Friday 30 November 2012

“Sexual abuse crisis is opportunity for Australian Church”

Robert Hiini
Full transcript of the interview with Robert Hiini, journalist with The Record, diocesan newspaper of Perth, Australia, about the sexual abuse crisis in Australia.
See news story here (in Portuguese).

Transcrição integral da entrevista a Robert Hiini, jornalista de The Record, jornal diocesano de Perth, na Austrália, sobre o escândalo de abusos sexuais na Austrália. Ver notícia aqui.

The sexual abuse crisis has hit Australia now, what exactly is going on at the moment?
The most recent event is that the Federal Government has announced a Royal Commission into sexual abuse of minors in institutions, religious and non-religious. Victim groups have been making a concerted push, as have the media in the last six months, to drive the Government to take this action. On November 12th Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a Royal Commission.

So the Commission will also focus on non-Catholic institutions? But media coverage seems to be almost exclusively related to religious institutions, is it not?
It’s true that the media have focused largely on the Catholic Church. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has run several high profile stories about specific dioceses and terrible incidents that have occurred in those dioceses and that has stirred a wider national conversation.

There are a lot of organized victim groups which have agitated for an investigation into the Catholic Church. One of the things that the leader of the opposition in the Federal Parliament said was conditional to his support for a Royal Commission was that it should not only pertain to the Catholic Church but should be extended to other organizations such as Government and non-Catholic organizations.

The cases that have come to light, are they recent?
The cases that have been referenced, particularly by the ABC are cases in which the incidents occurred nearly 20 years ago. I have heard statistics from the State of Victoria, Australia’s second most populous state, which suggest something like 13 to 20 cases that happened after 1990, so there seems to be a massive drop-off in the number of offenses, whether this is due to delayed reporting is anyone’s guess, but it certainly is true that most of the allegations are 15 to 20 years old or older.

How have the bishops reacted to the Royal Commission?
Australia’s bishops have universally welcomed the Royal Commission. There was a joint statement put out on behalf of all Australian bishops saying they welcomed the move and were interested in continuing to ensure that healing was available for victims. The one point of controversy was Cardinal George Pell, from Sydney, who held his own press conference on November 13 in which he reiterated support for the Royal Commission but also said he hoped the Royal Commission would separate fact from fiction, accusing what he described as a hostile media of exaggerating the number of claims. He’s been roundly criticized by the media and victim groups for doing that, but broadly Australian bishops have welcomed this move.

Julia Gillard, primeira-ministra da Austrália
There has been debate about the seal of confession…
There was a debate for many days, mainly in tabloid publications such as the News Limited publications but also in Australia’s second largest media group Fairfax publications. That seems to have died down, at least for the time being. It was set off by the premier of New South Wales who said he couldn’t imagine how a priest who heard that in confession could sit on it and not report it to police, and that fuelled the debate.
In the quality press it has largely been assessed to be a red herring. Most people would agree it’s not how most incidences of abuse come to light, and most people want to see real action taken to real situations.

As a journalist but also as a Catholic, what has your reaction been to what is going on?
I guess it’s a mixed picture for me because I watch some of the media coverage and there has been an incredible looseness of language. Whether the coverage relates to specific incidences in specific dioceses its always the church that is held to account. Of course as a Catholic whenever I hear “the church” I think of myself and one billion other people and the saints in heaven and so on.

But the reporting aside, when you hear the accounts of victims you know that that pain is real. And where there are incidents, particularly in the last 20 years when we are supposed to have cleaned up our protocols and our acts, when you hear of incidents that are recent, I see that as an opportunity to do our best by children. Having said that I think most media in Australia are of a progressive, vaguely anti-Catholic bent and some of this reporting seems to be a proxy for underlying resentment against the catholic church and its teaching, but I am trying to focus on the facts that have happened, and the pain of victims and making sure it doesn’t happen again, I think it’s an opportunity for us to do that.

Filipe d’Avillez

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