Kieran Tapsell Child Abuse
Author: Kieran Tapsell
Publication: National Catholic Reporter NCROnline
Dying of cancer, Bishop Emeritus Geoffrey Robinson appeared Aug. 24 before the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to testify to the prevalence of child sexual abuse in the church.He painted a sad picture of a brave and lonely Sisyphus with his band of bishops in tow, pushing a boulder with a reasoned response to the crisis up the Vatican Hill, only to have it pushed back by popes and cardinals who had no idea about the issue and a blindness about the incapacity of canon law to deal with it. “However great the faults of the Australian bishops have been over the last 30 years, it still remains true that the major obstacle to a better response from the church has been the Vatican,” Robinson told the commission. Most of the Roman Curia saw the problem as a “moral one: if a priest offends, he should repent; if he repents, he should be forgiven and restored to his position. … They basically saw the sin as a sexual one, and did not show great understanding of the abuse of power involved or the harm done to the victims.”
Robinson entered the seminary at 12-years-old, was ordained a priest, and became a canon lawyer and then auxiliary bishop of Sydney. In 1996, when revelations of clergy sexual abuse of children in Australia had reached a crescendo, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference appointed him to find a solution. In 2004, he resigned as auxiliary bishop of Sydney after concluding that the church’s response was still inadequate.
“I eventually came to the point where I felt that, with the thoughts that were running through my head, I could not continue to be a bishop of a church about which I had such profound reservations,” Robinson wrote in a 2008 book Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church. “I resigned my office as Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney and began to write this book, about the very foundations of power and sex within the church.”
He wrote books and went on lecture tours, calling for radical reforms within the church, and in the process lost and gained many friends.
He quickly came to the conclusion after his appointment by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to draw up a protocol to deal with child sexual abuse in 1996, that canon law was so inadequate for cases of sexual abuse that it would be a sham to use it. “We would have to invent something of our own,” he told the Royal Commission.
Prior to 1983, when he was consulted by the Vatican about a new draft of the Code of Canon Law, he found the words “pontifical secret” stamped over the document. He complained that if he were to give a reasoned response, he needed to discuss it with colleagues. He was told: “Just don’t give it to the media.”
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