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Shocking figures of abuse in Australia are a 'massive failure on the part of the Catholic Church'

06 February 2017 | by Mark Brolly

More than 4 out of 10 of the brothers of one Catholic order have been accused of sexual abuse, commission lawyers reveal

Nearly 2,000 Catholic perpetrators, including 572 priests, allegedly abused 4,444 children over many decades in complaints made to the Church between 1980 and 2015, Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been told on the opening day of its "wrap-up" hearing into the Catholic Church.

Senior Counsel Assisting the Commission, Ms Gail Furness SC, said in her opening address to the Commission's 50th public hearing in the past four years that 60 per cent of survivors attending a private session with the Commission reported abuse in faith-based institutions - nearly two-thirds of them in Catholic institutions. Overall, 37 per cent of all survivors who attended private session reported sexual abuse in a Catholic institution.

Furness said that between January 1980 and February 2015, 4,444 people made allegations of child sexual abuse in more than 1,000 separate Catholic institutions. There was no limitation imposed relating to the date of the alleged incidents of child sexual abuse.

The average age of the victim at the time of the abuse was 10.5 for girls and 11.6 for boys, with 78 per cent of those making the claim being male.

Of the 1880 alleged perpetrators identified in claims of child sexual abuse, she said 32 per cent were religious brothers, 30 per cent priests, 29 per cent were lay people and 5 per cent were religious sisters. Nine out of 10 of the alleged perpetrators were male.

"Overall, seven per cent of priests were alleged perpetrators," she said.

The Victorian Diocese of Sale had the highest overall proportion of priests from 1950-2010 who were alleged perpetrators at 15.1 per cent. But the figure was 40.4 per cent for the St John of God Brothers among brothers-only orders.

Furness cited two instances in which the Commission had failed to obtain documents from the Vatican. On 22 April 2014, the Chair of the Commission, Justice Peter McClellan, sought documents from the Holy See relating to cases involving an Australian priest. But the Holy See responded on 1 July 2014 that it was "neither possible nor appropriate to provide the information requested".

"The Holy See said it would respond 'in the future to appropriate and specific requests'," she said.

"Documents in relation to a named Australian priest were also sought. In response to this request, the Royal Commission was told that 'to avoid compromising the integrity of the canonical proceeding' it was not possible to provide all of the documents requested."

Furness said the accounts given by survivors of four institutions in Western Australia run by the Christian Brothers (founded by Edmund Rice) were "particularly harrowing", while the Victorian Diocese of Ballarat also had been a focus.

"The accounts were depressingly similar. Children were ignored or worse, punished. Allegations were not investigated. Priests and religious were moved. The parishes or communities to which they were moved knew nothing of their past. Documents were not kept or they were destroyed. Secrecy prevailed as did cover-ups. Priests and religious were not properly dealt with and outcomes were often not representative of their crimes. Many children suffered and continue as adults to suffer from their experiences in some Catholic institutions."

The CEO of the Church's Truth, Justice and Healing Council, Mr Francis Sullivan, said in a statement to the Commission that the numbers that had been revealed "are shocking, they are tragic and they are indefensible".

Mr Sullivan said that ideally the data would distinguish between the number of allegations where offenders made admissions, or were convicted, and those where an investigation substantiated the complaint.

"Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that the proportion of priests since 1950 against whom even claims of abuse have been made undermines the image and credibility of the priesthood," he said.

"Likewise the very high proportions of religious brothers with claims of abuse only further corrodes the community’s trust.

"This data, along with all we have heard over the past four years, can only be interpreted for what it is: a massive failure on the part the Catholic Church in Australia to protect children from abusers and predators, a misguided determination by leaders at the time to put the interests of the Church ahead of the most vulnerable and, a corruption of the Gospel the Church seeks to profess. As Catholics we hang our heads in shame."

Six of Australia's seven archbishops are due to give evidence at the end of the Sydney hearing, scheduled to last three weeks.

PICTURE - Demonstrators are seen with placards outside the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, in Sydney last year when Cardinal George Pell gave evidence via video link from Rome

Australian Associated Press reported on 6 February that Victoria Police had confirmed that a brief of evidence compiled by detectives investigating claims of sexual abuse made against Cardinal George Pell has been returned to prosecutors for review.

"It is the most significant development in the case against the Cardinal since three detectives from the Sano Taskforce flew to Rome to interview him in October," the AAP report, published online by Melbourne's Age newspaper, said.

"There is no suggestion Cardinal Pell is guilty of the allegations, only that they are being investigated."



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