Geoffrey Robertson vs The Catholic Church – Some Thoughts from the GAC

Posted by on April 22, 2012 in Featured, Thoughts | 5 comments

One of the most important and impactful talks given at the Global Atheist Convention was delivered by human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC, and focused on his case for bringing the catholic church to justice over the thousands of known cases of child sexual abuse committed against children who were apparently “under the care” of the Catholic Church. He says the is a case against Pope Benedict which could find him liable for not reacting accordingly to the allegations against members of the clergy, and that the whole structure of the Catholic Church could come under fire for these cases. This has been an ongoing field of interest for Robertson, who says that it was a conversation with Christopher Hitchens that spurred him into action over this case.

In an interview with ABC Australia from 2010, Robertson states his case, particularly against Benedict himself:

“For 30 years, as Cardinal Ratzinger, from 1981 on, he was in charge of what to do about paedophile priests and he declined on the whole to even defrock them. It’s been many centuries since a Pope has resigned but it would be a very dignified and honourable action. He is 83 after all and it would give victims worldwide – and estimates put them up to 100,000 victims – a chance to feel that something is being done, not mere words. We’ve got to see that tens of thousands of children who have been raped by priests … as a human rights atrocity. It’s gone on throughout the world. Wherever the church is, there have been abusers.”

The problem is very widespread, and it seems that it is within the culture of the Catholic Church to accept cases of rape among their clergy perpetrated mostly on young boys, as “an undesirable thing that happens”. The reaction to allegations of child abuse at the hands of clergy has been typically to sweep it under the rug and move the priest to a new location where he is unknown. Of course the only thing this does is allow the paedophile priest opportunities for new victims, and the cycle continues. In some cases the offending priests have been defrocked, stripped of their rights as a priest.

It is this very culture that makes this a difficult case to pursue. Dr Cathy Kezelman, the president of Adults Surviving Child Abuse wrote in a piece in The National Times:

“Religious institutions are predominantly closed patriarchal systems. The more closed the organisation or institution, often the greater the investment in maintaining silence and secrecy. Perpetrators use secrecy and silence to hide their crimes and if secrecy fails, they attack the credibility of victims to try to ensure that no one listens.”

“In many religious institutions the hierarchical systems have perpetuated secrecy and denial, led by an inherent belief that the religious institution knows best and will handle the issue internally, thereby seeking to contain the shame and controversy around such crimes.”

Currently here in Victoria, the State government has decided to go ahead with an inquiry into child sex abuse cases within the Catholic church, which is welcome news for those who have been abused. But I say this is not enough. There should be a Full Royal Commission into these abuse cases, and those found guilty should be tried and charged as any other member of society would be tried and charged. There is a danger that if this case is not handled with enough force that the rates of suicides among victims could increase. Dr Kezelman urges that this must be only the beginning of a larger investigation into child sexual abuse at the hands of the clergy.

As would be expected, The Mad Monk and would-be Prime Minister of Australia, Mr Tony Abbott, says that we shouldn’t just blame the church, but seek out the real causes of child abuse in society at large. In response to the Victorian government’s investigation into child sex abuse claims against the Catholic church, he says:

“There has been a lot of pretty gruesome behaviour in many institutions over the years and we should be careful not to single out particular institutions, given that a lot of this has been or it was pandemic a generation ago.”

While this is true, the Catholic Church’s actions should not be ignored simply because the problem is more widespread. Mr Abbott is known for his strong religious views, so is it any wonder that he’s loathe to point the finger at the church as the source of these problems? Abbott should, if he had a conscience, be standing firmly behind the decision to investigate the paedophile priests, but his religious ties, and his pandering to the Australian Christian Lobby prevents him from doing so. But Mr Abbott is quite right in stating that it is more widespread than just the Catholic church. In 2009 the Anglican church released a report on 191 cases of abuse perpetrated between 1990 and 2008. This really is just the tip of the iceberg.

It seems to me that these cases of abuse are not taken seriously enough by those with the power to make changes, and bring these paedophiles to justice. Mr Robertson has quite a task on is hands if his case against The Pope is to prove successful, but I applaud his efforts and hope that the victims of child sexual abuse at the hands of priests can one day have some sense of respite and see justice done.

For further information and to keep up with the cases within Australia, have a look at SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) and Clergy Sexual Abuse in Australia.


VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)


  1. To some degree (and it pains me to say this) I somewhat agree with Tony Abbott’s assessment. Predatory behavior of this kind must be investigated and prosecutions brought wherever they a found, but there is one overarching issue seemingly unique to the Catholic Church – what do we do with an institution which systematically hides, obfuscates, protects, and fails to adequately punish those who commit such atrocious acts? Not only are the victims of these abusive crimes long overdue for justice, but we must also enforce santicions and penalties on organisations which enable these crimes.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    •  @askegg of course, and I hoped that this came across in my article. I see the Chatholic church as a great starting point. What annoys me is that it seems Abbott is trying to shift attention away from churches, where we know this kind of abuse is rampant, and throwing it back onto the public in general. I say, start here, and move forward wherever it is found.

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
      •  @martinspribble  @askegg Abbott implies the public are outraged at the RCC simply because it’s an outrageous crime. When our TRUE outrage is because it’s outrageous that the Church systematically protects clergy instead of notifying police to protect her congregation.

        VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
        Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  2. I’m worried the parliamentary enquiry might be too impotent to get anything done. If it fails, it could be used as a defense in the future, like “the parliamentary enquiry found nothing, stop hassling us, why are you waging a war on catholics” etc.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  3. Great post Martin.  I have never understood or perhaps accepted is a better word the reason why pedophile priests were not tried in civil courts.  In the U.S. there were few cases that made it that far.  In reality, as you point out, facts are hidden and witnesses are discredited.  One of the largest perpetrators in this scandal was Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston.  He covered up many cases of child abuse for years.  When the scandal broke, he was removed from his post in Boston and recommissioned in Rome—recommissioned to a higher post.  He never faced any charges here in the States. 
    I fully support Mr. Robertson’s attempts to bring justice to this matter.  The Catholic Church, is in my opinion, the most dangerous of religious institutions.  I blogged about some of my reasons for that today so won’t spend too much time on it here.  The gist of it is that they do not play the “fire and brimstone” game that evangelical christians play.  Rather, Rome is much more skilled at political and legal propaganda, intrigue, and deception.  They are a far more dangerous foe to religious freedom  than the other branches of Christianity. 
    It is sheer folly and a tragedy that the priests guilty of child molestation have not been called to task and a further affront that the organization has also not had to answer for its crimes against humanity, which in my opinion, extend beyond the cases of child rape.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

Have your say

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: