The politics of justice for Catholic clerical child sexual abuse.

Stream: Panel 4 - Gender Politics: Gender Based Violence 1
Date: Monday, 26 September 2016
Time: 11.30 am – 1.00 pm


The ongoing international crisis over revelations of systemic child sexual abuse perpetrated within institutions including Christian Churches has been met with different political and legal responses in countries where the scandal has come to light. In the USA and Canada for example, high profile mass and individual lawsuits against the Catholic Church have been instrumental in securing justice and setting the parameters of settlements and other forms of compensation since the 1980s. The situation in Australia is markedly different, and may be characterised as providing compensation that fails to perform the ‘moral repair’ work of making amends by holding the Catholic Church responsible for the sexual abuse of children. This paper aims to move beyond simplistic arguments about the governance structure of the Catholic Church for explaining the thwarting of justice for survivors of sexual abuse. Instead it provides a novel explanatory framework for understanding the immunity of the Catholic Church to civil suits for child sexual abuse in Australia by drawing on the insights of critical feminist legal theory concerning the treatment of sexual harms in tort, and examining the political context of special treatment of religious organisations vis a vis exceptions in discrimination law. The ultimate argument of this paper is that the ways in which the ‘sex exceptions’ of religious exceptions are problematised by the state fortify the ‘sex exceptions’ of tort in ways that are particularly confounding of justice for Catholic child sexual abuse in Australia.


Kate Gleeson (Presenter), Macquarie University
Senior Lecturer in Law, Macquarie Law School.