29 August 2017, The Tablet

Catholic Church in Australia unlikely to change, abuse review head says

Ms Proust said she feared the Church would emerge from the Royal Commission only 'partially cleansed and unreconstructed'

Catholic Church in Australia unlikely to change, abuse review head says

Two members of the Truth Justice and Healing Council - the body established by the Australian bishops and religious orders to liaise with the Royal Commission - have spoken out, with Vice Chair Ms Elizabeth Proust telling the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that she was "pessimistic" about the Church's willingness to reform and Council member Professor Greg Craven criticising the Commission and media coverage.

Ms Proust, a businesswoman and former leading civil servant, said she feared the Church would emerge from the Royal Commission only "partially cleansed and unreconstructed".

"I fear there's a view that once the royal commission reports, and the publicity around what will be a fairly dire report once that all dies down, that life will go back to what it was," she told the ABC's 'Religion and Ethics Report' on 16 August. "I hope I'm wrong. I'd like to think that the possibility for real transformation of the Church exists, but it's an institution that's been very slow to change on a whole range of issues."

Ms Proust - who chairs the Australian Institute of Company Directors and formerly was head of the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet and CEO of the City of Melbourne - said she didn't see any sign "that the lessons have been truly learned to the point where the institution of the Church is being questioned by those who've got the ability to change it".

"... What we have in terms of governance of the Church is at least a medieval structure. Most institutions today, including in the private sector where I work, have gone through very fundamental reforms. Very little has changed in Church governance. In the rest of society, you don't generally see all-male structures and in fact when you do see them society calls it out today... none of that thinking has permeated the Catholic Church in any form."

She said the ordination of women would not happen in her lifetime but it would come "or else the Church will continue to fade and in some cases disappear altogether".

Professor Craven, the Vice-Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, wrote in The Weekend Australian newspaper on 19 August that despite assurances, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse "overwhelmingly has conducted itself, and has been viewed, as an inquiry into Catholic child abuse".

"Adoring media outlets have egged it on, with royal commissioner Peter McClellan and counsel assisting Gail Furness seen more as folk heroes than public servants whose performance is to be scrutinised," he wrote.

"Any attempt to express or explain a church position is stigmatised as an assault on victims, an abuse of process and a moral contempt of the commission. In this climate, the only case is for the prosecution."

Professor Craven wrote that the Church would come through the present horror but must do two things: to acknowledge and atone for the atrocious crimes committed under its roof and to assess the directions and recommendations of the Royal Commission on their merits.

"The church must apologise, compensate and prevent on a comprehensive basis. Without that, it can never shed this shame.”

He contrasted the reputation of the Church in Australia with that of Pope Francis.

"Francis teaches not just a religious but a social creed of love, tolerance and empathy... When he talks about these things, people are not cynical. They recognise truth and sincerity when they hear it.

"As one unlikely Australian politician said to me, if Francis were eligible to stand for election as president of Australia, he would sweep the field. The Australian Church, acting humbly and justly in the spirit of Francis and his master, will survive."

PICTURE: A television screen photograph of the Australian Archbishops attending the Royal Commission Child Sex Abuse in Sydney, 23 February

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