Responding to the release of the FInal Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse, Massimo Faggioli, professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University, provides a wonderfully insightful analysis of the contents and recommendations of that report. Being a not infrequent visitor to Australia’s shores, Faggioli in uniquely placed to bring his international reputation to bear on the situation of the Church in Australia.
What the report and its recommendations may mean for the Church in the long run is not fully clear. In normal circumstances, such demands from public institutions would invite equal or greater pushback. But these aren’t normal circumstances. Today, the Catholic Church in Australia knows that clergy and bishops facing accusations of abuse could be called into court—they only have to look at the example of Cardinal George Pell, who left Rome last summer to stand trial on allegations of incidents dating back decades. Another difference, as I wrote in my letter from Australia last September, is that the Australian bishops are planning a Plenary Council for 2020, the first since 1937. Thus the reception of the commission report will be not just institutional, but also ecclesial and synodal because of this particular process the bishops have set in motion (an example that one hopes will inspire other episcopates). Expectations will be high, from Australians and the Australian Church, for the Plenary Council to address the recommendations, separate from how church leadership will decide to deal with them; it’s hard to imagine preparations for the Plenary Council not including debate on the report. And because of the constitutional framework of relations between the Australian public institutions and churches—very different from the separation of church and state principle of the United States—the Royal Commission’s final report actually has some teeth.