Australia failed children, national sex abuse inquiry says
SYDNEY - Agence France-Presse
Australian institutions “seriously failed” children in their care with tens of thousands sexually assaulted, the final report from a five-year inquiry said Dec. 15 as it recommended that celibacy among Catholic priests should be voluntary to help curb abuse.
The commission was contacted by more than 15,000 survivors who detailed claims of child abuse involving churches, orphanages, sporting clubs, youth groups and schools, often dating back decades.
It heard horrific stories during often confronting and emotionally exhausting public and private hearings.
In total, more than 4,000 institutions were accused of abuse, with many of them Catholic-managed facilities.
“Tens of thousands of children have been sexually abused in many Australian institutions. We will never know the true number,” the final report said.
“Whatever the number, it is a national tragedy, perpetrated over generations within many of our most trusted institutions.”
And it was not a case of a few “rotten apples.”
“Some institutions have had multiple abusers who sexually abused multiple children,” it said.
“Society’s major institutions have seriously failed. In many cases those failings have been exacerbated by a manifestly inadequate response to the abused person.
More than 2,500 referrals have been made to police, with 230 prosecutions under way.
He insisted the seal of the confessional “can’t be broken,” but said if someone confessed he was an abuser he would refuse them absolution until they went to the authorities.
Asked about voluntary celibacy, he said it was a “difficult thing.”
“But I certainly would see the bishops pass on that recommendation to the Holy See, and they would then decide,” said
Hart, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
During its hearings, the commission heard that seven percent of Catholic priests were accused of abuse in Australia between 1950 and 2010, but the allegations were never investigated, with children ignored and even punished when they came forward.
There were more than 1,800 alleged perpetrators, with the average age of the victims at the time 10 for girls and 11 for boys. The St John of God Brothers religious order was the worst in terms of allegations, with over 40 percent of members accused.
The inquiry embroiled Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric George Pell, now the Vatican’s finance chief, who was questioned over his dealings with pedophile priests in Victoria state in the 1970s.
Pell is currently accused of multiple historical sexual offences, with a committal hearing in March due to decide if there is enough evidence from the prosecution for the case against him to go to trial.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull paid tribute to the courage of survivors who gave evidence.
“The Royal Commission has validated the stories of survivors, has enabled survivors to be heard, and importantly, to be believed. For too long, crimes against our nation’s children were covered up, or ignored,” he said.