Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse is 'going to have an effect around the world': Catholic critic

Critic: Salesian Brother and Professorial Fellow Francis Moloney says the Catholic Church is going backwards by teaching priests they are "a caste set apart that is answerable to no-one except their peer group".
Critic: Salesian Brother and Professorial Fellow Francis Moloney says the Catholic Church is going backwards by teaching priests they are "a caste set apart that is answerable to no-one except their peer group".

ONE of the Catholic Church’s most vocal internal critics has urged the Australian child abuse royal commission to push the church to change because “what you say and what you come up with is going to have an effect around the world”.

“I believe what you are doing is unique in the world. It is historic. It is going to make a mammoth difference in the long run,” said American Dominic priest Dr Tom Doyle during evidence on Tuesday, after more than 33 years of fighting for change from within the church.

“You have taken something on that is mind-boggling and you are going into it in a deeper, more enlightened, more courageous manner than any other body that I have had contact with.”

Dr Doyle said the problem of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church was “not unique in Australia”, but the royal commission was the strongest response from any nation.

He hoped the royal commission was “going to have a profound effect in the Vatican, and it is another pile of information that is saying what they do not want to hear”.

He said the commission, and the Australian community, had an obligation to tell the church: “This is what we have found. You need to make some changes to make sure this doesn’t keep happening, and those changes are structural.”

Dr Doyle is a canon lawyer who wrote a report in 1984 about the need for a strong response from the church after a shocking child sexual abuse case in Louisiana, that he was told was hand-delivered to the then Pope John Paul II. Dr Doyle told the royal commission he was “exited” from his senior position after his report became public following civil action against the church by the family of one victim.

He became one of the church’s most vocal, and most widely known, internal critic after meeting survivors of abuse, including a 10-year-old boy.

“When I looked into his face – I still see it. It was empty. And that moment changed my life. His parents were simple, good, decent people who could not comprehend why they were being treated the way they were by the church. They couldn’t understand why this man had been shifted from one place to another to another and nothing was done,” Dr Doyle told the commission.

The church’s troubling and “very stultified comprehension of human sexuality” was a major factor in the child sexual abuse crisis, and led the church to commit “soul murder” of abuse victims, he said.

A Salesian Brothers leader and church theologian, Professor Francis Moloney, gave evidence at the second day of the final public hearing into the Catholic Church and urged commission chair Justice Peter McClellan to recommend that women should have a far more significant role in the management of dioceses.

It followed data about the extent of child sexual abuse across Australian dioceses and orders, released by the commission on Monday, that showed Adelaide diocese had the lowest rate of abuse. The commission heard Adelaide had had women lay people in senior diocesan roles with authority over priests since the 1980s.

Professor Moloney said former prime minister Julia Gillard deserved much greater credit for the decision to call the “historic” royal commission because it would not have been called by other prime ministers.

He was strongly critical of a “lurch to the right” by Sydney Archdiocese, under the then Cardinal George Pell, which meant seminaries training the majority of Australian priests had reverted to “the old system” where priests were taught they were “a caste set apart that is answerable to no-one except their peer group”.

“A lot of people believe this is the solution to the problem – make them more clerical than ever. So we’ve got to face these truths,” Professor Moloney said.

Psychotherapist and former consultant to the St John of God order, Dr Michelle Mulvihill, said the governance and structures of the Catholic Church permitted the abuse.  

“It’s all about power, isn’t it? All roads lead to Rome. It’s all about who’s in charge,” she told the commission.’

“We need to change the power balance. How many women are engaged in a place, in a misogynistic place, where women are told, ‘You don’t really belong here. We can give you a job, if you like. You can do the flowers’.

“I think it’s time for us, as Australians, to stand up to Rome and say ‘We are not little Rome. We are not little Italy. We are Australians, and in Australia we believe in a fair go’. It’s time we all got a fair go. It’s very much time victims got a fair go.”

Dr Mulvihill resigned from consulting work to the St John of God order because: “I could no longer deal with the corruption and systemic abuse that was my experience of what was happening inside that organisation. I could do no more.”

Australian Catholic University professor of theology Neil Ormerod described the church as a “clerical club”, and said he was not aware of any seminary in Australia “where they actually look at the professional and ethical responsibilities of the power that they have as priests”.

I am very honoured to be here, because I believe what you are doing is unique in the world. It is historic. It is going to make a mammoth difference in the long run. What you do and what you say and what you come up with at the end is going to have an effect around the world.

Priest and abuse survivors' advocate Dr Tom Doyle.