SEMI-RETIRED Warwick priest Fr Terry Hickling said he was dismayed at the stories of sexual abuse that occurred within religious institutions.
SEMI-RETIRED Warwick priest Fr Terry Hickling said he was dismayed at the stories of sexual abuse that occurred within religious institutions. Marian Faa

'It saddens me and turns my stomach upside down.'

TWO LOCAL priests reflected with sadness on the history of child sexual abuse within Catholic institutions after the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse presented its final report to the Governor General on Friday, December 15.

After 54 years working as a Catholic priest in the Darling Downs and beyond, Fr Terry Hickling said the thought of abuse within the Church shocked and disappointed him.

"I am very, very sad that these things have occurred and that priests religious and people involved in our Church have been involved in pedophilia," Fr Hickling said.

"It saddens me and turns my stomach upside down."

Catholic institutions were vastly over-represented in reports of abuse taken from more than 8,000 survivors over the five years the Commission was conducted.

Nearly 65 per cent of victims identified as male, and most perpetrators of institutional child sexual abuse were teachers and persons in religious ministry.

The final report included 189 new recommendations, two of which have caused controversy within the Catholic Church.

They included introducing voluntary celibacy for priests and requiring priests to report matters relating child abuse disclosed in confession.

Parish priest Franco Filipetto the Church had committed itself to working with other authorities to implement the recommendations of the royal commission but it was only those two recommendations that had become particularly problematic.

"In my opinion these two recommendations cannot be resolved by the church at a national level," Fr Filipetto said.

"The Catholic Church is a universal church... so those issues must be taken to a higher level at the Vatican."

Fr Hickling supports the idea that celibacy be made voluntary for diocesan priests, but said that the secrecy of the confessional is a sacred charge that must remain unchanged.

"There have been married priests in the Catholic church from the beginning," Fr Hickling said.

"I would hope that the church would bring in voluntary celibacy, that is my wish."

But if Commonwealth laws were changed to force priests to reveal information confided to him in confession, he said he would be forced to disobey.

"On that there can be no change in my book," Fr Hickling said.

"That knowledge in confession is sacred between you and God, and the priest hears it knowing it is the most sacred vow of his priesthood."

"Even if the law of the land says if pedophilia is mentioned in confession a priest must disclose it, we would have to disobey the law of the land... on that one I go to jail."

Fr Filipetto said the diocese had taken a number of steps towards addressing the issue, but more should be done to help the community deal with what has arisen.

Although the Warwick Parish had not been directly affected by allegations of child sexual abuse, Fr Filipetto said the issue still caused difficulties for members of the Church.

"There have been Royal Commissions, there have been court cases and bishops have made statements, but as a local Church how do we address these feelings of disappointment and shock," Fr Filipetto said.

"How do we help people through it... that has not been addressed that at a local level."

The Warwick Catholic Church has already introduced a number of strategies to prevent harm to children, which involve strict rules and regulations for different roles within Catholic institutions.

Such measures include an induction course for people working with children, police checks, blue card checks and providing information about reporting abuse.

A psycho-sexual examination for people wishing to join the priesthood has also been implemented.

But Fr Filipetto said governance and accountability were more pressing issues to be addressed in relation to preventing institutional abuse.

"There needs be a much more consultative approach to governance and not the authoritarian style we have now," Fr Filipetto said.

"I think it would be better to have a more accountable leadership style with appropriate structures and decision making authority.

"Because the authorities were unaccountable, they tended to not tell anyone anything and it was all kept secret."

Fr Hickling said confidence in the Church has suffered as a result of the abuse, which has been branded a "national tragedy".

"Some people no longer practise the Catholic faith," Fr Hickling said.

"They think why should we go along to church and have priests preaching to us about how to live our lives when something like this has occurred."

Fr Fillipetto said the local community were as shocked and disappointed as any other Catholic community.

"But I think because there were no local incidents reported, the people did not express the same level of anger and hurt."

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