A Sydney Catholic Bishop who is dying of cancer and has been an advocate for a more compassionate approach by the church to victims of clergy abuse is to give evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Monday.
“I have cancer and it’s terminal. It’ll be better they take the evidence now than wait for later,” retired bishop Geoffrey Robinson told the ABC.
Bishop Robinson was a key player in the response of the Catholic Church to child sexual abuse by members of the clergy between 1994 and 2003.
“I’ll be telling the royal commission what I know of the story of the Catholic Church’s response, the good and the bad,” he said.
Bishop Robinson was a member and chairman of the Bishops’ National Committee for Professional Standards, part of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, which dealt with complaints of sexual abuse.
He was also one of the founders and chairman of Encompass Australasia, a program Bishop Robinson said offered treatment to “hundreds of priests and religious with psychological problems of one form or another”.
The 78-year-old, who has been a bishop for 31 years in the Sydney Archdiocese and a priest for 54 years, has spoken out and written widely urging “profound and enduring change” and a more compassionate approach by the church to victims of abuse by religious leaders.
In 2012 he told the ABC “if half the priests had been women, automatically you’d have had far less abuse and I believe you’d have had a far better response to abuse”.
When the royal commission was announced, Bishop Robinson said Cardinal George Pell did not represent the majority of Catholic bishops in Australia “he’s not a team player, he never has been”.
His books include Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church and For Christ’s Sake.
When For Christ’s Sake was launched in 2013, Bishop Robinson said “we have to look at any systemic causes of the abuse, so we have to take a really hard look at the church itself, the causes and the factors which have in any way contributed to the abuse”.
The royal commission is seeking evidence from the retired bishop on the history of the Catholic Church’s response to child sexual abuse before the introduction of Towards Healing – an agency of the Catholic Church which was developed to support those who have been victims of child abuse.
The hearing is also seeking details of the senior role Bishop Robinson occupied for three decades in the Sydney Archdiocese, the activities of Encompass Australasia and his conversations with senior Vatican officials.
He told the ABC his cancer was terminal but “the chemotherapy is keeping it at bay”.
“I’ll answer any question the royal commission asks me as honestly as I can. I’m not going with an agenda,” he said.