Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
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Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Home : Politics Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

 

 

 

MORE THAN A 'SMALL MINORITY'

THE CHURCH AND THE ROTTEN APPLES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BARREL

Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt*

 

The joint statement by the Catholic Archbishops of Melbourne and Sydney is apparently designed to put to rest concerns expressed in the media as to 'paying off' or 'bribing' victims and survivors of sexual abuse by the clergy. Yet far from doing so, surely it leads only to further questions on the stance of all churches and their hierarchy. At bottom is the failure of them all to take steps necessary to end this scourge on the lives of too many Australian children.

Whilst some are now heard, in their speaking out of ravages imposed years ago, what of those whose pasts go unacknowledged. And what of those who are unheard now, when there are numbers now being abused and exploited by clergy who still believe they will not be brought to book. After all, who listens to children?

The Archbishops' 'apology' is couched as an acknowledgment of sexual abuse and other betrayals of trust 'which have been committed by a small minority' of the clergy. This sounds like the 'few rotten apples in the barrel' protestations of police forces around the country, whenever the whiff of corruption arises in the public arena. The Fitzgerald Inquiry taught us that far from a 'few rotten applies', dealing with police corruption needs a concerted, publicly open exposure of what is going on, and what has gone on, over long periods of time. Police corruption is recognised as arising out of power abuses, cover-ups and the 'rotten apple syndrome' itself.

The 'few individuals' referred to in the Archbishops' message could be interpreted as meaning those of whom the public now knows, because they have been prosecuted through the court system, with findings of guilt and prison terms. But latching on to these, or even the acknowledgment of a few more 'individuals' will not serve the church well, ultimately. Nor will it serve well those who still look upon the church as a place of comfort and hope, an institution founded upon the admonition of Jesus: suffer the little children to come unto me.

The 'small minority' approach is what has allowed the practice to be covered up in the first place. As each 'case' came to attention, the man was moved on. Being individualised as a problem located in the one individual did nothing to deal with the real issue. Furthermore, it bred and fed on the notion that the individual was only a poor sinner, led astray by the child who sidled up to him, taking advantage of his 'human weakness'.

Even if, now, the 'small minority' are recognised as responsible for their own behaviour, this does not advance the recognition that the employer itself is responsible, and is responsible not only for 'the individual' or the 'small minority', but for the system which enabled the abuses to arise in the first place.

The 'small minority' approach individualises a systemic problem within the church, and continues to place at risk all the little children whose faith is placed in the care and compassion which the church is expected to exemplify. Too often, the care and compassion have been extended not to the little children, but to the exploiters of the little children, those who have caused them to suffer. This is not what Jesus meant.

The church is not the only institution to fail when faced with systemic exploitation and abuse. The armed services is another where the systemic nature of bullying and brutality is never acknowledged as cultural. It, too, is covered up, described as a 'one off' or seen as the responsibility of a 'few' individuals. The 'small minority' surfaces again.

Around Australian, education departments have at last begun looking at the hierarchical nature of power, the authority of teachers, and the need to take proactive, positive steps to do something about the systemic abuses that can - and do - occur when the vulnerable are left in the care of the powerful. Anti-discrimination legislation is focusing on this, too.

The Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tasmania) says that no one should be discriminated against on the basis of an 'irrelevant criminal record'. The sole exception is where the 'education, training or care of children' is in focus. There, if it is necessary to 'protect the physical, psychological or emotional wellbeing of children', discrimination is not unlawful.

The Act recognises, too, that it is not only a conviction that should be taken into account. Rather, the definition encompasses arrest, interrogation or criminal proceedings, even if no further action has been taken, a charge has not been laid, a charge has been dismissed, a prosecution withdrawn, a person has been discharged with or without conviction, or the finding was 'not guilty'.

When the wellbeing of children is in question, those who are responsible for their care must abide by the highest standards. There can be no exceptions.

Ultimately, it is not the 'small minority' of those who have been found out that are the sole responsibility of the church and all institutions where sexual abuse and exploitation occur. The responsibility lies too with those who are as yet concealed and supported in that concealment by a culture of covering up, smoothing over, paying off, or disbelieving. The greatest responsibility, however, lies with those who have the ultimate care of the whole flock. So long as there is no recognition that institutionalised abuses and systemic exploitation are at the heart of this matter, the church, like our other institutions, will continue to make fiction out of the realities of child sexual abuse and exploitation.

We can all agree that the little children ought suffer no more. But those who have the power to end the suffering are not only those who engage in the conduct which directly creates it. Those at the pinnacle of every hierarchy carry the ultimate responsibility to end it. The 'rotten apple' at the bottom of the barrel is not the only problem.

June 2002

*Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt is a barrister and 9at that time) Tasmania's Anti Discimination Commissioner


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