Holy See clericalist obstinance
It is almost three years since the Royal Commission inquiring into child sexual abuse recommended that the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) request from the Holy See responses on 14 matters. The Holy See responded in February 2020 with ‘observations’. Seven months later the ACBC has forwarded them to the Commonwealth Attorney-General and made them public.
The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is widely regarded as the most thorough and most credible assessment of clerical sexual abuse of children within the Catholic Church. Its 17 volumes of evidence and recommendations, set out in 7,400+ pages, is the most detailed and comprehensive of any inquiry – church-sponsored or state-sponsored – anywhere in the world.
Among its many recommendations on the Catholic Church in its December 2017 Final Report were 14 specifically addressed to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC), urging them to engage with the Holy See on a range of matters relating to the universal law and practice of the Catholic Church. The ACBC referred the recommendations to the Holy See in August 2018, but only now, two years later, has the ACBC made the Holy See’s response public.
In February 2020 the Holy See issued an undated, unsigned, sans letterhead document with a set of ‘observations’ on all matters in the 14 recommendations. In theological terms ‘observations’ would have to rank very low in the order of church teaching or papal magisterium. In fact, it could be argued that they lack the level of gravitas and authoritative response that the recommendations from a Royal Commission Report deserve and warrant.
But what should be made of these observations that the ACBC has been sitting on for the past 7 months and discussing in secret? Are they so astonishing or controversial that the ACBC has felt compelled to keep them secret from the Commonwealth Government who funded the Royal Commission to the tune of around $500 million, and from the Australian public whose taxes paid for the inquiry? Or has the ACBC just been engaging in yet another of its ‘delay and straight-bat’ plays?
Essentially, with these ‘observations’ the Holy See has rejected all but two of the Royal Commission’s proposals passed on to it by the ACBC. It is yet another example of a distressing and appalling exercise in clericalist intransigence and power entrenchment.