It has overwhelming public popularity, but Frank O’Shea asks whether a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse is really necessary — or even worthwhile.
DON'T YOU FEEL just a little bit uncomfortable about that 95 per cent figure for those who support the call for a Royal Commission into the sexual abuse of children?
Surely, such unanimity should ring some alarm bells, some nagging thought that maybe, just maybe, we are being manipulated. The Government party proposes it, the Opposition supports it, the media – who have been taking a proactive role in agitating for it – congratulates itself on achieving it.
The moderator may ask me why I write media as a singular noun ― don’t you know your Latin, you drongo? But the fact is that in this matter, the media is speaking with a single voice, without demur, with no examination about why a royal commission is necessary. If Irish experience is anything to go by, it will go on for ten years or more at great expense to the taxpayer and great enrichment of the legal profession. Not to speak of all the outrage that it will allow journalists to spill over the country.
Here is what we know.
Children have been abused by people who were entrusted with their care. Some of those abusers were priests with a vow of celibacy or religious brothers with a vow of chastity (a much more rigorous imposition). Some were teachers or scout leaders or youth workers or club workers. Some were close relatives or family friends of the young person, a few were total strangers. We do not need a Royal Commission to tell us all that.
The law of the land is sufficiently strong to deal with such crimes and if it needs to be strengthened, then that should be done. Many of the abused have been scarred for life and need ongoing care, but we have been told that this is not about compensation and we believe that. However, ongoing care can be expensive and an injured party is entitled to seek damages as in any normal injury.
Nevertheless, this is all infected by the fact that there is an industry called insurance which is prepared to fight any monetary payouts to the bitter end and an even bigger industry called the legal profession which wants their thirty per cent. If the law of the land requires that any organisation, including the Catholic Church, be sued into penury ― let it happen; but it should not need a royal commission to make it happen.
It is true that a Commission allows those who have been abused to tell their story ― something they might otherwise not do. It will require courage to do so and psychologists tell us that it may relieve their pain. The stories will be gruesome and awful and if they are cathartic for the teller, then they may serve a good purpose.
But I come back again to ask whether a Royal Commission is necessary or is the best way to go about this. Consider that, some years ago, the Federal government was faced with evidence of sexual abuse of children in remote communities in Australia. They did something about it and did so with some vigour and serious intent. They got little thanks for their effort and, in fact, the person leading the work lost his seat at the next election.
Today’s Fairfax newspapers report that research is showing parents are buying alcohol for their children as young as 14. Should that not constitute abuse? Another recent report said that there are places in this country where up to 50 per cent of children are born with foetal alcohol syndrome. Now that’s an abuse that requires firm action. Where are the lawyers prepared to take on the alcohol industry ― brewers, distillers, off licences, clubs. Whatever about the first three, you certainly wouldn’t want to take on the clubs, as the government knows only too well.
Then there is the whole industry around the warehousing of very young children when the mother has to go back to work. A society that allows housing costs to explode so that the only way a couple can afford their own home is for both to join the paid workforce has questions to answer about its priorities.
Someone has coined the word “correctorate” for the modern trend of commentators to agree on certain positions in matters that ought to be open for discussion. Right now, beating up on the Catholic Church is an example. A religion based on a book of fables written by desert nomads, whose leadership is exclusively male, whose ministers are required to go against what evolution has developed for continuation of the species, whose local leader comes across as a pompous snob – what could be a softer target?
It’s an easy life, this journalism.
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