CRUX on the Australian Report on Child Abuse

On December 15, the Australian Royal Commission released its massive final report on child sexual abuse (announcement with links). The Executive Summary is over 200 pages. The complete report fills 17 volumes. As of this writing, CRUX has yet to cover the report in its news, but almost immediately, it ran a highly critical editorial by its editor-in-chief, John Allen.

The headline of the editorial asked, “Has Australian commission weakened the reformers on sex abuse? The “reformers” are presumably Pope Francis and his special commission on the “Protection of Minors.” Mr. Allen expresses concern that the Royal Commission's report might weaken these reformers. But he has little grounds for concern, as these reformers couldn’t get much weaker. Later in his editorial, Mr. Allen admits “there’s little perceived sense of urgency in the Vatican these days about the ongoing challenge of reform”

Pope Francis’ reform movement is now four years old, and the term of his special commission is expiring. To date, nothing of substance has been accomplished. Nor are there any signs of progress. Mr. Allen is a strategist. The Catholic Church has been engulfed in a child abuse scandal for over thirty years, and has failed to reform. Pope Francis’ behavior suggests that failure will continue indefinitely. When that happens, Mr. Allen will try to place the blame on Australia’s Royal Commission. This is contemptible.

Political Concerns

Mr. Allen begins his editorial by remarking that Australia’s Royal Commission “clearly has not been cowed by the internal politics of the Catholic Church. Indeed, it hardly seems to be aware of them.” His chief complaint is that the Royal Commission has paid insufficient attention to the internal politics of the Catholic Church. As far as I can tell, the Commission didn’t even spend much time on Australian politics. Why should it? This was a study of crime. If the crime were homicide instead of pederasty, would Mr. Allen also insist on the importance of Church politics? Mr. Allen is struggling to provide cover for the Church. He is also tacitly acknowledging the strong ties between the Catholic Church and pederasty, a type of Church exceptionalism he is unwilling to acknowledge openly.

Mr. Allen acknowledges the Church’s child abuse problem, something the Church itself long denied. Allen says those denials are now “buried under an avalanche of data, first-person testimonies, court verdicts, and so on.” Despite the overwhelming evidence of atrocities and cover-ups of those atrocities, Mr. Allen admits the Church has done little to change: “There’s little perceived sense of urgency in the Vatican these days about the ongoing challenge of reform.” First he tried to blame the Royal Commission for the weakness of Church reforms. Now Mr. Allen turns around and blames the Royal Commission for not inspiring the Church to reform: “the Royal Commission report could have helped to jar the Church out of that complacency.” But that’s the job of the Holy Spirit, not Australia’s Royal Commission.

Church Reform

More than thirty years of scandal, an “avalanche of data” showing the Church has victimized children and covered up its crimes, and billions of dollars in fines and charges, have failed to motivate the Catholic Church to change its evil ways. But Mr. Allen believes that a report from the Australian government might have changed all that.

According to John Allen, Australia’s Royal Commission might have inspired the Catholic Church to reform, except for two silly mistakes in its report: “A recommendation that Catholicism eliminate mandatory priestly celibacy” and “a call that the seal of the confessional be abandoned when it comes to confessions involving child abuse.”

Celibacy

Many commentators both inside and outside the Church have claimed that its celibacy requirement is part of the problem. But Mr. Allen calls that a “red herring.” Why? “By now, it’s well-established that the vast majority of child sexual abuse is carried out within families, where most perpetrators are married.” In the United States, there are about 70 million fathers versus 17,500 priests. There are far more uncles. Does Mr. Allen really believe that as long as priests rape fewer children than fathers and uncles, it proves that celibacy is not an issue? Does the Vatican really believe this?

Let’s compare clergy of different Christian denominations. Anglicans and Episcopalians have much in common with the Catholic Church in terms of liturgy and rites. Henry VIII created the Anglican Church for political reasons. The Anglican Church preserved many practices of the Catholic Church, but not the celibacy requirement. Anglican and Episcopalian priests marry. They are also far less likely to abuse children than are Catholic priests.

The Eastern Orthodox Churches also have a great deal in common with the Catholic Church. Contrary to widespread belief, the celibacy requirement for priests was a relatively late development in Christianity. The Catholic Church split off from the Eastern church before establishing its celibacy requirement. Orthodox churches have always allowed married priests, just as the earliest churches did. Orthodox priests are also far less likely to abuse children than Catholic priests.

Far from being a red herring, it is clear that the celibacy requirement is associated with a much higher rate of pederasty. There is every reason to believe that dropping the requirement would reduce the Catholic Church’s abuse problem. Either Mr. Allen has failed to understand the facts or he has chosen to disregard them and embrace Vatican talking points. Note that the whole issue of celibacy is something of a sham, as there is widespread violation of the requirement. In all likelihood, most priests violate their oath of celibacy. While the Church insists that priests take the oath, it doesn’t seem to care about their adhering to it.

Informing on Child Abusers

Many states require professionals to inform the authorities concerning any incident of sexual or physical abuse of a minor. Such professionals include teachers; school administrators; administrators of youth centers and activities; medical care professionals (doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians, etc.); law enforcement officers; social workers; clergy members outside of confession; firefighters; therapists; and computer technicians. Mr. Allen claims it is a “non-starter” to suggest that priests in the confessional also be subject to these reporting requirements. He claims the confessional “seal” is “an absolutely core sacramental principle in Catholicism, one for which martyrs have given their lives over the centuries, and it’s deeply unlikely that anyone in authority in the Church would seriously entertain setting it aside, no matter how noble the motive.”

Church leaders probably would be highly resistant. It is less clear how many priests would become conscientious objectors or “martyrs.” But this is not the real issue. If therapists, social workers, and other professionals can be legally required to divulge such confidences, it seems equally legitimate to require it of priests. If this helps protect our children, we should do it. Priests can decide whether or not to obey the law.

But this is a red herring. A far more serious problem is that the Church suppresses information concerning the sexual abuse of children even when that information arises outside the confessional. In fact, a papal document sent to all bishops forbids the release of such information to legal authorities. The massive cover-up of its crime has almost nothing to do with Church sacraments.

On a related point, the Vatican has often used its status as a sovereign nation to protect sex abusers, financial criminals, and other criminals. If the Vatican chooses to act like a rogue nation, it should be treated like one.

 

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