Religions for Peace Australia is providing this coverage of state and national inquiries into child sexual abuse from a multi-faith and interfaith perspectives as a service to the community.
On Monday 12 November 2012 the Prime Minister of Australia announced the establishment of a Royal Commission into institutional responses to instances and allegations of child sexual abuse in Australia.
During April 2012, the Government of Victoria announced a Parliamentary inquiry into the processes by which religious and other non-government organisations respond to the criminal abuse of children by personnel within their organisations. The Chair of Religions for Peace Australia (Prof. Desmond Cahill) was required to appear before this inquiry.
The forthcoming national inquiry (Royal Commission) will examine institutions other than religion: where oversight, management and responsibility for duty of care for the welfare and well-being of children and young adolescents is involved, the following segments of our community may expect to be subject to scrutiny:
- religious institutions and new religious movements (i.e. organisations with cult characteristics)
- Educational institutions
- Sporting institutions
- Community institutions
- Recreational and Sporting institutions
- residential care institutions
- residential medical and psychiatric institutions
- custodial institutions for children and adolescents
Australia is a pluralist nation which enjoys high international regard and respect for its acceptance of, promotion and integration of a multicultural policy and immigration programme. This has created a multifaith nation wherein those who profess religious faith, those who do not profess a faith, and those who do not pursue religion or faith in any form - live, work and enjoy their lives in harmony, tolerance and celebration of the difference of the many cultures which make up Australia.
Australia has a long religious heritage. Its indigenous people developed an awareness of a covenantal relationship between humans and God that involved obligations and responsibilities about 40,000 BCE – long before the rise of the Abrahamic belief system. Then, with the arrival of Europeans, Christianity became the foundation of its new society, its governance and its self-understanding.
However the situation has changed quite significantly in little more than two generations. One in fourteen Australians, heavily concentrated in communities in the Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne triangle, is now an adherent of a religion other than Christianity. Temples, mosques, synagogues and gurdwaras now dot the Australian landscape. In some cities, those who belong to faiths other than Christianity rise to nearly one in six.
Based on the current census statistical data, it may be expected that by 2020, 50% of the population will be Christian, 32% will be "nones" (or religion not stated) and the remaining 18% will be of non-Christian belief and practice.
In the context of formal inquiries into institutional abuse of children by state and federal governments, religions are being, and will be, exposed to scrutiny of their spiritual leadership, governance and compliance with statutory law where abuse incidents have occurred (or are alleged to have occurred) to children in their care.
Where abuse has happened in institutions and communities of religions other than the Christian religion, what questions must be asked? What values are relevant? How does the multifaith and interfaith endeavour—which Australia is a global leader—proceed in dialogue and harmony with that spiritual and religious leadership? This exposes deeper questions which all religions must grapple with:
- What is Spiritual Leadership?
- What is the purpose of Spiritual Leadership in any religion?
- What does the community expect of Spiritual Leadership in the different religions?
- What personal and communal obligations and responsibilities does that Spiritual Leadership involve or imply?
- What does the community demand with regard to compliance with criminal law by Spiritual Leadership?
- How does Interfaith Dialogue contribute to Spiritual Leadership which is responsive to the values and expectations of the peoples of Australia?
The issue of institutional child sexual abuse is not limited to Christianity alone. In the light of this morally demanding (and at times repugnant) phenomena, all religions must ask themselves these and other questions - particularly in instances where child sexual abuse has been exposed by past, current and (may be exposed) forthcoming inquiries.
Response by Religions for Peace Australia
Religions for Peace (Australia), formerly known as the World Conference of Religions for Peace (Australia) is Australia's largest community-based organisation working for inter-religious harmony and social cohesion.
The mission of Religions for Peace Australia is to work for interreligious peace and harmony and for social cohesion in Australia as well as upholding the universal values of authentic religion and spirituality. Its aims are:
- (a) to work with faith traditions and religious organisations for interreligious understanding and harmony in Australia, including the right to freedom of belief, and across the world;
- (b) to highlight the salience of religion in multifaith Australia, highlighting its resources and the importance of religion and spirituality in national life;
- (c) to work with religious and interfaith organisations as well as with government and civil agencies in achieving social cohesion in Australia;
- (d) to create social wealth for the Australian nation, ensuring that the role of religious bodies is positively appreciated;
- (e) to sponsor activities and events, including research and evaluative studies, into the multicultural and interfaith perspective in society;
- (f) to work with educational bodies to educate the different levels and sectors of society about religion itself and the many faith traditions;
- (g) to support national and local interfaith organisations in Australia in their work in local government areas;
- (h) to organise meetings of religious leaders at national and local levels and with political and civic leaders;
- (i) to encourage interfaith activity and the formation of interfaith organisations among particular groups, including the young;
The current Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry and the forthcoming Royal Commission will doubtless traverse deeply divisive territory for many practitioners of all faiths. Leaders of faiths other than Christianity which has been the focus of calls for a Royal Commission have found these matters repugnant and difficult to comprehend.
Our goal here is to aid interfaith understanding of these matters and to encourage an environment of dialogue and understanding. It is not our intention to uncover abuses in other religions, but rather, to further understanding for harmony and co-operation, and ultimately, to make Australia a land which promotes authenticity in religious endeavour and spirituality.