The special commission of inquiry into child sex abuse in the Catholic Church announced by New South Wales Premier, Barry O'Farrell, doesn't go nearly far enough. Belated calls for the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to launch a full royal commission are now gaining strength albeit in the face of resistance from church leaders and some federal government and opposition MPs. O'Farrell's inquiry has been roundly criticised by independent MP, Tony Windsor - who described it as pathetic - and sections of the national media. So what precisely is the difference between the two and why is there continued resistance?
A special commission of inquiry, though trumpeted by O'Farrell as being similar to a royal commission, would be a localised inquiry lacking the terms of reference needed to fully expose the systemic nature of church paedophilia, including the alleged cover-ups by its heirarchy beyond state borders. In effect it would be a bandaid on smallpox. A federal royal commission by virtue of its credibility, wider national scope, and broad terms of reference would be empowered by access to a far greater range of resources and witnesses in order to root out the covert network of paedophiliac priests and the wall of silence that enables it to thrive.
Why the resistance? As you would expect there is no single reason because religion touches every aspect of civilised society. Even in a secular society like Australia the Catholic Church remains a powerful institution with strong political influence. It maintains this influence via a network of connections that reaches into all tiers of government and many other important institutions. By shedding overdue light on the culpability of the church heirarchy the findings of an inquiry could also put the spotlight on others of the faith in positions of power.
In other words a forced confessional in the form of a royal commission might uncover criminality and cover- up so deeply entrenched and widespread that it would shake and fracture the establishment before a shocked public. Secondly, the sanctity of the church is based on a set of doctrines and rituals including seven sacred sacrements, one of which is the confessional; the basis of the confessional is that a man's sins are answerable only to God. A royal commission might just force a compromise of the sanctity of the confession box in the eyes of church leadership. Cardinal Pell has already declared it to be a witch hunt by Anti-Catholics.
By their resistance it's plain to see the church is putting themselves first, honesty second, and justice for the victims last. A royal commission with wide reaching powers is crucial if we as a society are going to get to the bottom of church paedophilia. At the very least it would indicate to the people just how seriously the Commonwealth is taking this vile issue. But on the more important practical level it would tear in two the veil of secrecy the perpetrators have been lurking behind and force the church to become more honest, accountable, and more transparent. Above all those considerations: there would be real justice for the scarred victims of child sex abuse, now and then.
The victims must live with the scars forever, but for concerned citizens looking on, the cruellest part of this sordid affair is the issue of broken trust. For these men - men of the cloth - who have been or were entrusted with the guardianship of young and innocent lives in the belief that they were honour-bound by a higher moral duty, for them to violate that trust in such a monsterous way is unforgivable. I personally believe there is no justice after death, but with the findings of a royal commission their time will have come. Now.