More than 8,000 survivors of child sex abuse testified to Australia's longest-running royal commission. Its report cited multiple failings of institutions and recommended new laws to make it easier to prosecute.
Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been investigating since 2012 how the Catholic Church and other institutions responded to sexual abuse of children over a period of 90 years.
Their 17 volume report and 189 recommendations were published on Friday in Canberra.
The investigation found "multiple and persistent failings of institutions to keep children safe, the cultures of secrecy and cover-up, and the devastating affects child sexual abuse can have on an individual's life."
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, himself a Catholic, called on all Australians to read the report: "What that commission has done is exposed a national tragedy. It's an outstanding exercise in love and I thank the commissioners and those who had the courage to tell their stories," he said.
Australian Catholic Church
While religious, government, educational and professional organizations were included, it was the Australian Catholic Church which was the focus of the commission's study. There were accounts alleging the cover-up of abuse which included moving priests suspected of abuse between parishes to avoid detection.
The Church had shown "catastrophic failures of leadership" particularly in the years before the 1990s.
Details of tens of thousands of child victims were reported. The abusers were "not a case of a few rotten apples," the report remarked. "We will never know the true number." The testimonies of some 8,000 survivors of child sex abuse were heard by the commission. More than 60 percent cited the Catholic Church in their personal histories. The average age of abuse victims at Catholic institutions was 11.
In majority-Christian Australia, Catholicism is the largest denomination.
Recommendations included a National Office for Child Safety and national child safety standards, child abuse reporting and record keeping, to cover all institutions engaged in child-related work. Catholic priests who are told of abuse in the confessional should be obliged to report it under a proposed new law.
It also claimed celibacy contributed to child abuse and that it should be made voluntary for clergy in the Catholic Church.
A new criminal offense should be registered making it easier to prosecute institutions failing to protect children.
President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Denis Hart, said the recommendations would be put to the Vatican.
However, he cautioned: "The seal of the confessional, or the relationship with God that's carried through the priest and with the person, is inviolable. It can't be broken."
jm/ng (Reuters, AP)