COMMENT: Why crisis within church must be focus

 THIS is not a story about Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox. 

It’s much bigger.

Sure, he ran the ‘‘evil flourishes when good men do nothing’’ speech in his head this week, and wrote the letter that launched a commission of inquiry.

 But this is not about him, and he would be the first to say that.

This is a story about the hundreds, maybe thousands, of victims of the Catholic Church’s child-sex crisis in Australia, and the decades of crimes that have been committed, and concealed.

This is a story about their families, and their tragedies.

This is the story about why Premier Barry O’Farrell’s commission of inquiry must be about more than just the Hunter Region, and how police have dealt with the Catholic Church’s crimes.

This is about why that inquiry must be about the Church, and the focus must stay on the Church.

This is about shining a light after all these years of suffering.

In years to come, Chief Inspector  Fox’s appeal to Barry O’Farrell for a royal commission into the Catholic Church’s child sex crisis will be seen as the tipping point.

All bets were off. No more excuses could be made.

He lit the fuse on a bomb that had been ticking away for several decades, as the number of paedophile priest convictions mounted, and with them a mountain of evidence about what the Catholic Church knew about its criminals.

The bomb exploded in the pages of the  Newcastle Herald this week because Chief Inspector Fox said what a majority of people, but not some politicians, already believe – that the Catholic Church has acted above the law for too long, and it’s time for governments to act.  

He punctured the reliance on police to prosecute offenders. 

He exposed the abuse of power at the heart of community outrage on this issue.

 In a McDonald’s restaurant yesterday at Morisset – the same Lake Macquarie town where a religious brotherhood is alleged to have carried out horrific crimes against children (see story below) – Chief Inspector Fox experienced one part of the great divide on the child sex crisis. 

That is, how the community recognises the child-sex saga is about powerful institutions appearing to work against powerless  individuals.

‘‘I was desperate for food and we walked in and suddenly people were coming up to me saying ‘You’re that policeman in the news’ and shaking my hand,’’  Chief Inspector Fox  said.

‘‘People were saying to me, ‘Keep it up. Get those bastards’.’’

At 5pm he experienced the other side of that divide – that was when I read him federal Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey’s comments about why he did not support a royal commission into the Catholic Church’s child sex crisis, because it would ‘‘retraumatise the victims’’.

‘‘He said what?’’ he yelled down the phone.

‘‘Who did he talk to to come up with that? Where is that coming from and what’s his motive?’’

Mr Hockey wasn’t the only politician to say no to a royal commission yesterday. 

They have all missed the public mood,  and do so at their peril.

In phone calls with many victims yesterday afternoon there were some common themes – relief that there was going to be a commission of inquiry, frustration at what initially appears to be its limited terms, and anger on behalf of police who have done outstanding work in this region to hold the Church to account.

There was anger that at the point of acknowledging the government’s role in accepting responsibility for what needs to be done, Mr O’Farrell appeared to target police rather than the Church.

Whether he realised it or not, the Premier appeared to give a back-hander to the very police who, against the odds and with considerable success, have punched way above their weight.

The number of convictions, the comprehensive nature of investigations, the first significant investigations of clergy not just for child-sex offences but for covering-up those offences – all occurred in the Hunter, and all without help from specialist police units outside the area.

‘‘I think it’s an insult to police in this region, and I can honestly say I would not have been able to do what I did without the police,’’ a victim of a priest who cannot be named for legal reasons said.

Strike Force Georgiana was set up in November 2007 after the Herald exposed how the Church knew about paedophile priest Vince Ryan for 20 years, while he committed appalling crimes against little boys. Police have doggedly pursued and charged paedophile priests, and seen them convicted for lengthy periods.

Strike Force Lantle, established in October 2010 after the Herald revealed the attempted secret defrocking of paedophile priest Denis McAlinden while keeping his ‘‘good name’’ intact, ran a more difficult path, as Chief Inspector Fox said this week.

It should be noted that he is on stress leave from the police force and is ‘‘in the process of leaving’’. 

But this inquiry should not be restricted to the allegations he has made. 

This inquiry has the chance to finally give victims  justice, even solace. 

The Hunter and the Herald have led on this issue, and with his announcement  Mr O’Farrell has opened the door, which is all people have ever wanted. 

Some light, and the truth.

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