PARRAMATTA Bishop Vincent Long has told the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse that he was a victim of sexual abuse by clergy.
Bishop Long, who came to Australia as a refugee from Vietnam, told the commission he was abused soon after his arrival.
“I was also a victim of sexual abuse by clergy when I first came to Australia, even though I was adult,” he said.
“So, that had a powerful impact on me and how I want to walk in the shoes of other victims, and endeavour to obtain justice and dignity for them.
“We are all products of our life experiences.”
Commissioners questioned Bishop Long about whether structures had changed sufficiently to prevent further child abuse occurring.
On February 21, bishops were questioned about clericalism, celibacy, formation and priest selection, in a wide-ranging session that scrutinised the Church culture, a “massive failure of leadership”, cover up, and an ignorance of the crime.
“There’s a massive failure in our mission … particularly to vulnerable people … young children,” Canberra and Goulburn Archbishop Christopher Prowse said.
“We have messed up, done wrong… We must be able to work more transparently with government agencies… not to be so in house … on another orbit from the orbit of Australia.
“Coming together on this is a present and future challenge.”
Archbishop Prowse said too many victims had faced “an uncaring wall” in seeking a response from the Church, something he hoped to address through the work of the Institute for Professional Standards and Safeguarding set up in his archdiocese.
Commissioner Andrew Murray put it to Archbishop Prowse that what prevailed in the Church and allowed child abuse to occur at high rates was “secrecy, cover-up and poor process which has damaged the Church”.
“You are responsible to the Pope? You’ve got the courage to say to the Pope, ‘no more of that?’” Commissioner Murray asked.
“If I had the opportunity, most certainly,” Archbishop Prowse said.
Darwin Bishop Eugene Hurley described to the commission the system of mandatory reporting of alleged child abuse that exists in the Northern Territory. It is mandatory for any adult to report.
Bishop Hurley explained how he selected overseas priests to work in his diocese – visiting the priest’s country to conduct extensive interviews and conduct background checks before making appointments.
He also spoke strongly in support of a national compensation redress scheme.
“I think it is imperative if we are to deal with this thing,” he said.
Bishop Long gave his opinion of clericalism and greater Church accountability.
He described an “almost divinely inspired pecking order” in the Church “heavily tilted towards the ordained so that you have the pope, the cardinals the bishops, the religious, consecrated men and women and the laity right at the bottom of the pyramid”.
“And I think we need to dismantle that model of Church,” he said.
“What do we do in terms of empowering the people… what do we do about the full participation and women in particular in the governance structures of the Church.
“And I think these are serious issues that need to be addressed to come clean of this abuse crisis, because it’s not just the symptoms on the surface but what lies underneath it.
“And it’s harder to address what lies underneath the phenomenon than addressing what’s on the surface.”
– Mark Bowling