The Catholic Church will be under the microscope at the royal commission from Monday

THE Catholic Church’s chances of recovering from the “trashing” of its standing as a moral leader are grim while the culture that allowed child sexual abuse remains, said a Sydney University professor of law on the eve of a final royal commission hearing into the church.

The child sexual abuse crisis was “never just because of a few bad apple” priests, said Professor Patrick Parkinson in a submission to a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse hearing from Monday, that is expected to challenge the Vatican, canon law and Pope Francis about the church’s need to change.

“The problems that have brought the church to the very edge of disaster and beyond, trashing its reputation as a moral leader, were never just because of a few bad apples. The problems were institutional and cultural. The question must, regrettably be asked, to what extent they still are,” Professor Parkinson said.

The final Catholic hearing, expected to run for more than three weeks from Monday, will consider how systemic institutional factors, including structure, governance and culture, contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse within the church.

It will consider the role of confession, mandatory celibacy, canon law, the role of the Vatican, the use of secrecy, psycho-sexual factors involving clergy, and the screening, selection and training of priests.

Professor Parkinson is expected to give evidence, along with American Dominican priest, canon lawyer, and a church whistleblower on sexual abuse since the 1980s, Tom Doyle, and former trainee priest, lawyer and author Kieran Tapsell.

Professor Parkinson, who helped establish the church’s Towards Healing framework, expressed strong reservations about the church’s ability to change while its culture remained the same and the church’s law, canon law, continued to regard child sexual abuse as a moral issue rather than a crime.

“I would be more optimistic if the gross systemic failures had been decades ago - before 1996 for example. I would be more optimistic also if the attempts at minimisation of the problem and cover-up were not so very recent,” Professor Parkinson said.

I would be more optimistic if the attempts at minimisation of the problem and cover-up were not so very recent.

University of Sydney Professor of Law Patrick Parkinson

The “disproportionate” level of sex offending against children by church representatives “cries out for explanation”, he said.

The Catholic Church’s attitude that it is “to some extent a law unto itself”, because of its history of self-governing before the emergence of the modern nation state, meant it “may not defer to the nation states of the countries in which its priests or religious reside, except to the extent that it has to do so”.

“Canon law is the internal governance system for the Catholic Church, but it is woefully deficient as a means of addressing child sexual abuse, and remains so.”

Professor Parkinson expressed concern about the Australian church’s reliance on the importation of priests from overseas, particularly developing nations, where there has not been a focus on child sexual abuse and where selection processes for priests are unclear.

Dominican priest Tom Doyle will travel to Australia from America to give evidence this week more than 30 years after first writing a 44-page report for the then Pope John Paul II revealing the extent of child sexual abuse within just one American church community.

While he was “frankly dumbfounded” at the church response to the serious child sexual abuse of nine boys by a priest in 1984, Father Doyle said he remained pessimistic because of a “clerical culture that sees itself as privileged, and an institutional church that must be protected at all costs, even to the detriment of children”.

The church remained “a clerical sub-culture of only men, which guards its power”, he said.

Former trainee priest, lawyer and author Kieran Tapsell accused Pope Francis of “doing nothing” to end the Catholic Church’s refusal to report child sexual abuse to police in most of the world after a papal letter to bishops on January 2.

The Pope condemned “the covering up and denial” of sexual abuse within the church, which he described as “a sin that shames us”.

But Mr Tapsell criticised the Pope for failing to change canon law which prevents bishops reporting child sexual abuse to civil authorities, including police, in most of the world. This followed a United Nations request in 2014 to change canon law to allow full reporting, which Pope Francis rejected.

Mr Tapsell will give evidence that is expected to be challenged by canon lawyers.

The royal commission’s 50th public hearing will start in Sydney on Monday.   

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