will.

Murray: “Is it too harsh to put that the Australian Catholic Church hasn’t embraced the concept of transparency?”

Coleridge said he thought it was “probably true that we haven’t embrace transparency”.

He said his diocese hadn’t collected the data on child sexual abuse that was provided to the royal commission, because it was a huge and time-consuming issue.

Peter Johnstone is arguing for a diocesan council or synod including lay people, that is made fully aware of information about the diocese, even reports of confidential matters to the Vatican, in the interests of transparency and accountability.

Is it too harsh to put that the Australian Catholic Church hasn’t embraced the concept of transparency?

Royal Commissioner Andrew Murray

Coleridge said the reason why bishops didn’t make public the five-yearly reports to the Vatican because it was a bishop’s report to the Pope.

Johnstone has strongly rejected the need for it to remain confidential.

McClellan is questioning Coleridge on the role of the corporation in the structure and management of the church in future. He has referred to the infamous case of survivor and lawyer John Ellis, who lost a High Court case against Sydney Archdiocese, in part because there was no one to sue in the church. The church’s current structures leave the “who do you sue” issue open. The case remains a significant obstacle for people attempting to sue the church, despite church statements that it will not use the defence after a royal commission public hearing exposed how the church’s defence developed.

Dr Cleary has just asked Coleridge why the church went through quite a long and complex process of asking lay people their views on the family. She put forward that she thought the church’s position on contraception might have been prominent in responses, hence the church didn’t provide a report on how people responded.

Coleridge rejected the contraception view, and said it was more to do with the tedium and predictability of responses which wouldn’t have made “a good read”.

McClellan asked him what were prominent responses. Coleridge said people wrote about the church not understanding issues relating to marriage and the family.

Parkinson said transparency concerns for the Catholic Church included “hiding the dirty linen from other Catholics and Catholic leaders”. He based the comment on his involvement with religious orders, and said the figures released by the royal commission on Monday would have come as a surprise to dioceses, bishops, priests and orders themselves.

11.32am The royal commission has adjourned for morning tea.

10.04am: The royal commission has resumed. This morning we have a panel of four people giving evidence about church structure, governance and culture. They are governance and management consultant Dr Maureen Cleary, University of Sydney professor of law Patrick Parkinson, Catholics for Renewal president Peter Johnstone and Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge.

Dr Cleary is introducing herself and her work that has involved investigating governance within Australian dioceses and Catholic organisational structures. Dr Cleary has worked with a broad range of churches beyond the Catholic Church, including the Anglican church, Baptist and Uniting churches, and the Salvation Army.

Dr Cleary has just said the people she works with are people or institutions that recognise they need to change.

She said legal incorporation has had a positive impact on Catholic organisations she has worked with, and she is now expanding on that. She is talking about welfare and provider groups within the Catholic Church which act with the consent of the institutional church and the local bishop, but with autonomy.

Dr Cleary has taken “great exception” to a statement within the Truth Justice and Healing Council’s report that has given the impression lay people are only recently involved with some of these autonomous groups.

It has been happening for 40 years, Dr Cleary said.

She said these different groups operating under a “new way of being” recognised a long time ago that the institutional church was losing numbers – of religious and parishioners. But because these groups were committed to their work they had to build on the autonomous work, she said.

Dr Cleary said lay people on diocesan groups, particularly where bishops were involved or acted as chair, there was less autonomy because bishops retained authority. She seemed to be suggesting that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

Dr Cleary was chairing the board of Marist Youth Care and is talking about the impact of child sexual abuse obligations to that board. The board – made up of lay people – wanted to know at what point it was responsible for duty of care for child protection so that it could actually fulfil its obligations to care for children.

Legal incorporation enhanced transparency and accountability, but it was important that lay people were committed to the mission, the value system and work of the organisation, Dr Cleary said.

She is being questioned about child sexual abuse and how those kinds of institutions have responded.

Dr Cleary has told the commission that the non-profit sector has a bad record on dealing with crimes such as fraud, because of reputational fears, but directors under legally incorporated organisations call the authorities in.

Dr Cleary has just told the commission that the institutional church has “a lot to learn” from welfare organisations run by Australian Catholic women’s institutions.

“If you took a group of religious men and women in this country between the ages of 50 and 90, you would find a cohort of some of the most educated people in Australian society today, in a broad range. I think that’s given them an intellectual framework to deal with issues coming that way,” Dr Cleary said.

She said Australian nuns are committed to change.

“It comes to a gender issue within the church,” she said.

She has talked about a divide between nuns and Australian bishops.

“I think in general the institutional church is not good at sitting down, actively, and listening to other people,” Dr Cleary said.

She has worked with nuns who were also “benevolent dictators” in the past, but the nuns were willing to change, she said.

Crisis: The Catholic Church is in crisis over the child sexual abuse issue.

Crisis: The Catholic Church is in crisis over the child sexual abuse issue.

Counsel assisting the royal commission, Gail Furness, SC, is questioning Dr Cleary about Professor Neil Ormerod’s evidence on Tuesday about the link between women being in executive positions in the Australian church, and low child sexual abuse rates. He cited the low rate in the Diocese of Adelaide where women have held executive positions since the 1980s.

Dr Cleary agreed there was that link.

Dr Cleary has also talked about bishops with “great personal qualities” who are open to change within the church.

Professor Parkinson is now giving evidence to the royal commission and is explaining how he became involved with churches and the child sexual abuse issue.

He said he can see an “enormously bright future for the Catholic Church” if it can tap into the wealth of knowledge available to it in its lay people.

Parkinson: “The model remains at its core where you have a Vatican authority centrally, and a local authority in the bishops. What that means is whatever promises may be made, the capacity of the church to respond, depends on the willingness of the individual leaders to respond. That’s part of the problem for the past 20 to 30 years.”

He is talking about the horrific figures in the orders – St John of God having 40 per cent of alleged perpetrators, the Marists and Christian Brothers having one in five alleged offenders – and a culture of not responding because the crimes are minimised and denied. If that minimising and denying continues over years it can contribute to the horrific rates.

“The best Christian leaders I’ve known have deliberately submitted their authority to the wisdom of the group,” he said.

He is talking about an example within the Anglican Church which he personally experienced in England.

Parkinson said individual bishops within the Catholic Church had the ability to adopt that model, even within the current structures of the church.

Parkinson said there remained an “increased risk” of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, as compared with abuse in the general community, because of the link between mandatory celibacy, emotional isolation and loneliness among priests.

The best Christian leaders I’ve known have deliberately submitted their authority to the wisdom of the group.

Sydney University professor of law Patrick Parkinson.

Peter Johnstone from Catholics for Renewal is now giving evidence. It was set up four or five years ago, particularly in response to the child sexual abuse crisis, and the dysfunctional governance of the Catholic Church.

Catholics for Renewal started with a letter to the Pope that listed a whole range of concerns about the church, signed by 8000 Catholics.

“We are Catholics. This is our faith. We are committed Catholics. We think the church should be embracing what we say. As Catholics, we’re pretty desperate. The church that expresses our faith fails to live that faith. Those figures quoted by the commission, I would suggest are quite conservative,” Mr Johnstone said.

He praised the courage of survivors who had come forward and spoken about what had happened to them, both as children and as adults reporting abuse and dealing with the church.

Mr Johnstone is now criticising the church’s responses when any issues are raised. Very few bishops had listened to people raising concerns, he said.

Mr Johnstone said the letter to the Pope was not replied to.

We are Catholics. This is our faith. We are committed Catholics. We think the church should be embracing what we say. As Catholics, we’re pretty desperate. The church that expresses our faith fails to live that faith.

Catholics for Renewal president Peter Johnstone

“The church in so many ways is failing not only the secular standards of governance, but it’s failing its own teachings in the way it governs,” he said.

The teachings of Jesus Christ were not followed by the church.

Women in the church is “an obvious lack”, Mr Johnstone said.

“The first thing anyone who understands the challenge of leadership does, is understand the need for gender balance. Women are half the population and should be involved in good governance,” he said.

“There is no doubt a lot of women react a lot more strongly to the issue of child sexual abuse. You could argue women would have spoken up a lot sooner,” Mr Johnstone said.

Leaving decision-making up to ageing, male and celibate men, particularly on the care of children, was not healthy, he said.

Mr Johnstone said the Australian Government needed to recognise that churches are in a privileged position in this country, and it needed to respond if churches did not live up to those privileged positions.

Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge is now giving evidence. He has been a priest since 1974.

He is being questioned about a letter he wrote in 2010 when he was Bishop of Canberra-Goulburn.

Coleridge said he had been grappling with “the whole phenomenon” of child sexual abuse since 1975, in Melbourne. He described the offender, a man he was with at the seminary, as “weird”.

Coleridge said he wrote the letter to consider not only what had happened, but why it had happened.

He wanted to draw together a range of factors that created “a perfect storm, because that’s what it is”.

In his letter Coleridge said the factors included poor understanding of the church’s teachings on sexuality – the contradiction between what the church actually teaches, and what is done on the ground.

He said the church’s teaching on human sexuality is “joyous” and the “most profound” the world had seen.

He has rejected Furness’s question of whether it was the content of the teaching, saying it is the way the church has explained it.

The church taught human sexuality was about love and not power, Coleridge said, which was the opposite of what occurred when children were abused.

Coleridge said human sexuality wasn’t talked about at seminaries before his training in the late 1960s and 1970s, and there was a “fumbling attempt” during his time at the seminary.

Coleridge is being questioned about mandatory celibacy.

“I’m not persuaded that clerical celibacy is a causative factor. The question whether it is a major aggravating factor is on the table,” Coleridge said.

He said he had not been “racked by loneliness” for living a celibate life over 50 years, and questioned the inevitability of a celibate life being isolated.

Coleridge said he had “no idea” whether the figure of 50 per cent of clerics not being celibate was true, but he has not rejected the figure.

Justice Peter McClellan is challenging Coleridge about the consequences of celibacy being imposed.

Coleridge has compared celibacy with marriage – you don’t know what you’ve signed up for until you’re in it and are living it “more deeply”.  

McClellan has just asked Coleridge why he doesn’t know how many of his priests are following celibacy, or are struggling with celibacy.

Coleridge: “I have no right to go to a priest who is not an employee of mine and ask, ‘Excuse me, are you in a sexual relationship?’ The priest would have the right to say ‘It’s no business of yours’.”

McClellan: “Some would say that answer is a significant part of the problem.” 

Coleridge: “There are certain things I’m not entitled to know.” 

McClellan said the commission had seen many cases of child sexual abuser priests who exhibited behaviours where someone should have asked “What is their personal life really all about?”

Commissioner Murray is now asking questions of Coleridge.

Murray has put to Coleridge that priests make vows and promises. If those vows or promises are breached, it becomes an issue for the bishop, but for society.

Coleridge said matters would be dealt with directly if it “emerged into the external forum”, but how do you get access to the “internal forum”?

Coleridge: “How would I inquire of a priest what his sexual behaviour was if it hadn’t emerged in the public forum? I inhabit the external forum. Where the problems emerge in the external forum, I act. The difficulty is how to gain access to the internal forum, and to know that which is hidden.”


Good morning, it’s Joanne McCarthy back at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’s third day of hearings into the Catholic Church – the final hearing into the church, and the 50th public hearing for the commission.

Days one and two have revealed the extent of child sexual abuse within the church in Australia, and how those figures jar with statements made by the church in the years before the commission was established in November, 2012, which could collectively be summed up as “Nothing to see here, move along people.”

Catholic Church representatives argued, at times aggressively, that it was being unfairly targeted by critics, including survivors, their lawyers, internal church critics and the media.

Too many times I had church representatives put to me that levels of abuse within the church were comparable with levels in the general community, and much more child sexual abuse occurred within families than in the church.

But some of Monday’s figures – that two in five St John of God Brothers, one in five Marist and Christian Brothers, and one in 10 Maitland-Newcastle priests between 1990 and 2010 were accused of sexually abusing children – are far, far higher than levels in the general community.

And of course there is clear evidence – irrefutable evidence – of church knowledge of those abusers, and the covering-up of that abuse.

Remember the chilling words written by Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Leo Clarke to priest Denis McAlinden in October, 1995 when the church wanted to secretly defrock McAlinden after five decades of sexually assaulting probably hundreds of little girls, and some boys?

“Your good name will be protected by the confidential nature of this process,” Clarke wrote, and I don’t have to check on the letter to write those words. You only need to read something like that once to understand why people like American Dominican priest Tom Doyle, who gave evidence on Tuesday and will give evidence again on Thursday, stand with survivors demanding change within the church.

Remember that Clarke wrote that letter as police were about to charge another notorious Maitland-Newcastle priest, Vince Ryan, and after the church had already offered McAlinden a one-way ticket to England to live with a relative.

Radical change is needed within the church. One of the most radical ideas – for the church at least – is to recognise that women have a brain and the intestinal fortitude to address this issue and the church needs women to do it. The evidence for that thinking is within the document released by the commission on Monday – and available with many other documents on its website – showing that the lowest rate of abuse in any Australian diocese is in Adelaide, where women have been in leadership roles, and with authority over priests, since the 1980s.

There has been a lot of fascinating evidence given by church representatives over the past two days, including Professor Francis Moloney’s evidence about Australia’s bishops.

Professor Moloney was the head of the Salesian Brothers of Don Bosco from 2006.

His evidence about what he faced when he took on that job – including suddenly being faced with child sexual abuse allegations involving Brothers – is worth reading.

He was certainly forthright when it came to bishops: “We have some outstanding bishops in Australia who are doing their best to face these issues and to adopt courageous, forward-looking lines that will change our culture. We also have a number of very poor bishops, who really are bad appointments and it’s beyond them.”

 American Dominican priest and Catholic Church critic Father Tom Doyle will give further evidence on Thursday.

American Dominican priest and Catholic Church critic Father Tom Doyle will give further evidence on Thursday.

This story Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse | day three first appeared on Newcastle Herald.