The Victorian State Parliamentary enquiry into child sexual abuse by clergy is expected to release its report on Wednesday, 13th November. It is also anticipated that many people will turn out at Parliament House to demonstrate their views on the possible recommendations.
Leaks to the media suggest that the report will include a call for a law to create a new criminal offence “for ministers of religion who fail to report physical or sexual abuse of children by other clergy.” The offence is likely to involve a prison sentence, although nothing has been revealed concerning the possible length of such sentences.
The Catholic Church has previously claimed that admissions revealed in the confession box would not be referred to the civil authorities. No less an official than Australia’s only Cardinal, George Pell (see previous postings) has expressed this view. Others have claimed they would rather face imprisonment than abide by such a law. Indeed, similar laws in Ireland have met with this response, although those laws have yet to be tested in the Irish courts.
A mandatory reporting law which includes clergy will have to be very carefully crafted, since the Catholic Church will undoubtedly attempt to challenge its validity in the courts. It will have very expensive lawyers at its disposal to push its case. It would be incumbent on the Victorian state Government to ensure it fully funds its defence of the laws if they do, indeed, come up before the courts. It should not be up to victims and their supporters to carry the cost of any legal challenge to the laws.
There will be many other recommendations in the report. There are also many things victims and their supporters hope will be contained in the report. These issues will be covered in future postings in some detail.
The report will have an impact on local politics in the state of Victoria. The present government is only clinging to power with the vote of one independent lawmaker. Opinion polls reveal that the government party and the opposition party are basically running at equal levels of support, with perhaps Labor slightly ahead of the Coalition.
How the government responds to the report will probably influence a large enough number of voters that the election could well turn on that response. The committee of enquiry is bi-partisan in its composition, but partisan responses are likely, all the same. Expect George and the boys to be out lobbying members of Parliament immediately the report is officially presented to the Victorian Parliament.
[Postscript: Comments etc. on the report are welcomed and will be included in future postings, should that be agreeable. Many thanks to those who have already done so – Lew]
Read more here:
TOMORROW: The compensation issue
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)