Australian Royal Commission on Sex Abuse of Children

This is a really interesting exchange between the Chief Commissioner and a retired bishop, attempting to explain why the Church did not report cases of abuse by priests to civil authorities.

A flawed intellectual framework and its disconnect from civil society (Main Forum)
by Maitland, Australia, Sunday, September 18, 2016,

This from exchange between Justice McClellan, Chief Commissioner and emeritus Bishop of Parramatta, Bede Heather last Wednesday (21/09/16) afternoon:

Q. You see, what you’re telling me now has been said to
us by a number of senior and not so senior members of the
church, you understand?
A. Yes.
Q. What I think we’re getting to is that you only thought
in a space which involved the relationship between the
priest and God but didn’t see the priest’s action in terms
of the civil law. Is that what it amounts to?
A. Largely I would agree, yes, that I had no formation in
the civil law and didn’t assess the actions of the clergy
or, indeed, of others mainly in relation to the civil law
or at all in relation to the civil law. I didn’t see that
as my role.
Q. Why is it a matter of formation? You were brought up
as a normal child in Australian society and went to school.
These sorts of things, at least in my generation, were
known long before I left school as things that the civil
law said shouldn’t happen.
A. Yes, well, I think you were fortunate, your Honour, to
have a formation of that sort. I didn’t have such a clear
perception of where the civil law and moral responsibility
Q. You’ll forgive me for saying, Bishop, that what that
means is you, in your intellectual framework, left out an
understanding of civil society. Do you understand?
A. I understand what you’re saying, yes, and –
Q. How did the church end up in a space where it could
only see these matters in moral terms and not understand
the responsibility of adults in civil society?
A. Yes, it’s a good question, and I think someone may be
more competent to answer that than I am. The whole
development of moral theology in the history of the church
and the type of moral theology that we studied in our
preparation for the priesthood – I remember very little
reference at all to civil law in the course of those
Q. What age were you when you first started your studies
in the seminary?
A. I went to the junior seminary when I was 13 years of
Q. So should we understand that from then on, your
intellectual framework was confined by the teachings of the
A. Yes, and my studies in moral theology as in other
areas of theology were through manuals of Catholic
theologians, yes.
Q. And you didn’t develop then an understanding of civil
society as you matured as a teenager and into adulthood?
A. No, no, and I see this as one of the great issues that
has now arisen through the work of the Commission. As
I say, this intersection between the moral demands of the
gospel as we understood them then and the demands of civil
society as now understood.
Q. You do you understand that for Australian society, the
church having played and continuing to play such a large
role in the moral and ethical understanding of many people,
that the failure for the teachings of the church to bring
to you, as leaders of the church, an understanding of civil
society is a very serious issue?
A. Yes, I do, yes. Yes.