Friday, December 15, 2017

A royal commission investigating the sexual abuse of children in Australia found Friday that the nation was gripped by an epidemic dating back decades, with tens of thousands of children sexually abused in schools, religious organizations and other institutions....


Australia Gripped by Decades of Sexual Abuse of Children, Panel Finds

SYDNEY, Australia — A royal commission investigating the sexual abuse of children in Australia found Friday that the nation was gripped by an epidemic dating back decades, with tens of thousands of children sexually abused in schools, religious organizations and other institutions.

The commission, the highest form of investigation in Australia, urged the government to consider and respond to its conclusions and 189 recommendations, among them the establishment of a new National Office for Child Safety and the adoption of laws to address the failure to protect children.

“Tens of thousands of children have been sexually abused in many Australian institutions,” the commission’s report said. “We will never know the true number. Whatever the number, it is a national tragedy, perpetrated over generations within many of our most trusted institutions.”

The commission’s chairman, Justice Peter McClellan, said that the panel heard from more than 1,000 witnesses over nearly 15 months in discovering the magnitude of the abuse.

“Across many decades many institutions failed our children,” Justice McClellan said at the commission’s final hearing, on Thursday. “Our child protection, criminal and civil justice systems let them down.”

Australia created the commission in 2012 to investigate decades of sexual abuse in religious institutions, schools and other establishments — the only country in the world so far to initiate such a sweeping government-led inquiry. More than 4,000 institutions have been implicated in abuse allegations, the commission found.

Australian government investigators found 4,444 victims of abuse and at least 1,880 suspected abusers from 1980 to 2015, most of them Catholic priests and religious brothers.

Francis Sullivan, the Roman Catholic Church’s point person in dealing with the crisis, acknowledged that the revelations had “shocked the nation” and “revealed a deep, deep, weeping wound.”

The inquiry, costing 500 million Australian dollars, or $383 million, was unmatched in its scope in examining a scandal that has shaken the Roman Catholic hierarchy worldwide.

Advocates on Friday outside Government House in Canberra. Credit Lukas Coch/European Pressphoto Agency 

The most damaging revelations centered on scandals in towns like Ballarat, the hometown of Cardinal George Pell, who this year became the highest-ranking Roman Catholic prelate to be formally charged with sexual offenses.

In Ballarat, a police officer investigated a pedophile ring at local Catholic schools and said up to 30 victims had since committed suicide.

The charges brought in June against Cardinal Pell, one of Pope Francis’ top advisers, followed years of criticism that he had at best overlooked, and at worst covered up, the widespread abuse of children by clergymen in Australia.

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who had called for the establishment of the royal commission, said that previous efforts to conduct such an inquiry were resisted, despite efforts by whistle-blowers to expose the abuses.

“Increasingly as more and more survivors came forward, the question became, how do we respond to this?” she said. “There were a number of factors to consider that troubled me quite deeply."
She said that in formulating the inquiry, she found that previous such efforts hadn’t given survivors the sense of healing or closure they sought.

“I knew that it would be difficult to get it right and I was very concerned that if we created an inquiry that didn’t work well, it would end up retraumatizing survivors,” Ms. Gillard said.

She decided that even in the face of many of the risks, giving survivors the respect and dignity that came with having a formal, wide-ranging inquiry in which they could report what had happened to them was more important.

Ultimately, Australians have been shocked and appalled by the range of the abuse that has been brought to light, and the systematic nature of the cover-ups.

“It has already changed the nation,” Ms. Gillard said. “Never again can we be naïve about the depth and breadth of this problem.”

In August, the royal commission recommended a sweep of legislative and policy changes, one of which would require priests who hear about sexual abuse in the confessional to report it to the authorities, alarming church officials since confidentiality is integral to the ritual.


This volume discusses what we learned during our five-year inquiry about institutional responses to child sexual abuse in religious institutions. It outlines the nature and extent of the abuse, its impacts, and survivors’ experiences of disclosing it. It examines common failures in institutional responses, and draws out factors that may have contributed to the occurrence of abuse and to inadequate responses. It makes recommendations to prevent child sexual abuse from occurring in religious institutions and, where it does occur, to ensure that responses are appropriate and effective.

Children and their wellbeing, safety and protection have been at the centre of our inquiry. Our Terms of Reference recognise that all children deserve a safe and happy childhood and that Australia has international obligations to protect children from sexual and other forms of abuse.

We have examined a broad range of institutions – from schools to Scouts, from the YMCA to sporting and dance clubs, from Defence training establishments to a range of out-of-home care services. We have considered institutions managed by federal, state and territory governments as well as non-government organisations. It is clear that child sexual abuse has occurred in a broad range of institutional contexts across Australia, and over many decades. However, we heard more allegations of child sexual abuse in relation to institutions managed by religious organisations than any other management type.

More than 4,000 survivors told us in private sessions that they were sexually abused as children in religious institutions.

 The abuse occurred in religious schools, orphanages and missions, churches, presbyteries and rectories, confessionals, and various other settings. In private sessions we heard about child sexual abuse occurring in 1,691 different religious institutions. The sexual abuse took many forms, including rape. It was often accompanied by physical or emotional abuse. Most victims were aged between 10 and 14 years when the abuse first started. We heard about perpetrators including priests, religious brothers and sisters, ministers, church elders, teachers in religious schools, workers in residential institutions, youth group leaders and others.

We conducted 30 case studies on religious institutions. They revealed that many religious leaders knew of allegations of child sexual abuse yet failed to take effective action. Some ignored allegations and did not respond at all. Some treated alleged perpetrators leniently and failed to address the obvious risks they posed to children. Some concealed abuse and shielded perpetrators from accountability. Institutional reputations and individual perpetrators were prioritised over the needs of victims and their families.

Religious leaders and institutions across Australia have acknowledged that children suffered sexual abuse while in their care. Many have also accepted that their responses to this abuse were inadequate. These failures are not confined to religious institutions. However, the failures of religious institutions are particularly troubling because these institutions have played, and continue to play, an integral and unique role in the lives of many children. They have also been key providers of education, health and social welfare services to children in Australia for many years. They have been among the most respected institutions in our society. The perpetrators of child sexual abuse in religious institutions were, in many cases, people that children and parents trusted the most and suspected the least.

Many people who experience child sexual abuse have the course of their lives altered forever. Many of the survivors we heard from continue to experience the ongoing impacts. For some, these impacts have been profound. They include a devastating loss of religious faith and loss of trust in the religious organisation that was once a fundamental part of their life. The impacts have rippled out to affect their parents, siblings, partners, children and, in some cases, entire communities. Some victims have not survived the abuse, having since taken their own lives.

It would be a mistake to regard this child sexual abuse as historical; as something we no longer need to be concerned about. While much of the abuse we heard about in religious institutions occurred before 1990, long delays in victims disclosing abuse mean that an accurate contemporary understanding of the problem is not possible. Some of the abuse we heard about was recent. More than 200 survivors told us they had experienced child sexual abuse in a religious institution since 1990. We have no way of knowing how many others may have had similar experiences.

However, it would also be wrong to say that nothing has changed. In some religious institutions there has been progress during the past two decades. Some of the religious institutions examined in our case studies told us about their child protection reforms. Others remained reluctant to accept the need for significant internal changes.

We have developed a comprehensive set of recommendations aimed at making religious institutions safer for children. Many of the recommendations apply to all religious institutions in Australia. Some are specific to particular religious institutions. In some cases, the recommendations are also relevant to the international leadership of religious organisations.

The recommendations focus on factors that we identified as contributing to the occurrence of child sexual abuse in religious institutions and to inadequate institutional responses. Some relate to governance, internal culture and underlying theological and scriptural beliefs and practices. We have examined these matters to the extent that they have affected – and may continue to affect – the vulnerability of children to abuse, and the likelihood of religious institutions responding poorly when abuse occurs. Religious leaders in Australia have recognised the importance of our role in providing recommendations on such matters.

While positive reforms are underway in some religious institutions, there is still much progress to be made before the community can be confident that all religious institutions in Australia are as safe as possible for children.

Common contributing factors across religious institutions