Call for state input on abuse by priests

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The Sydney Morning Herald

November 2, 2012

Barney Zwartz

Intervention … Frank Brennan.

ONE of the leading Catholic intellectuals in Australia says the church needs state intervention to resolve the crisis surrounding sexual abuse of children by priests.

Noted jurist and Jesuit priest Frank Brennan said the ”church cannot be left alone to get its house in order”.

”Where there is a social organisation within the democracy with a proven and self-admitted case of ongoing criminal activity, and it’s related to very vulnerable children, the state should intervene,” he said.

Delivering the annual Law and Justice Oration in Sydney’s Parliament House on Wednesday night, Professor Brennan said that as politicians decided how to proceed they needed the help of “lawyers committed to justice, not lawyers acting primarily to protect the church or to condemn it”.

Professor Brennan said on Thursday it was too early to say what form state intervention should take, and that the Victorian inquiry and current inquiry by retired judge Antony Whitlam in NSW would give guidance.

However he was less pessimistic than RMIT professor and former priest Desmond Cahill about the church’s ability to reform itself. “As we say in the church, ‘semper reformanda’ (always to be reformed). It’s always reforming. Whether it can do it without other assistance, the jury is out,” he said.

Professor Cahill told the Victorian inquiry that about one in 20 Catholic priests was a child abuser, far more than in other churches or religions. Professor Brennan said in his oration that if there were particular problems in the Catholic Church they needed to be identified for the good of all citizens, not just Catholics.

“At the moment, there is little more that any Catholic priest can credibly say on this issue in the public square. I make this plea to all lawyers having a commitment to justice. While putting aside any religious prejudice, please contribute fearlessly to the debate.”

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