A FEELING of deja vu might be affecting some minds in the wake of the report of the NSW special commission into allegations surrounding child sex abuse cases in the Catholic Church.
The sense that the Church will not look squarely into the face of its past sins seems troublingly familiar, as does the impression it might have more empathy for its own men of the cloth than it does for its parishioners – even those who have been victims of abuse.
Perhaps these sensations are unfair. Perhaps they are mistaken. They are, however, becoming more widespread with each passing day.
These feelings are gaining traction and becoming widely discussed and shared because of a perception – originating chiefly among members of the Church itself – that the organisation’s response to the damning findings of the commission of inquiry are weak, inadequate, patronising and self-serving.
On Tuesday night, in the NSW Parliament, former premier Barry O’Farrell raised this simmering discontent to the boil, criticising the Church’s response and calling for the general secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference, Father Brian Lucas, to be stood down.
It was Mr O’Farrell who, when premier, launched the inquiry after being confronted with allegations that the Church had brought pressure to bear to stifle police investigations into decades of systematic Church cover-ups.
The inquiry did not support that specific allegation, but provided no comfort to the Church.
On the contrary, the inquiry forensically dissected reams of Church documents dating as far back as the 1950s, proving in shocking detail just how comprehensive was the failure of a succession of high-ranking Catholic officials to deal appropriately with their intimate knowledge of the destructive behaviour of some rogue clergy.
In demanding action from the Church, Mr O’Farrell was echoing similar sentiments expressed by parishioners.
So far, however, the Church – while making sombre-sounding expressions of regret over events in the past – has notably declined to take any meaningful steps to reassure its flock it really has learnt anything at all.
By its continuing inaction and by its apparent lack of will to discipline individuals subject to adverse findings in the commission of inquiry, the Church is inviting the cynicism and scorn now being levelled against it.
In the past, it has been made clear, the Church made a much higher priority of shielding its reputation and protecting rogue clergy than it did of respecting the law or caring for the victims of cassocked abusers.
If it chooses, transparently, to maintain that discredited line, it will own all the inevitable consequences.