Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? .
James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, 20 June 1785
The word 'secular' comes the Medieval Latin "secularis", meaning worldly or temporal in distinction to the eternal. It pertains to the world that we all live in and share, in space and time. In George Holyoake's coining of the term, he noted that secularism wasn't an argument against religious beliefs, but an argument independent of it. "Secular knowledge is manifestly that kind of knowledge which is founded in this life, which relates to the conduct of this life, conduces to the welfare of this life, and is capable of being tested by the experience of this life."
It is not, as commonly assumed, anti-religious, rather it is non-religious. A secular position is to have 'no comment' to make on religion. In terms of the state, a secular position argues for a clear separation of church and state. Religious people, particularly those who are respectful of other faiths, and wish to avoid state-sanctioned bigotry, can also be secular in this manner. Thus one can indeed be a secular Christian, a secular Buddhist, a secular Muslim etc.
The Victorian Secular Lobby is open to all people who support our principles:
1. To promote the principle of the separation of Church and State and equality for all institutions under the law.
2. To resource and promote secular principles to journalists, politicians, and other contributors to public opinion.
3. To encourage co-ordination with like-minded groups to influence public policy.
4. To encourage persons to take up membership and engage in activities that promote secular principles and the Victorian Secular Lobby.
5. To engage in activities, including generating income and expenditure, to further these aims.
Our policies are also available for review.
News reports on this site compiled from the Proxima Thule Press Extracts Service. The Victorian Secular Lobby is a member of the Secular Coalition of Australia.
The Victorian Secular Lobby is incorporated in the State of Victoria, Number A00594400A
MEDIA RELEASE April 4, 2014
Secular Call To Maintain the ACNC
The Victorian Secular Lobby, Inc., has called upon the Federal government to abandon plans to abolish the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission, the body established as a one-stop shop helps charities meet their obligations, and investigate them when they do not.
The Lobby, formed by religious and non-religious secularists, considers that a charities watchdog a necessity to ensure better regulation of Australia's $43 billion charity sector. This view is supported by numerous inquiries, including the Productivity Commission, and by charities themselves, such the St Vincent de Paul Society, Anglicare and Save the Children.
"The ACNC was considered a helpful and efficient body in preference to a complex and opaque regulation regime shared by the Australian Taxation Office, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, and the states", according to Lobby chairperson, Mr. Lev Lafayette.
When Pro Bono Australia surveyed some 1500 charity stakeholders in 2013, around eighty percent supported the ACNC. Its establishment followed five major inquiries in the preceding decade that supported the establishment of such a commission.
"However, a number of politicians have confirmed that the national Catholic Bishops Conference and the Sydney archdiocese lobbied both sides of politics hard for its abolition. One can only wonder why such groups wish to prevent less reputable activities carried out under the name of 'charity' and to prevent genuine charities from obtaining information that can lead to generous tax concessions."
"If the Federal government carries out its intention to abolish the ACNC, it is clear that existing charities will be subject to less oversight, and that new and emerging charities will face significant hurdles in establishing themselves. This decision will result in less transparency, less accountability, and greater impediments. It will result in an increase in administrative costs, rather than a reduction."
Another leading opponent of the ACNC were private companies that administer charitable trusts from deceased estates through the Financial Services Council (FSC). Scrutiny of administration of those charitable trusts had began to reveal the excessive fees charged by for-profit financial services companies.
The Victorian Secular Lobby is also opposed to the ability of groups to hold charitable status by "advancing religion" but providing no other charitable function.
"Secularism means that good governance is entirely neutral on religious matter, and neither aids nor hinders the free exercise of religion. The term 'religion' simply shouldn't appear in the statute books", Mr. Lafayette said.
For further information contact Nick Langdon, Secretary of the Victorian Secular Lobby, Inc., firstname.lastname@example.org
Special religious instruction (SRI) in state schools has been in the news. The Age reported (17 February) that some principals had objected to volunteer instructors, mostly from Access Ministries (AM), coming into their schools. The poor education, quality of material used by AM and the
disruption to classes were cited as factors. The same paper also told of several parents who had wanted their children excluded from SRI, only to
discover later that “clerical error” had placed them in such classes.
Then came a report (Sunday Age, 23 February) that parents with children at Torquay College [Victoria] had objected to material handed out by Access Ministries which presented sexual stereotyping and anti-gay views.
Permitting volunteers to enter schools to give instruction in religion, mostly Christianity, has been allowed via a section of the Victorian Education Act. Since the 1970s HSV has had a policy of wanting this section of the Act removed and provision made for “comparative world views” to be taught within the school curriculum by trained teachers. Although the Russell Inquiry into religion in schools made this recommendation in 1974, the practice of permitting outsiders to give weekly classes in religion has continued in Victoria.
Frustrated with the lack of action on this matter, some years ago an HSV member, Harry Gardner, proposed a secular ethics course particularly for the children of parents who have chosen to exclude them from SRI. Harry had years of experience visiting schools to entertain and inform students with simple science experiments, through use of puppets and story-telling. Building on this earlier work Harry put together a week-by-week course on
practical ethics, intended as an alternative to SRI.
Although this course was not approved for school use it did cause several parents, who had opted their children out of SRI classes, to take a case to VCAT claiming discrimination. While this case was not upheld it led to the Education Department changing the way parents chose SRI from “opt
out’ to “opt in”. Since this change to “opt in” there has been a decline in children taking SRI by almost a third.
Not surprisingly, with numbers falling, Access Ministries has sought clarification, on what it claims are its right to teach its program in schools. Currently AM is the largest provider of SRI (81% of students) and the only religious grouping given government funding for this purpose. Several minority religions, e.g. Baha’i and Buddhism, teach SRI without government funding.
Following media coverage and agitation from Access Ministries, the [Victorian] Education Minister, Martin Dixon, plans to issue a directive aimed at clarifying any confusion. This directive, says the Minister, will be based on the relevant section of the Education and Training Reform Act 2006.
Parents Victoria had petitioned the government to remove religious instruction from schools hours without success. Their executive officer said
Parents Victoria “believe the teaching of a particular religion should be a family responsibility, not that of the school”.
Meanwhile the president of the Victorian Principal Association has said that with half a grade taking SRI and half not, there “can be a difficult logistical challenge”, as schools were not permitted to teach the regular curriculum while some students took part in religious instruction.
A further spin-off from the public discussion on this topic led the Wheeler Centre, in partnership with the St James Ethics Centre, to co-sponsor a debate, “Faith-based religious education has no place in public schools”. This was held in the Melbourne Town Hall on Wednesday 26 February. The “for” side was led by Marion Maddox, author of God under Howard and Taking God to Schools, “against” was led by journalist Nick Cater.
Although the two sides differed on the value of faith-based SRI, both sides supported a professionally taught course in comparative religion,
showing considerable common ground by all speakers.
In summary, with increasing number of parents opting their children out of SRI, Parents Victoria requesting the removal of SRI from school hours, many principal wanting to exclude SRI, and a growing agitation for professionally taught “comparative religion/ beliefs” within the curriculum, the Minister’s directive will be awaited with great interest.
Editorial from the Victorian Humanist (Melbourne), 53 (2), March 2014.
This year, the United Nations International Women’s Day theme is “Equality for women is progress for all”. On the Australian Human Rights Commission web site the theme is shown as “inspiring change”.
Inspiring Change . . . encourages advocacy for women’s advancement everywhere in every way. It calls for challenging the status quo for women’
s equality and vigilance inspiring positive change.
It is therefore timely to be reminded that all is not well with women’s reproductive rights in Victoria.
The UN Special Rapporteur for Health released a report in 2011 looking into the direct effect between the right to health and criminal laws relating to sexual and reproductive health. The report concludes that all UN member states should decriminalise abortion. It stated that criminal and legal restrictions violate the right to health and curb effective and proportionate outcomes.
Victoria legalised abortion in 2008; since then the anti-abortion movement has increasingly been trying to have aspects of abortion recriminalised.
Going by the current strained situation in the Victorian Parliament, it seems that it may be poised to curtail women’s reproductive rights. This is despite over 80 per cent of people in Victoria supporting the current laws. In the past few years religious conservative politicians have been voicing
their discontent over Section 8 of the Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 (ALRA), which refers to obligations of a registered health practitioner who has
Independent MP Geoff Shaw stated in February this year:
The laws in Victoria are some of the worst in the world. There is gender-selection abortion; it allows partial birth abortion, so I’m not in favour of that. I’m also against that doctors don’t have a conscience in this state to be able to advise the way they want to advise.
He finished off with “I’m a Christian first, and an MP is just what I do [for a living], so of course many decisions I make are based on my
Premier Denis Napthine, a Catholic who voted against the decrimalisation of abortion, has come out saying he respects the decision of the parliament on the abortion law, and has said, “I have no plans of changing abortion law to a new state.” However, it has been reported that
Napthine will consider Shaw’s attempts to overhaul the ALRA on merit. He would allow a conscience vote on the issue.
Bernie Finn, Labor MP [sic: should be Liberal MP], was reported in the Border Mail (August 2011) as saying, “Abortion kills babies and hurts their mothers;” and, “We should accept that unborn children are people and they have the same rights as the rest of us.” He was also reported as having said that “abortion equalled murder”. Mr Finn is the brain behind “March for the Babies”, an annual pro-life march and protest group.
Federal Victorian DLP* Senator, John Madigan, a Catholic, said early in 2013, “I would like to point out that there is no such thing as a safe abortion, someone always dies.” In his 2011 maiden speech he described the Victorian abortion laws as “the worst abortion laws in the Western world”. [He added:] “They would be the worst in the entire world but we can be proud of the fact that in this matter Victoria is not quite as bad as the current occupiers of Tiananmen Square.”
In 2013, he introduced a private members bill that would prohibit the Medicare rebate being paid on abortions based on the gender of the foetus.
Such statements as these make it absolutely clear that much of the criticism of abortion by religious politicians stems from misinformation and
is biased by their religious world-views. Perhaps, for their benefit, an eleventh commandment should be added: “Thou shall not play god with women’s lives.”
Whilst the Australian Medical Association supports Section 8 of the Act, its Victorian branch supports the move to remove it. As reported in The Age [in] November 2013 a spokesperson has said:
We disagreed with the conscientious objection clause for a number of reasons, including people’s rights not to be involved in activities which
offend their conscience, but also because of the impracticality of the clauses which have been included.
The advancement of a conservative and religious agenda across the political spectrum is plain for all to see, from [. . .] the annual March for the Babies, supported by groups like Right to Life, Australian Christian Lobby and politicians, to a now retired Christian Labor MP, Christine Campbell, tabling a petition in parliament last year, calling for changes to do away with Section 8.
The right for women to decide for themselves is based on the human right to make personal decisions about one’s life. Government and society
have to ensure that these decisions are supported if we want equality in our society.
If we are to achieve and maintain International Women’s Day’s theme, we need to protect women and women’s rights: only then we will achieve an
equitable society - and progress for all.
From the Victorian Humanist (Melbourne), 53 (2), March 2014.
Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews is poised to try and abolish the national charities watchdog, despite overwhelming support within the charity sector to keep the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission.
Fairfax Media can confirm that a bill to abolish the commission will be introduced to federal parliament on Wednesday [19 March] as part of the government’s “repeal day” package. It is understood there are plans to then defund the organisation in the coming months.
Before the 2013 election, the Abbott government pledged to get rid of the body and move its regulatory functions back into the Australian Taxation Office to “reduce red tape”. Fairfax Media has previously reported Cardinal George Pell’s office has also lobbied the government to get rid of the charities regulator.
Among other duties, the commission registers charities, helps them meet their obligations, investigates complaints and maintains a public charities register.
Many within the “third sector” are adamantly against the commission’s axing, arguing it will result in less transparency of not-for-profits, which contribute about $43 billion to Australia’s GDP and employ about 900,000 people.
While there have been some criticisms that the commission has not been quick enough to reduce red tape and has been too heavy-handed with regulation, a 2013 survey by Pro Bono Australia found that of 1500 stakeholders surveyed, about 80 per cent supported the commission.
Community Council for Australia chief executive David Crosbie, whose members include World Vision, RSPCA, Lifeline and Hillsong Church, said
putting the ATO in charge of charities was like “putting the fox in charge of the hen house”.
Others experts on the sector say the Coalition’s decision to axe the commission, just a year after it began, has more to do with ideology than reducing red tape.
The Productivity Commission and the Henry Tax Review have also recommended a national charities commission.
A spokeswoman for Mr Andrews said there were “ongoing” meetings between the government, the commission and “major” stakeholders.
From: The Age, March 15, 2014
For decades, the scandal of Catholic clergy sexual abuse of children has simmered, flaring up every now and again when yet another paedophile priest is convicted and jailed. Now, the issue is set to reach boiling point as the Catholic Church in Australia faces forensic scrutiny and publicity from three government inquiries into how much its leaders knew, when they knew it - and what they did about it.
On November 15, the Victorian inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations hands its report to the government, after almost 18 months of hearings and submissions.
There are priests, former priests, wandering around our community and nobody except the Catholic Church knows their history.
A few weeks later, on December 9, the federal government's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse begins two weeks of hearings examining the Catholic Church's national ''Towards Healing'' response, set up in 1996 to deal internally with sexual abuse allegations. And, in NSW, an inquiry into the police investigation of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle is due to report by February 28.
The Christian Brothers spent $158,000 on legal costs for Robert Charles Best in his 1996 trial on child sex charges. He was convicted and jailed, but 14 years later, when Best was convicted of a further 27 offences against 11 boys, the Christian Brothers spent another $980,000 on legal fees.
The Christian Brothers spent $158,000 on legal costs for Robert Charles Best in his 1996 trial on child sex charges. He was convicted and jailed, but 14 years later, when Best was convicted of a further 27 offences against 11 boys, the Christian Brothers spent another $980,000 on legal fees.
For Melbourne lawyer Dr Vivian Waller, her wish list from the inquiries is topped by a typically blunt assessment. ''The church should no longer be trusted to deal with this issue in-house.''
Waller has spent the past 19 years chasing justice for hundreds of victims of Catholic clergy abuse. Many of her clients have been abused by Christian Brothers - she files these matters under ''U' for unchristian. Since she set up her own firm Waller Legal in 2007, she has never advertised her services, but her three-room office in Thornbury has files stacked five deep on tables and the floor.
Every week, she sits down with three or four new clients and spends hours listening to their harrowing stories. ''I keep waiting for the phone to stop ringing, but it never does,'' says Waller, who operates on a no win-no pay basis.
Father Kevin O'Donnell.
Father Kevin O'Donnell, one of Australia's worst paedophiles, was known by police as the 'two-a-day' man. Photo: ABC screengrab
Until recently, the typical compesation amount offered by the Catholic Church to her clients was $10,000-$20,000. Most accepted these paltry sums, because the alternative - suing the church through the courts - was almost impossible.
Waller concedes the settlements have become more generous, particularly since Christian Brothers paedophile Robert Charles Best was convicted in 2011 and jailed for more than 14 years. Best was the principal of Ballarat's notorious St Alipius School, which at one point had four Christian Brothers teachers who were all later convicted of child sex offences.
Now, Waller says, the church's compensation offers under Towards Healing, which has no cap, are more likely to be $100,000-$200,000. But she's far from satisfied that it can be trusted to deal in-house with all victims fairly, honestly and with compassion.
Here's an example from as recently as September this year, which, Waller believes, shows a disturbing continuation of the culture of denial.
Her client, Darcy Higgins, alleges that he was sexually assaulted several times by Father Kevin O'Donnell at St Joseph's Catholic School in Chelsea in the mid-1940s. His compensation claim, through the Catholic Church's Melbourne Response (the local version of ''Towards Healing'', which has a maximum payout of $75,000), elicited an offer of just $32,500, even though the commissioner accepted that Higgins was sexually abused by O'Donnell and the church's psychiatrist found it likely that the abuse was a factor in the development of Higgins' acute chronic depression.
In July, Higgins wrote a letter to the Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, asking him to increase the offer and to ''please think deeper about this lifelong horror''. In one paragraph, Higgins complained that O'Donnell (referred to by police as ''the two-a-day man''), stayed in the Church's service ''even when the knowledge of his evil became known, being moved around, hoping his attacks on the innocent [would be] avoided''.
Hart's response, which was dated September 10, acknowledges that the commissioner accepted Higgins' complaints of sexual abuse by O'Donnell and that this abuse was ''a gross breach of trust, unforgivable and wrong''.
But he declined to increase the offer made by the compensation panel and said there was no scope for him to depart from that recommendation.
''You refer in your letter to O'Donnell having been moved around and protected when his abuse became known,'' Hart wrote. ''While I am aware of these allegations having been made, I have no evidence that this occurred.''
Four months earlier, however, Hart took a different approach at the Victorian inquiry on the handling of child abuse. The transcript of his evidence on May 20 shows Hart agreeing with deputy chairman Frank McGuire that ''O'Donnell was one of the worst group of paedophiles in Australia's history''.
McGuire then says: ''Paedophile clerics were moved on to innocent parishes and to innocent children. Do you agree with that?'' Hart replies: ''I certainly agree that is there in the case of O'Donnell and [Father Wilfred] Baker.''
In an emailed response, a spokesman for Hart says he told the inquiry he was aware that one of O'Donnell's victims had come forward to a church leader, Monsignor Moran, there was no record of what Moran had done as a result, and in 1993 Archbishop Little swore on oath that he had not known about O'Donnell's offending until 1992.
''The September letter is not inconsistent with [Archbishop Hart's] testimony at the inquiry,'' the spokesman says. ''In the case of [Father] Baker, there is evidence that Archbishop Little knew of the complaint and moved him. In the case of O'Donnell, there is no such evidence.''
Waller will have none of it. ''Victims are still receiving denials from the church, even after concessions have been made in the parliamentary inquiry. And they are still receiving offers of compensation that are ''non-negotiable'' and are significantly less than what they would be entitled to if they had a viable civil claim''.
She would like an independent compensation scheme established, as happened in Ireland after the nine-year Ryan Commission on child abuse. That scheme, partially funded by the Irish Catholic Church, dealt with an avalanche of 16,000 claims arising from systemic and pervasive abuse in scores of schools and orphanages across the country.
Of course, as Waller has learnt over the years, it's not just about the money. ''No amount of money can put back a shattered childhood,'' she says, outlining lives destroyed by alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness and suicide. ''Sexual abuse derails the entire course of their life.''
Justice also demands that the offenders are called to account - and on this front, too, Waller has found the Catholic Church wanting.
''This isn't rocket science. Most members of the community understand that criminal matters should be reported to the police, not swept under the carpet.'' (The Victoria Police, in a scathing submission to the inquiry, said that not one of the 86 offenders identified by the Melbourne Response had been referred to the police.)
It's an issue that greatly concerns Professor Patrick Parkinson, of the University of Sydney's faculty of law. In evidence to the Victorian inquiry in October last year, he said the Catholic Church deserved credit for establishing its ''Towards Healing'' and ''Melbourne Response'' schemes.
But he argued that the schemes can't be just about compensation, they must deal with the offenders. ''You want the police to be involved. You want prosecutions to occur,'' he said. In cases where the police do not press charges, for example, or a case is dropped, Parkinson said there must still be a disciplinary process to prevent offenders from gaining access to children.
''That is where I have the most concerns because … there are priests, former priests, wandering around our community and nobody except the Catholic Church knows their history,'' he told the inquiry, adding that the Church's ''Facing the Truth'' submission did not contain any information on what had happened to these offenders. (The submission states that many offenders are dead or in prison, while ''the majority'' of the rest are elderly, retired and ''have no authority to exercise public ministry''.)
Parkinson acknowledged that many people have made a real effort to ''cut this cancer out of the church''. But he told the inquiry that the only way to move forward was for the church to give a complete account of all the offenders against children and hand its files to the police. He urged the resignation of all those, including some now in high positions in the church, who had been responsible for the cover-ups over the years.
Parkinson also discussed the over-representation of Catholic clergy in church sexual abuse cases. Both the Victorian inquiry and the federal royal commission are examining cases in other churches and in non-church organisations such as the Scouts, the Salvation Army and the YMCA. But Parkinson's research suggests that there has been at least six times as much child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church as all the other Australian churches combined.
''When you are looking at abuse in churches, by far and away the largest problem is the Catholic Church,'' he told the Victorian inquiry.
This is partly because the Catholic Church is the largest religious organisation in Australia, and partly because Catholic clergy have been more directly involved in schools and orphanages. Another reason is that the Catholic Church, by its own admission, has been disastrously slow to realise these were not random acts of rogue priests but widespread and systemic criminal abuse of hundreds and hundreds of children.
Its initial response, to turn a blind eye, deny, cover-up or move offenders to other parishes, has compounded the suffering.
Waller is bewildered by the aggression with which the church (and its insurers) fights some compensation claims, often relying on highly technical legal defences. She also is bewildered by the vast sums the church has spent on defending its paedophile priests.
For example, the Victorian inquiry heard in May that the Christian Brothers spent $158,000 on legal costs for Robert Charles Best in his 1996 trial on child sex charges. He was convicted and jailed, but 14 years later, when Best was convicted of a further 27 offences against 11 boys, the Christian Brothers spent another $980,000 on his legal fees. Best, now in prison, remains a member of the Christian Brothers congregation.
It is examples such as this that propel Waller's fervent hope that the Victorian inquiry and the royal commission recommend the establishment of an independent authority to compensate victims and refer offenders to the police.
Indeed, it is difficult to understand, after reading through transcripts of evidence given to the Victorian inquiry, how the Catholic Church in Australia has been allowed to keep the issue in-house for so long. David Marr, in his devastating Quarterly Essay ''The Prince: Faith, Abuse and George Pell'' , points the finger squarely at political leaders, in particular former prime minister John Howard.
While Waller is angry and frustrated that some of her clients feel short-changed by the church's response to their abuse, she also says many of them are greatly comforted when she listens to their story. ''We can achieve a result that's great, average or disappointing in legal terms, but it's healing for them to have someone listen,'' she says. ''Sometimes the greatest gift that can be given is bearing witness and really hearing someone. Deep listening can alleviate suffering, I think.''
The Victorian inquiry and the royal commission give victims their best chance yet of being listened to - and in a public forum. But Waller is under no illusion that this sordid and tragic story is nowhere near over. ''I know we are still only dealing with the tip of the iceberg,'' she warns. ''Many people are still afraid to come forward about what the church hierarchy knew. They are waiting to see what happens with the parliamentary inquiry.''
She is also well aware that the evidence and recommendations of the inquiry and the royal commission will reverberate well beyond victims and their families.
''I feel for the decent, hard-working, trusting Catholic parents who sent their children to the care of the Catholic clergy,'' she says. ''I feel for decent parishioners who were lied to about why a priest was moved on or promoted, and inadvertently became complicit in a cover-up. I feel for decent priests and Catholic clergy who would harm no one. But everyone needs to ask, and to receive an answer - how did this happen?''
The Catholic Church continues to rely on the legal argument that it is incapable of being sued in negotiations with alleged child abuse victims, a day after Cardinal George Pell acknowledged they should be able to sue the church, a lawyer says.
Melbourne lawyer Dr Vivian Waller said she had acted on behalf of victims in two pre-arranged settlement discussions with lawyers for two Catholic orders on Tuesday [11 March].
She said the lawyers indicated, in relation to three separate victims’ abuse claims, that they may still rely on a New South Wales Court of Appeal decision, which is often called the Ellis defence. The court held in 2007 that the church’s property trust, its only legal entity, could not be held
liable for the actions of priests.
“They’ve said they are not making a deci-sion to abandon the Ellis defence,” Dr Waller said.
She put to them Cardinal Pell’s statement at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse on Monday. The statement, read by senior counsel Gail Furness, said that in Cardinal Pell’s view, “the church in Australia should be able to be sued in cases of this kind”. This marked a dramatic departure from Cardinal Pell’s previous approach to victims who pursued legal action against the church.
“[The church’s lawyers said] on the con-trary, the defence remains available to us,” said Dr Waller, who has represented hundreds of victims
alleging abuse against religious clergy.
“It would be helpful if the church overall would agree on a particular approach but, unfortunately, it’s the same old story that the victims face a very fragmented church. Cardinal Pell is not the head of all of the orders in Australia, and the church . . . continues to hamper sexual assault victims. What’s needed is a unified approach.”
The Victorian inquiry into the handling of child abuse last year recommended that any organisation receiving government funding or tax exemptions be incorporated and insured, which would dismantle the Ellis defence.
A Coalition spokesman said the government was still considering the recommendations.
“As the Premier indicated last year, prior-ity is being given to the immediate protection of children through the strengthening of the criminal
law,” the spokesman said.
Victims’ lawyers have said negotiations with the Catholic Church had often been frustrated by the Ellis defence as it afforded the church greater
bargaining power when discussing possible settle-ments.
Andrew Morrison, SC, who represented abuse victim and lawyer John Ellis in the Court of Appeal case, said the Catholic Church ultimately
needed to give effect to Cardinal Pell’s “concession” to victims.
“The church doesn’t have to take these defences - of course, it’s up to them. The church obviously has been giving instructions to its lawyers
to fight every case as hard as it can and strike them out by fair means or foul. That’s the problem,” Mr Morrison said.
He said the church had not indicated whether victims would be able to sue retrospectively or “whether they’ll take responsibility for their priests. If they don’t, it’s a useless concession. I’d be very concerned if they don’t go further because that offers . . . in my view false hope to victims.”
Father Brian Lucas said on be-half of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference that it was impossible to incorporate the Catholic Church, which
represented 25 per cent of the population, as a single entity.
He said the church had “no position” at this stage on whether it should be vicariously liable for criminal behaviour but said that the High
Court had held in a previous decision that it was not.
“The question of vicarious liability for criminal conduct is an issue that the royal commission will need to consider. And the circumstances in which that law should be changed require very careful consideration . . .because of the ramifications across all organisations in society.”
From The Age, March 12, 2014
For the first time Cardinal George Pell has acknowledged the Catholic Church should be able to be sued over abuse by a priest.
The turnaround in the church's approach to litigation by victims was revealed by Gail Furness, senior counsel assisting the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, as it heard from witness John Ellis about his treatment by the Diocese of Sydney.
"In his statement to the royal commission, the cardinal says ... 'my own view is that the church in Australia should be able to be sued in cases of this kind'," Ms Furness said. Cardinal Pell is due to give evidence in person to the commission early next week.
But Cardinal Pell's views do not open the floodgates for victims to sue, according to legal experts.
A major restructure of the church in Australia to make it a "sue-able entity" as well as legislative change in each state would be required to give Cardinal Pell's words practical effect, Patrick Parkinson, a Sydney University law professor specialising in child sex abuse issues, said.
Others though, said it was a major breakthrough.
Francis Sullivan, head of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, said establishing such legal entities would be "relatively straight forward" and it would pave the way for victims to sue for damages.
Newcastle solicitor Peter Kelso, who has acted for thousands of sex abuse victims, said Cardinal Pell's statement was "very welcome" but it was an "utter disgrace it has taken them this long to say that". "It is like the sheriff has the Catholic Church surrounded and they are coming out with their hands up".
Mr Kelso endorsed the findings of the last year's Victorian parliamentary inquiry to the effect that "if churches want to continue to get tax exemptions they should be incorporated and they should be insured".
"Australia as far as I know is the only country in the world where the Catholic Church has never been successfully sued. They have been sued but no one has ever got a verdict for the plaintiff," he said.
In his written statement to the royal commission, Cardinal Pell also admitted he was "troubled" by the church's handling of the case of sex abuse victim John Ellis, which led to the "Ellis defence".
It established that trustees of the Catholic Church who hold the assets of a diocese cannot be held responsible for the activities of a priest within the diocese.
On Monday the commission heard the harrowing account of Mr Ellis' dealings with the church after he was sexually abused by priest Aidan Duggan, then of Bass Hill parish. The abuse began when Mr Ellis was a 13-year-old altar boy in 1974. Their sexual contact escalated from touching and feeling to anal penetration and continued into Mr Ellis' adulthood.
Mr Ellis wept in the witness box on Monday as he recounted the abuse and its devastating effect. For a long time he believed he was homosexual or bisexual. After he first disclosed the abuse to a counsellor in 2001, "I was either crying or feeling strong anger most of the time", he said.
The royal commission heard that when Mr Ellis first complained to the church in 2002 he was told Father Duggan was suffering from senile dementia and could not answer the complaint against him.
On Christmas Eve 2002, Mr Ellis received a letter from then Sydney Archbishop George Pell saying: "Under the circumstances I do not see that there is anything that the archdiocese can do."
From: The Age, 11th March 2014
WE love Christmas and spend billions celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, but according to a report, Australians are losing their religion.
In the past 100 years, the number of Australians reporting on the national census that they have "no religion" has jumped from one in 250 in 1911 to more than one in five in 2011.
In addition, many of those who nominate a religious affiliation do not actively participate in religious activities.
The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics social trends report provides the first in-depth look at the 2011 census data on religion.
"Rates of reporting no religion have been steadily rising, and Australia is not alone in this - rates are also rising for countries like New Zealand, England and Wales, Canada, the United States and Ireland," said ABS Director of Social and Progress Reporting Fiona Dowsley.
While 4.8 million, or 22 per cent, of Australians reported "no religion" in the 2011 census, 25 per cent nominated as Catholic, and 17 per cent as Anglicans.
On present trends, "no religion" will be the most popular response by the next census.
About half of those reporting no religious belief are less than 30 years old.
Almost a third of 22 to 24- year-olds reported no religion, and about one in five children under 15 live in a home where one or both parents reported no religion.
The ranks of non-believers also increases with higher education, with almost a third of those older than 19 with postgraduate qualifications reporting no religion compared with one in five of those with only a school education.
Since the specific instruction of writing "none" if a person has no religion was added to the census in 1971, the number of people reporting no religion has increased an average of four percentage points a decade, with the sharpest rise - 6.8 percentage points - taking place in the past decade.
The Atheist Foundation of Australia encouraged people to report "no religion" on their 2011 census forms.
But Australia's rising rate of non-believers also reflects global trends.
The ABS report found that the rising numbers of non-believers mirrors a steady decline in people reporting Christian beliefs, while those professing other beliefs, including Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism, were on the rise.
The fall in Christian beliefs has driven an increase in civil marriages, with seven in 10 marriages now conducted by a civil celebrant.
The report found non-believers are slightly less likely to do volunteer work (17 per cent) than people with Christian beliefs (20 per cent) but more likely than those with other beliefs (14 per cent).
The 2010 General Social Survey found that only 15 per cent of men and 22 per cent of women had actively participated in a religious or spiritual group.
Victoria's major provider of religious instruction has been temporarily barred from delivering lessons at a Surf Coast primary school, following recent revelations in The Sunday Age that inappropriate ''biblezines'' were given to students.
Torquay College principal Pam Kinsman confirmed last week that the weekly 30-minute religious lessons by chaplaincy organisation Access Ministries would be suspended throughout term one, pending the outcome of an inquiry.
The Education Department has launched a formal investigation to determine how 17 copies of the magazine Refuel 2 - which intersperses New Testament text with such dating advice as ''How to attract godly girls'' - was given to students.
''The department is taking this matter very seriously,'' said a spokesperson. ''An external organisation is actively investigating a range of matters and will table a report for the department's and minister's consideration in April.''
Access Ministries has said that it did not approve of the biblezines, which include such advice as urging people who think they are gay never to act on their feelings. Dr Evonne Paddison, chief executive of the Christian organisation, said at the time that the materials were supplied by churches as a graduation gift, in place of traditional Bibles, and that students were asked to return them on the day.
''Our agreed curriculum teaches the basic beliefs of the Christian faith and does not stray into areas of sexuality at all,'' she said. ''We are extremely disappointed that this has occurred and will continue to investigate how it happened.''
Ms Kinsman has been principal of Torquay College for 15 years, during which time Access Ministries has consistently delivered religious instruction to roughly half of all students in grades three through six without any problems.
However, after contact from concerned parents and discussions with the Education Department, Ms Kinsman felt compelled to address the issue in a school newsletter explaining the decision to suspend religious instruction.
''We will wait until we are advised by DEECD that we must offer Access Ministries the opportunity to begin classes this year,'' she wrote. ''All parents will be sent a letter at this time giving you the choice to opt in for your children to attend the classes.''
The attention comes at a difficult time for Access Ministries, following reports that the popularity of religious instruction in state schools has nosedived. Between 2011 and 2013, the number of students enrolled fell from 130,100 to 92,808. Elwood Primary School was the latest to drop religious education, informing parents on Wednesday that the school would no longer offer the service on ''organisational grounds'', after too few students expressed an interest and staffing became an issue.
Meanwhile, Bayswater North Primary School overstepped the mark in its support for religious instruction.
The school published a newsletter claiming that the Education Department has ''every confidence'' in the ''very educationally sound curriculum'' of Access Ministries.
The promotion earned a slap on the wrist from the department, as the materials are not based on the Victorian curriculum nor are they approved by the department. The school published a retraction for parents online.
''The statement that the Access Ministries syllabus is based on Victorian essential learning standards is incorrect,'' read the advice. ''It is the responsibility of schools to review materials by providers who deliver extra-curricular programs in schools.''