10 February 2017, The Tablet

‘Tragic and indefensible’ guilt of Catholic Church

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. The shocking figures were delivered on the opening day of the Commission’s “wrap-up” hearing into the Catholic Church.

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

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. No limitation has been 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 1,880 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, 7 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 requested from the Vatican. She added that accounts given by survivors of four institutions in Western Australia run by the Christian Brothers 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. Secrecy prevailed as did cover-ups.”

The CEO of the Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council, Francis Sullivan, said that the numbers that had been revealed were “shocking, tragic and indefensible”.
(See Richard Leonard, page 7.)

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