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Published: 14 February 2017
Author: Marina Leikina

Does Catholic Church's screening process stand up to scrutiny?

Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse hearings

What is an appropriate screening process for lay persons wishing to enter a Catholic religious order, especially one that is exposed to working with children?

This was the topic of the day as the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse continued its investigation into the training of priests and nuns within the Church.

Psychologist Dr Gerardine Robinson yesterday told the Commission that in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s offending priests believed they had not breached their vows of celibacy by abusing children because this did not involve relations with a woman. Dr Robinson said this ‘cognitive distortion’ was caused by offending priests seeing children as objects over which they had ownership.

Today the Commission is hearing evidence from Catholic Church witnesses who oversee the formation and training of priests, and who conduct their screening and psychological assessments.

Homosexual attraction not acceptable for priests

The Commission has heard that a person’s sexual orientation forms part of psychological assessment undertaken by candidates for priesthood and that “deep seated homosexual attraction” disqualifies a candidate from entry. This is mandated by the Vatican.

The Commission observed that there was no such clear direction from the Vatican about attraction to children disqualifying a candidate from priesthood.

While there was a general consensus among the witnesses that psychological testing of candidates for priesthood was important, there was no clear, shared understanding of inappropriate characteristics.

A suggestion from seminary rector Father Peter Thompson, that a lack of religious devotion made offending conduct by priests possible, was met with criticism from the Commissioners. The Commissioners observed that the evidence showed that some offending priests were extraordinary devout.

A recap of the Commission’s data

For those who did not catch the opening address of this hearing, a full transcript is available here: http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/case-study/261be84b-bec0-4440-b294-57d3e7de1234/case-study-50,-february-2017,-sydney

In summary, the information gathered by the Commission revealed that:

  • 60% of survivors who attended a private session with the Commissioners reported that they experienced abuse at a religious institution. Two thirds reported that the abuse occurred in Catholic institutions;
  • Claims of sexual about were made again 1000 different institutions;
  • Of those who made complaints of sexual abuse at a Catholic institution 78% were male and 22% were female;
  • The average gage of children at the time the abuse occurred was 10 and half years for girls and 11.6 years for boys; and
  • The average length of time it took for a complaint to be made following the abuse was 33 years.

The public hearing continues. 

You can follow our commentary on proceedings here throughout the hearing.

Categories: Royal Commission