Some Pre-Hearing Thoughts (Or: Criminal Justice?)

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Image Source: www.toonpool.com

Tomorrow will see the first mention of the Catholic Church at the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, more than a year after its announcement by former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard –an atheist. Times change. The new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is not only a Christian, he is a former Catholic Church seminarian who eventually chose politics over the priest hood, and is an old mate of Australia’s only Cardinal, George Pell (see previous posting). It is likely to be Abbott who will oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, and even decide which ones will, indeed, be implemented at all.

One can only assume, and expect, that Mr. Abbott will not let his religion and friendships get in the way of doing the right thing by the enquiry. It is, given the low standing of politicians in general, in Australia and most of the western democracies, particularly notable that there is more confidence in them doing the right thing, than of members of the clergy of the different churches doing the right thing – at least of their own volition.

Politician may hold themselves up as being honest, moral and ethical but only to the standard of the average voter. Unlike the religious leaders, they do not hold themselves out as being paragons of virtue.

The revelations of clerical abuses of children have shattered the myth of the “holy” men and women in Western society, as being morally superior. However, it is the covering up of the crimes which have demonstrated that their ethical standards fall well below those of the average person. The church’s standards are down there with society’s criminals. That is what the general public finds so shocking.

What tomorrow’s hearing will begin to reveal, is that there is an even lower standard the churches get away with than even the average criminal. Society punishes the criminals, and in many cases makes them pay restitution, especially for white collar crimes and crimes committed by corporations and the like. Most jurisdictions have victim compensation schemes, paid for by the state if necessary. Not so with the churches.

For some obscure historical reasons, society is comfortable in dealing with religiously-affiliated offenders much more mildly than with other offenders. For example, one of the things the Royal Commission must look at is the fact that the rape of a child by a clergyman tends to attract a much more lenient sentence that that for the rape of an adult by a person who is not a clergyman. The person who aids an embezzler cover his tracks will normally suffer quite severe consequences, yet the Bishop who covers-up for his paedophile priest, does not even face charges.

The above three factors indicate that church standards have fallen below that of the average member of society. Perhaps, this has always been the case, and it is only the 21st century information-sharing potentials which have exposed it so thoroughly. Perhaps, the church people were, indeed, more virtuous previously, but have since become corrupted. Comparative Religion 101 teaches that all “founder” religions become corrupted by the end of their first century of existence.

There is a fourth factor which will become apparent during the hearings beginning tomorrow. Even among criminals convicted of the same offence, and degree of that offence, society makes a distinction between those who plead guilty and those who do not. The one who pleads guilty is regarded as being more “virtuous” by comparison than the one who pleads not-guilty, and punishment is frequently less severe for the former person.

Now, the public has become used to church officials pleading “guilty” as it were, about past abuses, cover-ups etc., although the initial approach some years ago was a “not guilty” plea, that is denial of the abuse and cover-ups, which further damaged the victims. The most recent hearing, on the Anglican Church, highlighted this distinction.

Finally, even among offenders who plead guilty, society makes one further distinction of who is the more “virtuous”. That is the expression of remorse. While the distinction between those pleading guilty and those pleading not guilty is clear-cut, the expression of “genuine” remorse is harder to define and requires serious probing by court officials.

So, overall, society is likely to be most lenient on an offender of previous good character, who pleads guilty and expresses remorse for the crime. The churches have tried to paint themselves as such offenders, in order to be treated more lightly by the public.

Yes, the Catholic Church has thrown up martyrs to freedom, the Anglicans have provided leads in social change and the Salvos have helped the poor and disabled, so they may qualify for consideration of previously “good character” (although many may say this is not strictly true).

And yes, the churches have “confessed” to past wrong-doings, although again some would say it is only because they have been presented with irrefutable evidence, after previous denials. The “apology” from the churches has become the standard way to plead “guilty”, but the wording of some of these statements leaves much to be desired. The inclusion of words such as “may have”, “some”, “feel that..” etc. has left many victims questioning the sincerity of such “guilty” pleas.

Tomorrow’s hearing of the Commission will not really cover those issues, and analogies, mentioned above. Instead of examining the church’s crimes, admissions and pledges to improve in the future, it will examine the aspect of “remorse”.

The hearing will be on the “Towards Healing” process, used by the Catholic Church but which has its equivalent in other denominations, which is billed as expressing remorse by assisting victims in a meaningful way. The Commission will make its own determinations on the sincerity of this “remorse”, but the court of public opinion will, also, make its own determination. Hopefully, the two determinations will coincide.

[Postscript: The first hearings in the New Year (January 28th) will focus on the Alikra Salvation Army Boys’ Home. The author was in that Home during the time of the events which the enquiry will cover. The author has requested to be permitted to enter both a written submission, and to give oral evidence at the hearing. To date, the Commission has not replied. If the Commission continues to deny me my right to be heard about the abuses I witnessed, then I will have to engage in some form of extreme protest, such as a hunger strike, against the Commission itself, as well as against the Salvation Army, which the Commission would be de facto protecting from my evidence.]

Pro-Catholic Propaganda Feature: In the interests of a “fair and balanced” blog, the following photo from the Vatican PR Unit is re-posted.

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TOMORROW: The “Towards Healing” hearings begin

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)

 

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