The Catholic Church has set up a new Truth, Justice and Healing Commission to advise its bishops and run its dealings with the forthcoming royal commission on child sex abuse.
It will be headed by two laymen, a retired Supreme Court judge as chairman and a prominent layman as chief executive, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Chairman Denis Hart said today.
Saying the church recognised it needed a sophisticated and coordinated response, Archbishop Hart has promised a new era of co-operation, transparency and honesty. So did both new appointments – Barry O'Keefe, QC, as chairman and Francis Sullivan as chief executive – whose first job will be to lift the commission's membership to 10.
Archbishop Hart, the archbishop of Melbourne, said the new commission would also work with victims of clergy sex abuse.
Asked whether he had been in contact with the Vatican about the royal commission, Archbishop Hart said that that was the job of the papal nuncio, the Pope's ambassador to Australia. Coincidentally, the Vatican announced on Tuesday night that the new nuncio will be English Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who replaces Italian Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto.
Archbishop Lazarotto refused to assist state inquiries into clergy sexual abuse when he was ambassador in Ireland. Victims group SNAP today speculated his new posting to Israel might be timed to avoid answering questions from the new Australian royal commission.
Archbishop Hart said he had not received instructions from the Vatican about the coming royal commission or the current Victorian inquiry into clergy sexual abuse, and that regional bishops were usually left to handle this issue themselves.
He said the new commission represented a "sincere engagement" with the royal commission, and promised that the church would co-operate "completely, fully and readily", including providing all documents that might be requested.
Mr O'Keefe said truth, justice and healing were essential parts of his mandate. "Truth is the touchstone of our existence, and justice cannot be achieved without it. The role of the council will be to ensure the royal commission looks at the present and future as well as the past."
Both the men appointed have formidable CVs. Mr O'Keefe is a former commissioner of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, former chief judge of the NSW Supreme Court, chairman of Interpol's International Group of Experts on Corruption, chairman of the International Anti-corruption Conference and an adjunct professor at Notre Dame University.
Mr Sullivan has been secretary-general of the Australian Medical Association, chief executive of Catholic Health Australia, consultant to a pontifical council at the Vatican, and is an adjunct professor at the Australian Catholic University.
He said the new council was unique, the church admitting its expertise was through laypeople, not clerics.
"We are really genuine in saying this process is about healing, which will never happen unless we first listen with an open heart and compassion.
"We want processes that are transparent, honest and based on the law."
Asked what the new transparency would look like, Mr Sullivan said he had only been appointed half-an-hour before, but it would be genuine.