Australian Catholic Church has abused thousands of children, inquiry finds

'We hang our heads in shame' says Francis Sullivan, head of the Catholic Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council

Rachel Roberts
Monday 06 February 2017 20:54 GMT
The inquiry found that seven per cent of Catholic priests were actively abusing children in Australia over more than half a century
The inquiry found that seven per cent of Catholic priests were actively abusing children in Australia over more than half a century

The Australian Catholic Church was accused of giving "God a bad name" as it emerged that seven per cent of its priests had been accused of abuse between 1950 and 2010, but few cases were ever investigated.

Francis Sullivan, head of the Catholic Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council, held back tears as said the number of abusers was “shocking” and “indefensible”.

Data compiled by the council showed 1,265 Catholic priests, religious brothers and nuns had been accused between 1950 and 2010. It was compiled for the country's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The commission – Australia’s highest form of public inquiry – is also investigating abuse at non-religious institutions, including schools and sports clubs. It began in 2013 and has heard hours of harrowing testimony from alleged victims.

Its research showed that 4,444 people had made allegations of abuse to 93 Catholic authorities between 1980 and 2015.

“As Catholics, we hang our heads in shame," Father Sullivan said, admitting the figures reflected "a massive failure" by the Church to protect children.

Anthony and Chrissie Foster said both of their daughters, one of whom has since died, were abused within the Catholic Church.

"The Catholic priesthood give God a bad name," Ms Foster told Australian broadcaster, ABC News. "They’re a disgrace. They’re unremorseful.

“For so long this has been the way they acted to hide perpetrators, to move them on, with no regard for children whatsoever, that other children have become victims, and suffered this terrible fate."

The Commission found of the 1,880 alleged perpetrators from within the Catholic Church, 572 were priests.

The worst-offending institutions were the orders of brothers who often ran schools and homes for the most vulnerable children, with girl victims aged 10.5 on average, while boys were 11.6 years old, the commission's research showed.

The church surveyed 10 religious institutions and 75 church authorities to uncover the abuse data on priests, non-ordained brothers and sisters, and other church personnel employed between 1950 and 2009.

Prosecutions have been launched in 27 of the 309 abuse cases the commission has referred to Australian police, with 75 more being investigated, it said.

On average, it took 33 years for each victim to report the abuse, and when they finally spoke, their tales were “depressingly familiar”, said Ms Furness.

She added: “Documents were not kept, or they were destroyed. Secrecy prevailed as did cover-ups. Children were ignored or worse, punished. Allegations were not investigated. Priests and religious [figures] were moved. The parishes or communities to which they were moved knew nothing of their past."

In one religious order, St John of God Brothers, over 40 per cent of church figures were accused of being abusers.

Several senior figures from within the Australian Catholic Church will testify over the coming weeks, watched closely by the Vatican.

Last year, Australia's most senior Catholic who is Pope Francis' financial adviser, gave evidence.

Cardinal George Pell said the Church had made "enormous mistakes" and "catastrophic" choices by refusing to believe abused children, shuffling abusive priests from parish to parish and over-relying on counseling of priests to solve the problem.

The cleric was not accused of abuse himself, and he denied that he knew there were paedophile priests active in his diocese during the 1970s and 1980s.

The commission’s final report is due by the end of this year.

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