The Commission of Shame

“When I went into the confessional, he [the priest] asked me what ‘Father Holmes’ was doing and I told him. His answer was to give me 10 Hail Marys and 10 Our Fathers, and he told me that I was a disgusting girl and I wasn’t allowed to let [Father Holmes] touch me anymore. That’s something I will never get out of my mind – him turning his back on me and not helping me.” (name changed)

My quote is from the report of the Australian Royal Commission on child abuse, which has recently been published. I have to tell you that it is a a sad document for any Catholic who loves the Church, and a triumphal document for those who don’t.

It is a very lengthy report and I must admit that so far I have only had time to skim through the Executive Summary, although I paid close attention to the issues which have been examined in the Catholic Press. It seeks to look at the degree to which the cultures and operations of the Church may have contributed to the many years of widespread abuse which was never brought to light.

While I do not necessarily agree with all the factors which are considered I have no doubt that the structures of the Church contributed extensively to the scandal, and so to the damage done to the young. Unfortunately those structures are not substantially different throughout the Church. It would appear that the Commission was prompted by the extent of abuse in Australia but, if lessons are to be learnt, they will be pertinent throughout. As The Tablet put it in their Christmas issue: “Investigation after investigation, including in the United States and Ireland, has identified a culture in which protecting the good name of the Church came first, the welfare of transgressing clergy second, and the protection of the children a long way third.”

Among the issues noted was the strongly hierarchical nature of the Church. This seem to have led to its ability to conceal bad news and to disregard ’whistle blowers’. It also created a system of protection for individuals perhaps, at one level, as a means of avoiding scandal. But what was happening was not only an internal question, it was against the civil law. Canon Law is certainly criticised. It would seem that the one person whose needs were not properly addressed was the child who was being abused. In civil hierarchies, such as the army, facilities for individuals to protect their rights, even of the most junior, are provided.

The Commission used an interesting phrase: ‘cognitive rigidity’. This refers to an inability to question whatever rules and doctrines apply. In such an atmosphere nothing changes. Instead of the Church providing the secular world with an example of how just organisations should behave, it is positively medieval by comparison.

The Commission recommends that celibacy should be voluntary. I do not accept that celibacy in itself is a cause. But it seems possible that any group of celibates would attract a higher proportion of damaged personalities. This suggests that greater care is needed in initial selection. A further recommendation is that the seal of the confessional should not apply in child abuse cases. There would be an obligation to report. Leaving aside the broader issues of the seal, removing it would, I believe, be counter productive. Nevertheless it remains odd that in this one aspect of society an underage individual can report a serious breach of the law against their person, and it be taken no further. I can understand why civil authority is critical. Perhaps an obligation to offer help outside the confessional might be an alternative.

But, and it’s a big ‘but’, it would be a mistake to think that sorting out this shocking issue will solve the problem, and we can go home to tea. It is simply an outcome of an organisation which is lost within a failed culture. It is true that Vatican II went a long way towards outlining aspects of needed reform, but on the ground it is a long, long way from achieving it. Back in July 1964 (Clergy Review), Donald Nicholl (described in his obituary as “one of the most widely influential of modern Christian thinkers”) used the phrase émigré de l’intérieur to describe the Catholic who has to settle for being a second class citizen in a kingdom that does not have first claim on his heart. That’s 54 years ago, and counting.

The Commision’s executive summary is at

I addressed this general issue in 2016: (“Bad apples or bad barrels?” Find it through ‘search’). It was accompanied by an excellent discussion in which John Nolan, Nektarios, and others, were active.


About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Church and Society, Moral judgment and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

82 Responses to The Commission of Shame

  1. Martha says:

    A great deal more to be said, but one aspect which occurs to me every time the seal of Confession is mentioned is that forgiveness depends on contrition and making restitution as far as possible. Someone confessing abuse should surely be required to admit their guilt to the victim and take the consequences before receiving absolution?

    • galerimo says:

      Good point. In the case that Quentin quotes from the Commission here it is hard to see what would be the point of abolishing the “Seal”.

      The victim was confessing to a perpetrator. The “Confessor” may not have committed the crime that Fr Holmes did but his was just as bad when he made the child feel guilty for it. He would hardly break the “Seal” to incriminate himself.

      • Martha says:

        Yes, of course, you are right Galerimo in that instance. It does not apply in situations where the information comes from a victim of abuse rather than a penitent abuser. Victims often feel guilty in some way. and can confuse shame with feelings that they were at fault themselves, and so they will want to confess the sin themselves. A good confessor will reassure them on that score, and could also advise them about reporting the details, and help them with suggestions on how to do so effectively, as an alternative to doing so himself.

      • Martha says:

        I am referring to the normal seal of confession, not to a specific pontifical seal on this particular matter, which I had never heard of before.

  2. Hock says:

    As with all of these matters of abuse there is still the same underlying problem of an organisation examining complaints itself. There is still, despite all the evidence to the contrary, an assumption that the Church knows best and that a parish priest has to be involved in any so-called solution. Parishes now have a ‘safeguarding officer’ lay person, but who appoints them, who scrutinises their work, who do they report to ? Are they truly independent ? The ones I know of are on friendly terms with their pp’s. How can they then become truly objective? Indeed an abuser priest will ensure that the parish Safeguarding Officer is a personal friend who can be manipulated.
    These abuses will continue until there is a widespread overhaul of the system that takes all
    complaints /investigations completely away from the church authorities and given to an Independent body completely detached from any parish with appropriate powers that , as now, must be passed to the civil authorities ( police) for investigation.
    This of course refers mainly to Western democracies and may not be appropriate for some countries but until there are some definite structures in place that takes these matters totally away from any Church structures and are a complete overhaul of a bankrupt system then nothing will ever change.

    • galerimo says:

      This is a very good response. It is true that you can hardly expect justice when the Church is just investigating itself. But it is so true to focus on the local parish in this matter. It is in this area that the problem can be best addressed.

      Proper accountability and transparency is most effective in the local parish once the Church provides a framework for them and involves good people to implement them. And I agree that such people would have direct reporting functions with non-church authorities of law and order.

    • John Candido says:

      Very good points, Hock. You are right that these matters cannot be entrusted to the Roman Catholic Church, and it will take a very long time for the church as a whole as well as local parishes in different countries, to make appropriate changes that are open to continual review.

  3. galerimo says:

    It truly is a shocking report. Still Australians can be proud. Now we see clearly to what extent the crimes of abuse have been perpetrated on children, by whom, where and under what conditions. We can see from the report the damage that has been done and the failures of institutions in their responsibilities under duty of care.

    It is now clear just how disgraceful were the ways of handling allegations, dealing with victims as well as perpetrators. The failure of leadership in honesty and human decency is also clear. It was good to see an examination into the possible reasons why such abuse occurs and some attempt to understand it.

    Australians can be grateful too for Julia Gillard, the Welsh born and first Australian female Prime Minister and Quentin Bryce the first female Governor General who both used their offices to establish the commission five years ago. Many holders of these offices before these women were well aware of such crimes and never lifted a finger to help.

    There were a wide range of institutions investigated and not just the Catholic Church but at 62% it had the most survivors who told the commission they were abused. May God forgive us.

    What now, you ask, Quentin? Simple. Implement the recommendations of the commission.

    A body that is truly representative of the church, and not just the leaders should look at recommendations in order to apply them effectively and in the best way possible – that involves constant review.

    This needs to include the mandatory reporting to police of criminal allegations, review of canon law in regard to use of the “pontifical secret”, proper implementation of complaint procedures, review of mandatory celibacy and the culture of clericalism as contributing factors as well as all the other recommendations.

    It can no longer be business as usual.

    • Quentin says:

      For anyone unfamiliar with the ‘pontifical secret’ here is my note on it from an earlier posting:

      “The bishop is between a rock and a hard place. And one rock is especially jagged. It is called the pontifical secret. Briefly, Canon Law prohibits reporting abuse to the civil authorities, under pain of potential excommunication. In 2010 (2002 in the US) reporting was permitted where the civil law required it — but this does not apply to countries like Italy or Poland where there is no civil requirement. Having been intended to give protection similar to other forms of professional confidence it acted, and acts, as a cover up. Throughout many years reporting was effectively prohibited by the episcopal oath of obedience.”

    • John Candido says:

      Wonderful summary of this damning report, galerimo.

  4. John Thomas says:

    “I do not accept that celibacy in itself is a cause”- apparently there is much child abuse by MARRIED clergy (ie. Episcopalian, Protestant, etc.) in the US. I don’t belong to a church in which clergy have to be celibate – but I know that celibacy is indeed not the cause. It is only for the Church/es to decide if, or if not, clergy are required to be celibate (not this Commission).

  5. Horace says:

    Apropos “The report of the Australian Royal Commission” which is, as Quentin states, a very lengthy document and I have by no means been able to read (let alone understand) all of it – nevertheless there are two paragraphs with which I unequivocally agree :-

    “We recommend that if a complaint of child sexual abuse against a person in religious ministry is substantiated, the person should be permanently removed from the ministry. Canon law should be amended to this effect. “
    “We also recommend that canon law be amended to ensure that priests and religious convicted of a child sexual abuse-related offence in a civil court are dismissed from the priesthood and/or religious life.”

  6. Iona says:

    Wondering who is responsible for amending Canon law, – but no doube Quentin can tell us.
    Hock (above) mentions the role of the parish safeguarding officer. In my parish, I am the safeguarding officer, and this was indeed at the request of my pp. I’ve had to have a DBI, of course, so to that extent I have been checked. Anyone with a complaint of abuse is supposed to report it to me, and in turn I report not to the pp but to the diocesan safeguarding officer. I do not in any way investigate the complaint myself, simply pass it on.

  7. Iona says:

    doubt, – not doube. And I thought i’d checked it!

  8. Nektarios says:

    I would like to ask a question first, if I may.
    This Australian Commission’s summery report seems at the outset to be good, informative and getting down to a certain amount of detail. However, whom does this Commission serve?
    It is very clear, as it is with all governments, not to blame their inadequacies, but everyone else.
    It is a form of appearing to do something it the light of so much child abuse, while doing nothing.
    This problem has been going on in Australia for the last 250 years or so, probably longer, nothing was done then and nothing will really be done now, apart from some window dressing.

    Let me ask ourselves another question. What is the difference between the Pontif Francis and his administration and the Australian Government? While there are certain obvious differences, they are essentially the same, that is to protect the Government or Church Institution at all costs.
    Both appear to be doing something in all this sad, evil, wicked and degenerate behaviour against children, while doing in reality very little apart from some PR window dressing.

    • John Candido says:

      The Commission is an independent statutory authority that serves the people of Australia. While it may have obtained its ‘birth’ or origin from a statute of our federal parliament, it is independent of the federal government much like any police force is independent of the government of the day.

      The rest of your questions are incoherent nonsense.

  9. Geordie says:

    The following sentence, taken from Quentin’s post, is very depressing.
    “Instead of the Church providing the secular world with an example of how just organisations should behave, it is positively medieval by comparison.”
    How can we change this mediaeval attitude? The only people who have the power to do this are the hierarchy and they don’t listen to anyone who disagrees with them. I doubt if any of the clergy or hierarchy read this blog or any other lay person’s blog.
    Our Lord had to by-pass the religious authorities of His time in order to deliver His message. Perhaps a lay person will have to take up the standard and fight them. It will be a long and gruelling process. Whoever does it will have to be prepared to be crucified.

  10. Nektarios says:


    Jesus did not by-pass the religious authorities but often rebuked them in like manner, saying as John the Baptist, ‘who warned you to escape the wrath of God….’

    Changing from a medieval attitude to a modern attitude changes nothing, as man in his fallen state is exactly the same as when he fell from grace into the kingdom of this world and darkness, of whom the devil is a ruler.
    There is but one way.

  11. ignatius says:

    A far as my skim read goes so far I can find little attempt at a sociological analysis by the commission. By this I mean there appears not to have been any attempt to place the findings into context. In Ireland for example the background was one of catholic institutions initially performing the work of the State so that a huge proportion of young persons care was devolved to catholic institutions. This would mean that the proportion of sexual abuse in religious situations would be far higher than in situations where the relations between Church and state were better balanced.

    I don’t think this report, sad though it is, should be the subject of too much huffing and puffing and moralising on our parts since it just represents a stark example of the way things currently are in the church’s long journey towards a greater transparency. The reccommendations are pretty clear and obvious -that sexual offence in ministry should be immediately seen for what it is and treated as such, in other words a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service; covering up for others needs to be treated in the same way, as crime.

    It is probably also worth reiterating that sexual offenders, particularly with children, seem often to be HIGHLY manipulative individuals coming over as very plausible and initially difficult to catch. Many of these individuals are simply blind as to the real nature of their offences and unbelieving of their own culpability.
    Working in the prison environment probably gives a somewhat skewed perspective but it seems to me that any form of institution which has a culture of unquestioned authority coupled with secrecy
    will naturally become abusive and the measures which need to be taken are fairly plain and in need of robust policing. There are individuals who cannot control their own behaviour and who need protecting from it, locking up for quite a long time in other words. Some of these individuals will be religious and others not. In the prison where I work I think the catholic population is around nine percent a tiny number of whom (around 1.5%) are in a clerical role.
    I think Australia is in the throes of discovering that it has a widespread legacy of brutality stemming from colonial issues which are only now coming to light, this commission seems to reflect that historical truth.
    Finally, it does not do to over spiritualise these issues, the stables must be cleaned no matter to whom they belong and lessons in transparency better learned, clericalism certainly is an issue but it is in itself only one facet of the problem.

  12. ignatius says:

    The real connundrum here is the seal of the confessional. I guess that the problem is that once broken then the seal is broken and cannot be fixed.
    Thinking about it I tend to agree that the seal of the confessional should not be broken. Having said this it seems that the safeguarding process in any parish could probably be made a little stronger. Also it probably needs to be understood that any issues children have regarding how they are being treated should not, ipso facto go directly to the parish priest but to parents, teachers, safeguarding personnel etc.

    Regarding priests who confess abuse to other priests and no one else there is simply no easy answer, I do not know if caveats could or even should be added to the confessional seal in that particular case. One would obviously think so if just applied to this case,but it must be very difficult to weigh the negatives in balance with the evident positives. This kind of thing makes me very glad I’m not a bishop!

    • Martha says:

      Ignatius, isn’t restitution and making amends as far as possible one of the requirements for absolution and forgiveness? If the penitent priest wishes to be forgiven, should he not be required to acknowledge his sin, his crime, to the civil authorities also, and apologise to his victim. My understanding of the sacrament of reconciliation is that this would be an essential condition for forgiveness. I imagine this would not happen very often as abusers try to rationalise their actions and do not want to admit to themselves that they have done very grave wrong. I understand also that there are some sins reserved to a bishop or special confessor for absolution. Wouldn’t this be one of them?

      • pnyikos says:

        I agree with you on everything, save one: I do not think it should be a condition of absolution to turn oneself in to the civil authorities. However, I do believe that the priest, if penitent, should be required to ask for a long leave of absence from his current position of power over others. This might entail more confessions to clergy in a position of authority over him.

        Please note, I am only talking about what should be required for absolution. Whether the priest should be required to turn himself in anyway is a separate issue about which I will have to think more.

      • Nektarios says:


        The idea of absolution given by a priest is not NT nor Apostolic Doctrine or teaching. We know why this invention came into being in the 1800s.
        Those who have a psycophantic views of clergy or Bishops, cardinals and Popes as having special spiritual powers given to them alone, is not only a downright lie, but manipulation of the masses to prop up the bad image the clergy had at the time. Now people actually believe they have this special powers. No they don’t, and are pulling the wool over your eyes. Wake up!
        Only Christ died for us. He alone forgives sin, and as far as we can see from Scripture He has not abdicated that position. Would priests steal the glory from Christ and His salvific work for the Church? It is too arrogaant and awful for words.

      • John Candido says:

        John Nolan, any child abuser who attends mass will have his or her sins forgiven during the penitential rite, provided that they are genuinely penitent and resolve to not sin again.

        This in no way, shape or fashion, cleans the slate as far as the criminal justice system of any nation-state is concerned.

        If personal confessions were scrapped, and the sacrament of confession reformed and renamed as the sacrament of penitence which is only obtained through attendance at any mass.

        There will no longer be the duty of any confessor to protect the seal of the confession, meaning that these circumstances will not prove to be a ‘roadblock’ to any police investigating any criminal matter.

        This reform will not mean that investigations by the police will prove to be harder because if the seal of confession is completely honoured by any confessor, above any legal matter that the police are vitally interested in, any information that could be conveyed to the police that may or may not lead to an arrest, will not be conveyed to them.

        This reform will not lead to a slowing of any police investigation.

        The questioning of any person of interest by the police, the gathering of any witness statements, and any forensic evidence that is acceptable in a court of law must be continued in an unabated and unfettered manner.

        All of the clergy and laity continue to have a solemn and absolute duty to protect any child from harm, and report any suspicions of lawbreaking in relation to child abuse, to the police without delay.

    • John Candido says:

      I think that the sacrament of confession can be reformed in such a way as to make it completely and utterly safe for any child that has suffered at the hands of any paedophile, or from any distortions or abuses by any manipulative confessor.

      Scrap personal confessions for a general absolution during all masses.

      The penitential rite that is said during all masses, can be reformed to perform the current function of personal confession. There would be no issue with the seal of confession because in this scenario there will never be any personal confessions that would be permitted by the church, ever again.

      • John Nolan says:


        So a child abuser only has to attend one Mass and the slate is wiped clean. Brilliant idea, John.

      • John Candido says:

        John Nolan, I am glad you think that this idea is ‘brilliant’.

        I hope others are of a similar persuasion.

        It may lead to reform of the sacrament of confession and also lead to it being abolished by the Roman Catholic Church in future.

  13. Nektarios says:

    Those in power be it in Church or Government always has its own preservation first. The commission raises issues that have been known for decades and yet did nothing about it very much. Now Cardinal Penn is on charges for pedophilia, homosexuality, money laundering and other matters since he chose to return to Australia instead of staying put in the Vatican.
    Let us remember, he is the present Popes number two in charge.

    Concerning Political secular Government, how can they say anything? I cannot speak for Australia on the issue, but here in Europe and in the UK and in the West generally, the powers that be, are
    teaching the LGBTQT agenda with children as young as two years of age. People generally think this is their agenda, but it isn’t. It is the Globalist agenda which is Satanic and destructive to mankind, asserting quite openly they want to destroy the creative ordinance by God and destroy the family. This is run by Governments, but they are not in control of the situation, they are controlled by Corporate banks around the world, and sad to say the present Pope is a Globalist too, as are the owners of Google, Facebook and Twitter.

    It is a shame to me to even speak of such things, but alas it is unavoidable in todays world.
    It is not a matter whether one is a Catholic or not, or a member of any other of the denominations,
    the question is which Kingdom is one in. Kingdom of God and Light or the kingdom of this world, the Devil and darkness.

  14. John Nolan says:

    It was interesting to see the similarity and difference between the statistics regarding the Catholic and Anglican Churches. In both cases the ‘survivors’ (an odd term, suggesting people who were victims of abuse some time ago but are still alive) who gave evidence were in the an age range that suggests that abuse peaked in the 1970s and declined significantly after 1990. What was it about that particular decade that affected both denominations?

    In the Anglican Church the percentage of abusers who were ordained ministers was 43% , as against 30% in the Catholic Church. However, the number of lay people involved was 50% as opposed to 29%. Since Anglican clergy have the option of marriage, what does this tell us about celibacy?

    It is stated that ‘lay people involved in the governance of the Anglican Church’ resulted in ‘child safety not being prioritized’ and the ‘undermining of attempts to implement professional standards’. Yet scroll down to the section on the Catholic Church and we read ‘the exclusion of lay people and women from leadership positions may have contributed to inadequate responses’. A stark contradiction, surely?

    There is also a disjunct between ‘the decentralization and autonomy of Catholic dioceses and religious institutions contributed to ineffective responses’ and the criticism of the Vatican which ignores the changes made by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2002 after the US allegations landed on his desk. There is even criticism of ‘Vatican documents’ which make the obvious link between homosexuality and ephebophilia (or pederasty). Since Australia is now in thrall to political correctness, I would have expected this.

    But what to make of recommendations regarding celibacy, the Catholic understanding of the priesthood, so-called ‘clericalism’ and the Sacrament of Penance? At first it seems outright impertinence that a non-Catholic Commission should presume to lecture the Holy See on such matters. Apart from anything else, the traditional confessional box, of the sort you see in churches all over continental Europe, usually gathering dust, make it impossible for the priest to have any physical contact with the penitent.

    However, I now smell a large antipodean rat. These are the the concerns of liberal dissident priests of whom Australia has a sizeable number. They have little to do with child abuse. A non-Catholic Royal Commission would not be aware of the agenda of someone who puts himself forward as a Catholic priest, and assume he speaks for Catholics generally.

    Nor do I accept the common liberal assumption that structures which allow abuse (of all kinds) are in themselves at fault; history (and not only Church history) shows that the same structures can be powerful agents of reform. But this is perhaps a subject for another thread.

    • John Candido says:

      Here is a thought.

      The process of the attainment of holy orders or priesthood through a long seminary training, seem to me to be at least partly culpable in creating in the minds of all candidates of the priesthood, their specialness. That they are ‘special’ people, set aside and removed from the ordinary mass of people, with a unique calling that the rest of the laity will never be so privileged or gifted, by God.

      I have a problem with this characterisation of candidates for the priesthood.

      The delineation between candidates for the priesthood and the religious life on the one hand, and the laity on the other, buttresses a class system within our church and an obvious power imbalance between clergy and laity.

      Another word describing this class system is clericalism, that some in our church maintain is at least partly to blame for the incidences of child abuse committed by clergy, regardless of what denomination they hail from.

      Quite obviously, there would never be a set of circumstances where all delineation and all imbalances of authority can be eliminated between the laity and the clergy, because there would not be a church that could operate without some of these distinctions.

      Would any person care to make a comment on these thoughts?

      • John Nolan says:

        I might have the eloquence of a Cicero, but cannot don a barrister’s wig and gown and plead in court. I could make a better fist of celebrating the liturgy than most Novus Ordo priests, but were I to do so it would mean nothing and would be sacrilegious to boot.

        Priests do have a calling and powers (spiritual, not temporal) which laymen simply do not have.

    • John Candido says:

      ‘However, I now smell a large antipodean rat. These are the concerns of liberal dissident priests of whom Australia has a sizeable number. They have little to do with child abuse. A non-Catholic Royal Commission would not be aware of the agenda of someone who puts himself forward as a Catholic priest, and assumes he speaks for Catholics generally.’ (John Nolan)

      Absolute nonsense!

  15. Ann says:

    I do wonder how many priests actually confessed to another priest that they were abusers of children, that leads to another thought, maybe priests etc knew of a priest that was abusing children but still did not report to authorities because……why?…….this wouldn’t be the same a breaking the seal of confession. While having mercy for someone is good, that does not help them, nor the victim, the cycle will just continue in some area’s I think.

  16. Nektarios says:

    Is it not rather foolish to pin ones hopes on reforms from within corrupted institutions? After all the centuries that have rolled by, these things are only some of the crimes institutions are guilty of and all remain unsolved by man and modern day religious institutions with their philosophy. Secular society too are corrupted institutions, sinners operate them. what will be the outcome in the end of all our efforts – exactly nothing. It may appear we are doing something but appearances are deceptive.

    We are all sinners, and the wrath of God is revealed against all sin, death and hell awaits in eternity.
    We cannot escape by reformed moral lives, good works or even by being ever so religious.
    But, God does have another way, doesn’t He.

    • Ann says:

      So are you saying the Catholic church is a corrupt institution? I believe some things within the church have improved, but it has a long long way to go, we shouldn’t just sit back and think, well God will deal with these people when they pass on, we should be trying to grow in the image and likeness of God now, on this earth. The church teaches a very high, holy example of sexuality and how it should be exercised, it has failed in a major way by not protecting children. But steps are being taken, priests where I live are no longer alone with children, and I do think it would be better for children to go to confession in the open rather than in a box. I know as a child I hated the dark confessional, I much preferred seeing the priest face to face, getting to know him, trust him etc, in the safety of school. I grew up believing a priest was the most trusted person you could know, I got a massive reality check in my teens when all the abuse was exposed. It may never be completely flushed out, but sitting back and doing nothing never changed anything……..

  17. ignatius says:

    Martha raises an interesting point about the confessional. It is, in fact, very hard to bring offenders to confession for the reasons described.I know this to be true since it is a subject I frequently discuss with them. As to restitution being a condition of confession I am not sure. Certainly no one has ever asked me to right wrongs to others, usually very minor ones I must admit, that I have brought personally to the confessional. I also agree with John Nolan’s analysis of the document.
    I would also perhaps say that the personality types one encounters in as sex offenders prison vary tremendously, from the very weak and broken to the occasional encounter with something both highly intelligent and frighteningly manipulative against whom there would be little defense until actually apprehended and imprisoned. As John Nolan also states its no use blaming the organisation for such deeply pathological types who are, thankfully, quite rare.

  18. Nektarios says:

    Can we address this issue and more generally that of sin? It is not the corrupted institutions religious and secular that in themselves are corrupt, but they have been corrupted by man and women.
    The way the Catholic Church and other Churches are addressing the issue is inadequate, secretive, and self-serving. Things such as these atrocities to civilisation is corroding and set to get worse.

    I am surprised that anyone trusts such systems, religious and secular to give any definitive answers and solutions to the problem of sin, for that is what child abuse is among the many sin in man.

    This world is set for destruction, make no mistake, but eternity awaits every soul and judgement.
    The only way out of this quagmire of degradation is God’s way.
    Are we truly following it or playing at it in silly religious games and rites and all that?
    Like I said previously, success or failure all depends on which Kingdom one is in, Of God or this world and the Devil who is out to destroy all God’s works.
    The Devil’s time is short, and he knows it, and his devious methods in man through trials and temptations and prosecutions can only increase to man.
    God’s way in Christ is the only way and life in and through this world, death and eternity.
    Living any other way be it merely religious, moral, or kind and good works fail before the all-knowing God.
    Trust not in man nor annoying in ourselves, but place our trust in the One who died for us alone.
    Come in repentance to Him as He alone has paid the price for your and my sins. He alone can wash us clean. He alone can give you His life and dwell within us, and powering us and by the Holy Spirit alone enables us to ‘both will and to do of His good pleasure.

    • Ann says:

      Your saying they are corrupted and are being corrupted by man???????
      Are you a preacher by any chance? Your saying to get out of this we should follow God’s way, yet we shouldn’t trust any of these institutions to guide us away from sin/teach what sin is,…….not sure I follow your line of thought.

      • Nektarios says:


        What I was referring to was the state of things within many Churches including the RC Church.
        I said earlier, ‘I am surprised that anyone trusts such systems, religious and secular to give any definitive answers and solutions to the problem of sin, for that is what child abuse is among the many sins in man.

        I am not suggesting that one throws out the baby with the bathwater, but as we are dealing with our own souls, then it is important for us to be careful to whom we trust especially within religious Institutions.
        You have read the contributions from others, they seem to think that despite all that has gone on these days, and for many centuries, we have to not think at all, but do what we are told. No judgement on our part, no assessing the veracity just blind obedience to those Church rulers?
        I posed a question a little while ago on the blog, when is a Church not a church – when it ceases to be a Church and becomes an institution.

        You have a bible in your possession yes, read it carefully, prayerfully and If you are truly wanting to know what sin is, and to be delivered from it, you will read your life writ large there. It is God’s message to humanity and the individual till the end of time now.

        If clerics want to play with your minds and theology and God’s word, not to mention the Holy Apostolic Tradition then they will answer to God for it.
        There are good men and women in all the Churches as we all know, but many are bad and hold offices in the Church.

        If you have not grasped yet my line of thought, then that would be a pity as it would only show that you are like many failing to understand, Salvation is of God alone. Chritianty is not something man made, neither is the Church, but the body of Christ of which we are the body and He is the head.
        Read all about it in Acts 2. What you see today is not modern at all as they claim, the same problems existed in the early Church as they do now.

        One has to know one is in the Kingdom of God, not guess they are , or hope to be , but have that blessed assurance that only the Holy Spirit can give one.

        And yes, I am a preacher and a retired pastor by the grace of God and his calling upon me
        many years ago and now.
        How about you, Ann

  19. Nektarios says:

    Sorry error – annoying should read, ‘any thing in ourselves.’
    I know, thsee errors are so annoying!

  20. Geordie says:

    Thank you John Nolan for your analysis and explanation of the data. There are always many sides to an argument and you have given us a reminder of this. There is little correlation between child-abuse and celibacy. Married men have been found guilty of abuse in greater numbers than celibates.
    I am in favour of married priests because there are two vocations involved; one is a vocation to the priesthood and the other is a vocation to celibacy. A person may have vocations to both but someone else may have just one vocation. The Church could benefit from both. St Paul was a dedicated celibate but he wasn’t against married men becoming priests.

  21. Horace says:

    The quotation which is at the beginning of this post (and which figures prominently in the Royal Commission report) has several curious features :-

    1) We do not know precisely what ‘Father Holmes’ was doing!

    2) Whatever it was, the paragraph strongly suggests at least some degree of active participation on the part of the girl. Otherwise she should not have been given a penance, let alone have been called “disgusting”.

    3) It is possible that the response was simply due to a stupid and poorly instructed priest hearing the confession.

    4) How should the priest have behaved (apart from being more considerate and tactful)?
    Obviously the girl should be advised what to do if (Father Holmes) tried to touch her again.

    5) Could not something have been done to terminate the confession and then, with the “seal of confession” no longer applicable, allow the priest, with the girl’s permission, to talk to (Father Holmes) or even to report him to the authorities?

    • Ann says:

      {2) Whatever it was, the paragraph strongly suggests at least some degree of active participation on the part of the girl. Otherwise she should not have been given a penance, let alone have been called “disgusting”.}

      I’d assume the girl in question was one of the victims they interviewed, age ranging from 10 years- 14 years. As far as I’m aware the age of consent is 16 years, so the priest was breaking the law, by abusing a minor.

      • Vincent says:

        Ann, I’m surprised at you. Yes, no doubt, she didn’t actually fight ‘Father Holmes’ back. But think of the shocked pressures on a young girl who has been taught for years to respect priests. Effectively she was digitally raped.

  22. John Nolan says:

    The ‘Father Holmes’ quotation cannot be taken at face value. How many years ago did the alleged altercation take place? How old was the girl at the time? Was the testimony given under oath? There may be a legitimate reason for changing names, but the whole passage smacks more of an exposé in a tabloid newspaper than serious evidence that can stand up to forensic enquiry. As it stands there is no reason why it should be given credence, and any further speculation is more or less futile.

    What immediately follows is revealing. ‘We [the Commissioners] are satisfied that the practice of the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) contributed to both the occurrence of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church and to inadequate institutional responses to abuse.’

    Who told the Commissioners that it was customary for a child penitent (or for that matter, an adult) to make his or her confession face to face with a priest in private? Whoever it was, it was enough to make them presume to attack the sacrament itself.

    The closer one looks at it, the more one comes to realize that ‘Commission of Shame’ is a not undeserved epithet, albeit not in the sense originally intended.

  23. Ann says:

    Nektarios :
    Thanks for your reply, I thought you must be a preacher, and of course you too were taught by others to learn what sin is and how to follow Gods will. I have been a Catholic all my life, but I don’t mindlessly follow the faith, I have my own thoughts and opinions on how I try to live a Christ like life, preferring to try and live the kingdom on earth. But this is all off the topic of this article.

  24. Vincent says:

    Surely this letter was produced merely as an example — and it, and all the other submissions, are to be found elsewhere, Certainly we should be critical when appropriate, but let’s avoid the rationalizations which have been part of the problem over the years. Dismissing the Commission as one of ‘shame’ suggests that you would like it to be condemned and ignored so that the Church in Australia can safely go back to its old habits.

    • John Nolan says:

      Not at all. But the juxtaposition of the extract with the tendentious conclusion which followed, concerning the Sacrament of Penance, is disturbing. I would like to know who was advising the Commission on matters Catholic.

      As for making celibacy ‘optional’, in the same sense as it is in protestant denominations, is against two millennia of tradition, both Eastern and Western. Were the Commissioners not aware of this?

      • Ann says:

        Didn’t popes used to marry? This would prove that celibacy wasn’t a tradition from the beginning?

  25. Ann says:

    Vincent :
    You have misunderstood what point I was trying to make regarding comment no.2 by Horace. The child must have been below the age of consent, and in my understanding, that means she was at no fault by allowing what happened to happen. The consent limit is there for a reason, to protect a minor. Saying she must have participated because of the reply of the priest is ridiculous, imo. Seems the priest may have been ignorant of what abuse is, and only saw a sin on the part of the child, wanting to free the child of sin, maybe, but he in fact made the child free at fault and guilty for another persons sin.

    • Vincent says:

      Yes, I understand what you were trying to say now. Incidentally my general remarks about the Commission were aimed at John Nolan, not you.

  26. Ann says:

    feel at fault**

  27. John Nolan says:

    I would not expect Nektarios, a protestant of the most extreme stamp who appears to think that any man with a bible is his own ‘church’ and that the sacrament of Penance was invented in the 19th century (!) to subscribe to Catholic beliefs. I would remind him that the Church was already ‘institutionalized’ when it decided which writings should constitute the New Testament and which should not (Revelations only just made it in).

    However, despite his egregious errors, he makes a valid point when he decries the tendency to attribute evil to institutions and structures, rather than to examine the hearts of men and the machinations of the Devil (Pope Francis has already made more explicit references to Satan than did either of his immediate predecessors).

    It was a post-Enlightenment Whig/liberal belief, which still persists today, that reform is only possible if institutions and structures are radically changed. In 18th century England the main target was the unreformed House of Commons. Yet this same unreformed Parliament abolished the slave trade, fought a successful war against revolutionary and Napoleonic France, secured Britain’s naval supremacy and economic pre-eminence for the next century, reformed the criminal code (reducing the number of capital offences from over two hundred to about half a dozen) and established the principle of free trade.

    By contrast France, following Enlightenment ideas, tore down the existing structures and attempted to create new ones from ‘rational’ principles. The results – political, social and economic – were disastrous, in both the short and the long term.

    In the 16th century the Catholic Church successfully reformed itself without seeing the need to change its structures. Indeed, it can be argued that without these structures reform would not have been possible.

    • Nektarios says:


      In my reply to Ann, I was not referring to penances as such, which led in part to a money making racket called indulgences, but to absolution.
      I would remind you Martha and Ann too, you are the Church, part of the body of Christ with the gifts the Holy Spirit has given you. BUT, the priesthood has robbed you of all the gifts
      He has given you and appropriated them all to themselves. They have in effect made you totally dependent on them.

      • Ann says:

        So are you of the thought that we should forgive each others sins and not go to a priest to ask forgiveness? That makes sense to a degree, reconciling with the one whom you have sinned against, but as we have personal sins that we are taught separate us from God and so the need for absolution from a mediator of God, we are guilty. Indulgences are a thing of the past. I’m definitely no Traditional Catholic, and never was taught I’m totally dependent on priests, always had a strong relationship with God than any member of the clergy, but I respect them for the work they do, and realise many people do depend on them.

      • Nektarios says:

        Are we not all brethren as Christians? One who forgives another Christian is not a mediator between God and man. Scriptures says, there is but one mediator betwixt God and man, the man Christ Jesus.
        We are are not to be dependent on priests as such, that is the game they play, but we are meant to be members one of another – interdependent inotherwords.
        No Christian can exist in isolation, we learn, share, grow, develop in the one one body of Christ.
        One has to think things through, read and pray intelligently and share what you know with your fellow Christians which I am sure you do.

        The other thing I will mention, Ann, are your specific gifts given you by the Holy Spirit.
        These are given, first to glorify God and minister to your Christian brethren who will in turn minister to you.
        The main function of a priest is to officiate at services in Church.
        The main job of the Church, all of us, is the communicate and live out the Gospel both in the body of believers and to those without with the message of the Gospel.

    • tim says:

      Bravo, JN!!

    • Nektarios says:

      I am sorry you feel I am a religious extremist of the most extreme stamp, nothing could be further from the truth.
      You know full well I am in the Orthodox Church.
      What I am saying in my postings is more Biblical Theology and Apostolic Doctrine, Teaching and Practice.
      If you think I am extremist in that, I will make no apology for that. I know something of the power of that and the working of the Holy Spirit in it and my life.

      If one is not following the Apostolic Doctrine(not RC) Teaching, (not RC) and Practice (not RC) then I wonder by what right one calls oneself a Christian?

      • John Nolan says:


        Your protestantism is more extreme than (say) the evangelical wing of the Anglican Church. How do you reconcile this with the Orthodox Church which is not sola scriptura and has a sacramental system similar to the Western Church?

        On doctrinal matters Rome does not see the Orthodox as heretical.

      • Nektarios says:

        John Nolan

        You keep repeating how extreme I am, OK, so I challenge you, in all my postings
        here, where I am being extremist?

        I am aware of the ecumenical aspects within the Anglican and Orthodox Communions with Rome. It is not agreed within these communions that ecumenism is correct.
        In my view, it is a very earthbound to what is really a spiritual matter, that of Church Unity.

  28. Martha says:

    Nektarios, Jan.9th, 3.38, I can’t believe I just read that. “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven . . . . ” Nothing could be more biblical. The forgiveness of God through His Church has been a major part of spiritual life since the time of Christ. Read about the public penances which were required in mediaeval times. Of course God can forgive us directly as well when the sacrament is not possible.

    • Nektarios says:

      Yes the power to forgive sin committed against us can be forgiven. Also if they are not remitted their sin remains.
      But one must understand this is not a sentimental forgiveness, nor a emotional one, but one that is of the life of Christ in one to a fellow christian brother or sister. It is a spiritual
      activity, and belongs to every child of God.

  29. John Nolan says:

    ‘Recommendation 16-18. The Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference should request the Holy See to consider introducing voluntary celibacy for diocesan clergy’

    The practice of clerical celibacy was reaffirmed by the Council of Nicaea (325). The idea that clergy could marry after ordination (which is what ‘voluntary celibacy’ means, if it means anything) was never countenanced. The Eastern tradition allows for the ordination of married men, as does the Western, under restricted circumstances. And no, popes did not use to marry.

    This, and other recommendations relating to Canon Law and the selection of bishops, suggest that the Commissioners were briefed by Catholics who have their own agenda regarding the Church, which has little to due with child abuse. I can’t draw any other conclusions. Did they consult John Candido, by any chance? (only joking!)

    • Ann says:

      ah, no they were married before they took holy orders, I recall it now.

      • ignatius says:

        Ignore Nektarios and stick to the confessional practice you understand. Nektarios is not Catholic and his views demonstrate over and over again a complete lack of understanding of any substantive issue regarding sacraments; occasionally he speaks sense but mostly is politely ignored.

  30. Nektarios says:


    Your posting above does not do you any credit as you misrepresent me.
    I am not ignorant of the RC sacraments as they see them, but also why they seem them as they do which has little to do with sacraments but a spectacle and a not so subtle, bit of self promotion being, all about the priests officiating.I would say, using the sacrament in that way is not only wrong but manipulative and ascribes to the sacraments spiritual powers, something the Apostles did not warrant.

  31. Geordie says:

    When abusing priests go to confession, I believe they say, “I have broken the sixth commandment”. It is then up to the confessor to probe more deeply into what they mean. I should imagine that abusing priest confess to a priest who doesn’t ask too many questions.

    • Ann says:

      I don’t know if what you say is accurate, but it really makes me feel very uncomfortable, and reinforces why things would not change regarding priests abusing or anyone else for that matter.

  32. John Nolan says:


    Mortal sins have to be confessed in kind and number. ‘I have broken the sixth commandment’ does not even begin to cover this, and absolution would not be forthcoming.

  33. Geordie says:

    I can’t remember where I saw this but it was a priest talking on tv about Ireland. When he was asked how abusing priest are not called to account by the confessor, he said they just say they have broken the sixth commandment so many times; thus mortal sins in number and kind. I agree absolution should not be given without further questions but, apparently, it is or was. The priest who provided this information didn’t agree with it anymore than we do.

    • Martha says:

      Would the words of absolution be effective? They depend on the disposition of the penitent, and have nothing to do with the spiritual state of the confessor, but would lax procedure like this make them invalid? It doesn’t affect the scandal of course, or the harm done to victims.

    • John Nolan says:


      Number, but not kind. There is a problem with the education of priests ordained since Vatican II, and the general standard in Ireland, not all that high in the pre-Conciliar era, has declined in recent years – many candidates would not reach the (admittedly low) bar which applies to higher education.

  34. John Nolan says:

    John Candido,

    I cannot leave this thread without addressing some of the points you have raised. Firstly, the likelihood of a child being abused in the confessional, especially in the 1970s, is exceedingly remote – penitent and confessor are separated by a partition and a grille. Indeed, the traditional style of confessional box was introduced in the late Middle Ages to prevent a confessor having intimate access to a female penitent. To suggest, as you do, that the sacrament of Penance, instituted by Our Lord, should be done away with (an impossibility) on such flimsy grounds, is absurd even by your standards.

    Secondly, the general absolution at Mass, which does not even exist in the Novus Ordo, since the ‘Indulgentiam, absolutionem at remissionem peccatorum nostrorum tribuat nobis omnipotens et misericors Deus’ was dropped, was understood to absolve from venial sins only. It is not intended to replace sacramental confession. I understand that the abuse of ‘general absolution’ was one of the factors in the sacking of Bishop ‘Bill’ Morris of Toowoomba.

    If one follows your logic, the abuse of the Mass by an Australian priest which led to his excommunication (by Pope Francis) – remember the dog being given Communion? – should mean that the Mass should be abolished. But then logic is not your strong suit, is it, John? Any more than the ability to spot irony.

    • John Candido says:

      ‘…the likelihood of a child being abused in the confessional, especially in the 1970s, is exceedingly remote – penitent and confessor are separated by a partition and a grille.’ (John Nolan)

      1. I never intimated this train of thought in any of my posts.

      If you have somehow picked this up it has been an accident on your part.

      The main reason that I support the abolition of traditional confessions between a priest and a penitent is that I personally find them very uncomfortable, and abolishing personal confessions means that there is no reason for any priest to maintain the seal of the confessional.

      Getting rid of the seal of the confessional because the sacrament is being reformed for its inclusion into the mass where there is the Penitential Rite, means that no priest will possibly come into conflict with any members of the police force investigating any allegations of child abuse within his parish.

      2. Even if the general absolution at Mass was understood to absolve from venial sins only, this can be changed to include mortal sins.

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