The Soap Box: Govt right to extend state abuse inquiry to include churches

Barry Soper,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 13 November 2018, 6:19AM
Yesterday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expanding the inquiry into state abuse to include churches. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Yesterday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expanding the inquiry into state abuse to include churches. Photo / Mark Mitchell

We would all like to think that the abuse of children in state care or in religious institutions belonged to the ancient past. Some would say what's the point of spending almost $80 million to dwell on what's happened in the past?

It's just regurgitating the shame of a nation, of our cruel past that most of us had no part in, either as a victim or a perpetrator, and we'd all prefer to forget it.

It most certainly is unsavoury, none of us will get any pleasure out of the Royal Commission set up to look for the next four years into our dark past, going back to 1950, as Australia has just done.

But not to acknowledge it is an abrogation of what we hopefully are, or should be, a caring society where we look out for each other. The need for the Commission is an acknowledgement that there's been a silent, desperate voice out there screaming out to be heard, but no-one up until now has been listening.

For the victims, it will give them some sort of closure, if that's possible, and for the institutions, it will send a very clear message that children are there for care, not cruelty.

And for those of you who feel you grew up in a land of milk and honey, the Australian experience should make you think again.

During their five year inquiry, more than 4000 institutions were identified as places where abuse occurred. Disturbingly the Commission found some leaders found it was their primary responsibility to protect their institution's reputation and the person being accused of abuse which allowed them to continue it, sometimes over decades.

The Government here was right to extend the inquiry to religious institutions. It was originally focused only on state care.

In Australia more than 37 percent of the victims were abused in religious institutions, 64 percent of them were male with males responsible for 94 percent of the abuse. The average age of the victim was 10 and sadly more than 60 percent abused in a Catholic institution, 15 percent Anglican with the Salvation Army responsible for seven percent of the abuse.

Obviously many recommendations were made but one of the most sensible, when it came to Catholics was for the Australian Bishops to ask the Vatican to relax celibacy rules even though, of course, in of itself it wasn't identified as the reason for child sex abuse, but it may have heightened the risk, we're told.

Nothing from the Vatican on that front.

As tragic as it is there's no reason for thinking that they will find anything wildly different in this country. But if it makes life safer for the vulnerable in the future and gives some solace to those who've suffered in the past it'll be worth it.

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