Australia's bishops are under increasing pressure to make child abuse reports public after nuns, brothers and friars "favour" release

Future: Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge will chair an extraordinary meeting of bishops in early August to discuss the church's response to the child abuse royal commission.
Future: Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge will chair an extraordinary meeting of bishops in early August to discuss the church's response to the child abuse royal commission.

AUSTRALIAN orders of nuns and brothers have broken from Catholic bishops and called for public release of church-commissioned reports responding to the child abuse royal commission.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference will hold an extraordinary meeting in early August to discuss its next move after Catholic Religious Australia, representing 150 orders and a partner with the ACBC in commissioning the Truth Justice and Healing Council reports, said members were “in favour of releasing” them.

The CRA was talking with the ACBC “in relation to how to do this”, a spokesperson said, after the orders met in late June for their first chance to discuss the 1000-page, four volume TJHC reports which were presented to bishops in March.

Catholic Religious Australia members are in favour of releasing the Truth Justice and Healing Council reports. We're in continued conversations with the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in relation to how to do this.

Catholic Religious Australia spokesperson.

The CRA’s decision puts significant public pressure on the ACBC which in June said it would “take some time” to consider the reports, despite months of agitation by Catholic reform groups to release them for public debate about how the Australian church should change following damning royal commission findings.

State and federal politicians including Labor’s Jenny Macklin, federal Attorney General Christian Porter and NSW Greens justice spokesperson David Shoebridge also backed greater transparency from the church, while Bishop of Parramatta Vincent Long Van Nguyen said keeping the reports “in-house for any period longer than necessary” was “not in the interest of the kind of church the Pope speaks about”.

Sponsor: Bishop of Parramatta Vincent Long Van Nguyen. His diocese is a sponsor of a major ecumenical conference in August responding to the child abuse royal commission.

Sponsor: Bishop of Parramatta Vincent Long Van Nguyen. His diocese is a sponsor of a major ecumenical conference in August responding to the child abuse royal commission.

In a statement on Tuesday the ACBC made no commitment to release the reports but confirmed bishops would meet in Melbourne in early August to finalise its response to the royal commission’s recommendations.

“The work is being informed substantially by advice from the Truth Justice and Healing Council and others,” a spokesperson said.

At a meeting in May where the reports were discussed “the bishops did not have enough advice to respond adequately to the royal commission’s recommendations”, the spokesperson said.

Australian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform convenor Peter Johnstone said he hoped the bishops would make a public statement after their August meeting and release all four volumes of the TJHC reports in time for a three-day conference in Melbourne in late August organised to focus discussion on the need for change.

Former priest, co-author of a groundbreaking study on Catholic child sexual abuse and Catholics for Renewal president Dr Peter Wilkinson said he was pleased religious orders favoured making the reports public.

Failing to release them showed “the bishops are still stuck in their ‘business as usual’ mindset of keeping things secret and holding their cards close to their chest”, despite evidence to the royal commission that they would act differently than they had in the past, Dr Wilkinson said.

Convenor: Franciscan Friar David Leary is convenor of the Health and Integrity in Church and Ministry conference in Melbourne in August.

Convenor: Franciscan Friar David Leary is convenor of the Health and Integrity in Church and Ministry conference in Melbourne in August.

“You’ve got the president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference saying the church can’t continue with business as usual, and yet not releasing the reports is exactly that,” he said. 

The diocese of Parramatta and the Redemptorist, Franciscan and Passionists orders will sponsor the Health and Integrity in Church and Ministry conference at the University of Divinity from August 27 featuring some of the most outspoken Catholic drivers for change, and addressing issues including how to confront resistance to change.

“The aim of the gathering is to be unflinching in our critique of some of the deep cultural and structural issues which the royal commission has noted,” said conference convenor and Franciscan friar David Leary, whose evidence to the royal commission included saying homosexuality should not be a barrier to people becoming good priests, brothers or nuns.

“We also aim to be constructive in our analysis of the present state of the church, and to focus positively on the future,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

The conference is billed as the first significant public conversation within churches since the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released its final report in December. 

Speakers will include former child abuse royal commissioner Robert Fitzgerald, Anglican Bishop Alison Taylor, a leading member of the Franciscan Friars, Brother John Wong, clinical psychologist and former Greens Senator Christabel Chamarette, Newcastle University academic Dr Kathleen McPhillips, Dr Peter Wilkinson and his co-author of a study on Catholic child sexual abuse, Professor Des Cahill.