The Prime Minister is to be congratulated on heeding calls for a wide-ranging inquiry into child abuse in religious institutions. To improve the operation of these organisations, it should be made mandatory that all disclosures of criminal activity, whether in a confessional box or elsewhere, be reported to the police. Failure to do so should be a criminal offence. The time for such exemptions for religious bodies has passed.

The inquiry raises a deeper question. Why is it that religious organisations have been able to indulge with impunity in gross abuses for decades? What is it about the nature of society’s attitude towards religion in general that allowed this to occur?

Blame must be attributed to the archaic legal status attached to the advancement of religion as being, of itself, a charitable purpose. It is legally assumed that all religious activities are not merely benign, but beneficial. All the subsidies and tax concessions granted to religious organisations derive from this legal status.

It should by now be obvious that religions are not necessarily beneficial, and indeed can be harmful. Hence their unwarranted charitable status should end. Ethics and morality are better determined on the basis of the universal principles of compassion, honesty, justice and freedom.

Nov 27, 2012