Child abuse and the church: no more excuses

It is now the state's responsibility to hold an inquiry

IT was called ''the map of an Irish hell'', but not specifically an Irish disease. In May 2009, the tabling of the nine-year inquiry by a commission headed by Justice Sean Ryan into the systematic abuse of tens of thousands of Irish children by hundreds of members of the Catholic clergy over many decades caused national and international shock and shame. The report concluded that while church and state shared the responsibility for the abuses, state and society as a whole preferred to look the other way rather than deal with the depths of the problem. In essence, abuse was not a failure of the system; it was the system.

The ramifications of this landmark document remain universal, and its unambiguous message should strike deep into any society in which those who are supposedly beyond reproach - often innocently perceived as guiding figures instead of predators - are free to sexually abuse children entrusted to their care. Worse: free to re-abuse, time and time again, as they are kept in circulation rather than being summarily removed from the church and forced to face proper justice.
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That Irish hell has been familiar to too many Australians, including Victorians. But is an independent public inquiry into Catholic sex abuse a priority? It seems not. Last week the state government said it was deferring any decision on an inquiry into the subject until after another inquiry into the protection of vulnerable children reports in late January. The current inquiry, chaired by retired Supreme Court judge Philip Cummins, is not investigating abuse within religious bodies in general. But the office of state Attorney-General Robert Clark says this inquiry might [our italics] report on issues germane to clergy and church workers. What, then, other than employing a convenient delaying tactic, is stopping the government from proceeding? The questions that might or might not arise from Mr Cummins's findings do not preclude a more specific inquiry.

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