Victorian Parliament Inquiry
Title: Submission To Inquiry Into Processes By Which Religious and Other Non-Government Organisations Respond To the Criminal Abuse Of Children By Personnel Within Their Organisations
Author: Noel Gregory
Publisher: Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry website
At the outset, I should indicate that I am a ‘practising’ Catholic, i.e. I attend church services regularly. I have no background on the processes adopted by other organisations and I will limit my comments to the processes adopted in the Catholic Church. I would ask the Committee to bear in mind that their inquiry should not be used as a means to attack the Catholic Church or any of the other organisations under discussion. I would suggest that, in trying to understand that Catholic Church’s responses, it is useful to keep the nature and the history of the Church in mind. Not only is it an organisation (like the Boy Scouts) attempting to serve the community, but it is an organisation devoted to the upholding of moral or ethical standards among its members (and people in general). It is therefore more embarrassing for such a body to have to acknowledge that some of its officers (i.e. priests) with the particular role of telling others how to behave have more than simple human frailties and are acting in unacceptable ways. In relation to its history, the Church is, of course, older than any other organisation in the world. It has been a powerful organisation for more than fifteen centuries and carried western civilisation for much of that time. As such, it developed its own legal system. This history led to developments that we would not find acceptable in a democratic society, although it is necessary to bear in mind that democracy is a recent phenomenon, with women getting the vote only in the last hundred years or so and unpropertied men not being that far in front of them. For example, the Catholic Encyclopaedia (found in Google) says of ‘Benefit of Clergy’ that clergy, including monks and nuns, were exempt from the jurisdiction of the secular courts in England from the days of William the Conqueror. Entitlement to the exemption was proved by reading, as only the clergy were generally able to read. There were many permutations, but it was finally abolished in 1827. Again, Wikipedia says of ‘Estates of the Realm’ that in France before the French Revolution society was divided into three estates, the first consisting of clergy, the second consisting of the nobility, and the third consisting of commoners. It says that the structure of the clerical estate remained ‘singly’ intact until the religious reformations of the 16th century. Wikipedia says of ‘Estates General (France)’ that each estate had a separate assembly, called by the king to provide advice and to deal with taxation. It also says that the estates did not always meet separately. It says that the institution of the estates was comparable to similar institutions across Europe.
The prestige that was reflected in the special status of clerics historically was probably enhanced, even in modern times, by their vows, particularly that of chastity. One can argue whether that vow constituted a step too far for some; it certainly seems brave for a young person to commit to chastity for the rest of his (or her) life. One can also argue that the solitary lives to which parish priests are condemned could have led to the aberrations, but this fails to take account of the molestations committed by brothers or priests living in communities in their orders/societies. Some, e.g. Christopher Geraghty in his book ‘Dancing with the Devil: A Journey from the Pulpit to the Bench’, suggest that clerics have tended to see themselves as an elite. This would apply to many professional groups and is possibly reflected in the usual starting position that discipline should be applied by the group, rather than by an independent, outside body. Anecdotal evidence of that prestige is given by the tardiness of parents to believe that Father F or Brother B had molested their child. Again, the Church is an international organisation (probably, the first and biggest multinational corporation) and has a centralised and authoritarian structure (said to be based on the Byzantine Empire) where control is exercised by the Vatican. Even the bishops, who are responsible for local administration, can be quite restricted by the Vatican controls although the orders/societies of clerics seem to have more independence. Its antiquity and centralised and authoritarian structure mean that the Church can be extremely conservative and resistant to change.