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Catholic Church must go further on child sex abuse



25 October 2013

While much has changed in the culture of the Catholic Church, some old attitudes remain, writes Professor Patrick Parkinson, AM.

In an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald, he asserts that there are two aspects of Catholic teaching which may help explain why some of the worst scandals of child sexual absue have engulfed the Catholic Church.

"The first is the place of canon law in the life and thought of the worldwide Catholic Church.

"The second is the culture of clericalism.

There has long been a culture within international Catholicism that the proper place for judging clergy is through its canon law.

"In this sense, the church perceived it to be a law unto itself. Canon 1395 provides that clergy who abuse children under 18 are to be 'punished with just penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state'; but it was no part of canonical thinking that child sexual abuse is a crime that ought routinely to be reported to the police and dealt with by the criminal courts.

"The second factor was clericalism.

"The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith put it succinctly in 2011: 'The bishop has a duty to treat all priests as father and brother.'

"The view was expressed at the highest levels in Rome little more than a decade ago that this involved an obligation not to denounce priests and religious brothers to the police or courts.

"It is in this context that the response of the Australian church leadership needs to be understood."

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