THE Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse made history before it even started after it was established on November 12, 2012.
It would be the first such national commission in the world to investigate child sexual abuse on such a broad scale. It would eventually be the most significant investigation of the Catholic Church’s appalling abuse of children in the world. It would become the template for other abuse investigations that followed – particularly in the United Kingdom and more recently, the newly-established New Zealand child abuse royal commission.
It made history in Australia as the largest and most expensive royal commission ever held. It took slightly more than five years to complete – from November, 2012 to the presentation of a final report and more than 400 recommendations to the Australian public on December 15, 2017.
And it started with people – in small pockets across Australia like the Hunter region, where people gained the courage to talk about their abuse, sometimes decades ago, and where others listened and acted.
Individuals stood up against powerful institutions, including one of the most historically powerful of all in the Catholic Church. They spoke truth to power, in other words, and the powerful were exposed.
In Australia today we are seeing people standing up to powerful institutions to achieve justice and right wrongs. The banking royal commission and its exposure of appalling behaviour, and possible crimes, is another example of ordinary people speaking, others listening and providing support, the media breaking the silence and exposing the secrets, and accountability.
Banks, churches and governments habitually use euphemisms and weasel words when their backs are against the wall. They “fail” or “sin”, “misbehave” or “falter”. They “don’t live up to standards”. They also, often, don’t get what’s required when they’re caught.
It’s been said that Pope Francis is a Catholic Church leader who wants to take the church down a refreshing new path – a church that truly understands the teachings of a humble, peaceful and loving Jesus Christ. That kind of church does not have secrets, does not have meetings behind closed doors, does not exclude people who want to be involved with change.
Australia’s bishops, are you listening?