The Church, The Commission and the Truth: Inside the NSW Special Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse


  • Kathleen McPhillips Newcastle University



Child sexual abuse, clericalism, Catholic Church, gender, ethnography.


The NSW Special Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in the Newcastle-Maitland diocese, an area north of Sydney, Australia, held proceedings during 2013. The Special Inquiry investigated allegations made by police whistleblower Peter Fox that the Newcastle police and the Catholic Church colluded to keep criminal sexual activity against children by two Catholic priests from being properly investigated. This article reports on sections of the court hearings dealing with the Catholic Church, and relates these to sociological theories of gender, religion and power. In particular, the article will position gender analysis, via the social construction of clerical masculinity, as a central hermeneutic for understanding the culture of sexual violence which has plagued the Catholic Church in this region, and more broadly, for decades. This analysis uncovers a culture of elitist male clericalism, practices of institutional secrecy, the poor psychosexual development of priests and an exclusivist patriarchal construction of the sacred as key elements in church culture. The article makes a contribution to two areas of inquiry that are under-researched in the child sexual abuse literature: the role of gender and the culture of priesthood.

Author Biography

Kathleen McPhillips, Newcastle University

Kathleen McPhillips is a sociologist of religion and gender and lectures at the University of Newcastle, Australia. She is currently researching the Catholic Church at the Royal Commission with funding from the University of Newcastle. She has written extensively on issues concerning religion and gender and has recently been published in the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion and Feminist Theology.



How to Cite

McPhillips, K. (2016). The Church, The Commission and the Truth: Inside the NSW Special Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, 29(1), 30–51.




Most read articles by the same author(s)