16th December, 2017 | AAP | The Guardian
Holy See says it will support Australian church as it listens to and accompanies victims and survivors ‘in an effort to bring about healing and justice’
The Vatican and Australia’s Catholic leaders say they will seriously consider the royal commission’s call for sweeping reforms, although archbishops refuse to break the seal of confession to reveal child abuse.
It will be up to the Pope and his advisers to consider many of the inquiry’s far-reaching recommendations, including changes to canon law and voluntary celibacy for its priests.
The government of the Roman Catholic church, the Holy See, says the commission’s final report “deserves to be studied seriously”.
“The Holy See remains committed to being close to the Catholic church in Australia – lay faithful, religious, and clergy alike – as they listen to and accompany victims and survivors in an effort to bring about healing and justice,” it said in a statement.
The royal commission recommended a number of changes to canon law, finding the disciplinary system for dealing with clergy and religious who sexually abuse children contributed to the church’s failure to provide an effective and timely response to perpetrators.
It also criticised the Vatican for being slow to respond to petitions from Catholic church authorities in Australia to dismiss those found to have committed child sexual abuse.
“It is clear that their approach to child sexual abuse by clergy was protective of the offender,” its final report said.
The commission suggested new canons that frame child sexual abuse as crimes against the child, not as moral failings or breaches of the obligation to observe celibacy. It also called for amendments to remove the “pontifical secret” or confidentiality imposed during church investigations of child sexual abuse.
Other amendments include making it easier to take internal disciplinary action and permanently remove from ministry priests or religious against whom abuse complaints have been substantiated, or their dismissal if they have been convicted.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president, Melbourne archbishop Denis Hart, and Sydney archbishop Anthony Fisher rejected the inquiry’s call for priests to break the seal of confession to reveal child abuse.
Hart did not expect the church to change its stance on confession, saying the cardinal secretary of state confirmed as recently as last month that the seal is inviolable.
But he said Australia’s bishops have asked the Holy See to clarify the extent of the seal and what it includes, after questions about whether it applies to a child revealing their abuse.
The Vatican recently said the matter was still being seriously considered, the archbishop told reporters.
Canberra and Goulburn archbishop Christopher Prowse said reform has been underway but the commission’s final report “marks the line in the sand”.
“Catholics and the community more broadly are calling loudly for strong leadership from institutions and an unreserved approach to implementing reforms,” he said.
“We can only right the wrongs through actions.”
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