Is it a co-incidence that the movie, ‘Spotlight’ – which tells the story of an investigation, and an attempted church cover-up into child abuse in the Catholic Church in the United States – has won the Academy Award for best picture? Also, it won an Oscar for the best original screenplay. Its two stars, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams, were also nominated for an Oscar.
Child abuse is a heinous crime and which for too long has been ignored, or swept under the carpet. Finally, it is being investigated in an appropriate manner. Frustratingly, in Australia too many of the perpetrators are dead and will never be brought to justice.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is underway. The live streaming, which can be watched on computer, is riveting. The stories being recounted by victims are harrowing. Last week the former Bishop of Ballarat, Ronald Mulkearns, made his long-awaited and much anticipated appearance before the Commission. His doctors and lawyers argued vigorously that he was too ill to appear. His evidence was, for the most part, disappointing. His recollection of important events was scant, to say the least. During his 26-years as Bishop of Ballarat he is accused of moving known paedophiles from one parish to another, and of failing to prevent rampant child sex abuse by clergy under his jurisdiction. His determination to protect the church, and his seeming lack of regard for victims, was a disgrace. He should hang his head in shame. Cardinal Pell, giving evidence in Rome, was less than enthusiastic when questioned about Mulkearns’ practices. That the former bishop is suffering from terminal cancer should not be reason enough to exempt him from answering the questions which victims have been asking for 25-years, and which he has refused to recognise. Despite his protestations of not knowing how to deal with the problem – ignorance is no defence Mulkearns was responsible for inflicting great suffering which could have been avoided had he acted in a more responsible and Christian manner. It has been established that Mulkearns also destroyed official documents, one assumes to protect the church and the guilty parties. Given his response in a television interview at the time of his bishopric, it would seem the job was, and by his own admission, beyond Mulkearns’ capabilities. Setting aside the ethos of the time, his slight understanding of child abuse was such, that he should never have held such a position of authority, and for such an extended period of time. That the rapes and assaults were not reported to the police, and court action instituted, is incomprehensible, by any standard. The offending problem was a criminal, and not a spiritual one.
We are told that Mulkearns has only months to live. One can only hope that, when it comes time, the present Catholic Bishop of Ballarat does not intend to mark his demise with a high solemn mass at St Patrick’s cathedral. He should be buried without fuss, and with the lowest acceptable ceremonials; a basic catholic funeral. Anything else would be an insult to all those people who suffered as a direct consequence of Mulkearns’ appalling and unacceptable actions, however well-intentioned they were thought to be. Having denied and ignored irrefutable evidence, and having wittingly implemented a belligerent and deliberate cover-up, a death-bed mea culpa is not enough to absolve the mortal sin of his moral and ethical crime. It is the role of the Royal Commission to decide Mulkearns’ culpability. ** **
As I write, today, March 1st, is the first day of Autumn. One of the joys of living in Ballarat, and there are many, is the marked seasons. Already the nights are starting to close-in. Last night, when I took out the dogs for their midnight business in the garden, I notice dew on the ground. Thankfully, daylight saving ends on Sunday 3rd April – and not a moment too soon! Why do people call it daylight savings? Savings are something you have in the bank. Daylight is not a saveable. It is a natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible. It cannot be collected and saved. The moving of the clock is a saving of time – not a savings. Back to the first day of autumn! The last of the summer roses in my back garden are fading. They are a delicate mauve and have the most pungent perfume.
I am waiting for the Japanese Maple across the road from my house to turn. At its zenith it is the most glorious red. Autumn is the season that inspired John Keats to write his famous poem:
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
Roland can be heard each MONDAY morning on 3BA at 10.30 with Edwin Cowlishaw.