At first glance, a national redress scheme for victims of childhood sexual abuse, jointly funded by government, churches, schools and other institutions, might seem like a sensible idea. A meaningful form of redress for victims is decades overdue. Such a scheme has been recommended by the royal commission into institutional child sexual abuse and received strong support from the Catholic church’s truth, justice and healing council (TJHC).
The federal government has not agreed to such a scheme, presumably with an eye to the bottom line. The temptation will be strong for many to call on the government to accept the royal commission’s recommendation.
And yet there is something about a national scheme that sticks in the craw. Should taxpayers fund a national compensation scheme? We have funded the current royal commission, which has been a ground-breaking investment in a better society. Julia Gillard’s brilliant “captain’s call”. But should we be required to subsidise the compensation payments to victims of the Catholic church’s monumental criminal enterprise?
The Catholic church is but one of the institutions that failed to take adequate steps to prevent children from being molested and raped. The royal commission has exposed many others including the ultra-Orthodox Jewish institution, Yeshivah, the Anglican church and the Salvation Army. The case for distinguishing the Catholic church rests on at least three propositions.
First, by virtue of its size, the scale of child sexual abuse within the Catholic church is extraordinary. We will never know precise numbers; the nature of child sexual abuse ensures that some victims will never speak up and others will commit suicide without sharing their awful experience. Thousands have been abused and many more devastated.