Clerical Culture, Religious Organisations and the Royal Commission Report

University of Melbourne Chaplaincy and Religions for Peace Australia – Victoria Branch, conducted an extensive presentation into clerical culture and its effect on Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) at Melbourne University on Tuesday 6th February 2018. The presentation was well attended.


Prof. Des Cahill commenced by saying, “Child sexual abuse (CSA), including clerical child sexual abuse, has always been with us, inc. in New Testament and subsequently throughout history.” In the lead up to the Royal Commission, there were 89 ‘relevant reports’ since 1989. There were a total of 16 international reports.

The Methodology of the Royal Commission amounted to,

  • Private sessions and written accounts: 8,846 people + 992 written accounts
  • Notices that produced 1,234,114 documents
  • Hearings (57 in 444 days with 45,341 pages)
  • Case studies – 57 of which 10 were wrap-ups
  • Papers: 11 issue papers + 5 consultation papers
  • Community forums: 44 + 6 youth (inc. 3 in youth detention centres)
  • Impact – Online: (1,211,450 Visitors)
  • Impact – Police referrals: (2,252)

Risk factors of adult child sex abusers scoped to include – inter alia,

  • Adverse experiences in childhood: physical and emotional abuse, sexual abuse (‘abused abuser’), neglect, poor fathering
  • Interpersonal relationships and emotional difficulties (difficulty connecting with adults, intimacy problems, poor social skills, emotional affiliation with children)
  • Distorted beliefs and ‘thinking errors’ supportive of CSA
  • Indirect influences, inc. contextual or trigger factors: stress and life transitions, mental health issues, substance issues, violently sexually explicit material (inc. children) … -Vol. 2, p. 126

Prof. Cahill also went over risk factors for child sex abuse associated with institutions:

  • Lack of understanding or awareness of child sexual abuse
  • Failure to listen to children
  • Failure to educate children about healthy and appropriate sexual development
  • Prioritization of reputation over children
  • Cultivation of secrecy and isolation
  • Failure to see the prevention of CSA as a shared responsibility
  • Failure to address racism and prejudice
  • Normalization of harmful practices -Vol. 2, p. 159

Prof. Cahill explained the contribution of clericalism in the Catholic Church:

  • To be understood within the context of the theology of the priesthood
  • The theological theory of ‘ontological change’ upon ordination
  • Canon law as reinforcing clericalism
  • The model of the Church as a ‘societas perfecta
  • Interaction of clericalism with narcissism
  • Ideas of power and powerlessness
  • Interaction with the avoidance of scandal and a culture of secrecy
  • Its impact on interactions with wider community and civil authorities

The Royal Commission’s reccomendations for religious institutions were considered (58 in total):

  • Application of 10 Child Safe Standards, compliance and reporting
  • Religious leaders be accountable to an appropriate authority or body
  • Children in religious institutions be provided with age-appropriate education
  • Candidates for religious ministry undergo external psychological testing, inc. psychosexual assessment
  • Professional supervision during ministry
  • Overseas-trained religious ministers: screening, initial training and professional supervision
  • Continuing inservice training
  • Proper handling of complaints
  • Action to be taken after conviction – removal from ministry
  • A national memorial in Canberra (last recommendation)

Critical to the issue of Child Sexual Abuse in Religious Institutions is the matter of religious freedom, governance, and management of religious personnel and religious diversity. The mantr of Facilitating, Brokering, Monitoring, Protecting was provided. The democratic state has a facilitating and brokering role in ensuring that religious freedom as a relative right is assured and enhanced as well as a role in facilitating harmony between the various religious and ethnoreligious groups. In accordance with Article 18 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the State, in a multi-faith society, also has a monitoring, self-protective role to prevent the development of violent religious extremism, or a religiously supported ethno nationalism, or a dangerous religious pathology that damages individuals, families and communities. In all times and in all places, the State has a duty to protect the community.

Download the Full Report: Child Sex Abuse and the Catholic Church