Published: Mon, December 18, 2017
Global | By Shelia Dennis

Vatican says Australian report on abuses "deserves to be studied seriously"

Vatican says Australian report on abuses

Catholicism is the largest denomination in majority-Christian Australia.

"In his recent meeting with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Pope Francis said the Church is called to be a place of compassion, especially for those who have suffered, and reaffirmed that the Church is committed to safe environments for the protection of all children and vulnerable adults".

Australia's Catholic Church was targeted in 20 of the recommendations that included screening tests, mandatory reporting of religious confessions and a suggestion that celibacy for priests should end.

Australia's longest-running royal commission - which is the country' highest form of inquiry - has been investigating since 2012 how the Catholic Church and other institutions responded to sexual abuse of children in Australia over 90 years. Those critics point to an investigation by the American newspaper the Boston Globe which uncovered years of child abuse which the report alleges was covered up by the Church.

The situation in the church was described as a "serious failure" by the work - the commission also labelled the abuses as a "national tragedy". And it said it was committed to helping the Australian church accompany victims in finding healing and justice.

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According to the commission's analysis, 60,000 survivors would be eligible to make a claim for compensation under a national redress scheme.

"We conclude that there is an elevated risk of child sex abuse where compulsorily celibate male clergy or religious have privileged access to children in certain types of Catholic institutions, including schools, residential institutions and parishes", the report said.

Sydney Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher backed a full redress, "whatever the cost".

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a Catholic, recommended all Australians read the report.

The report also recommended that candidates for religious ministry should undergo external psychological testing, including psycho-sexual assessment, for the purposes of determining their suitability to be a person in religious ministry and to undertake work involving children, and that any person in religious ministry who is the subject of a complaint of child sexual abuse which is substantiated ... or who is convicted of an offence relating to child sexual abuse, should be permanently removed from ministry. Pell this year became the most senior Catholic official to face sex offence charges.

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"It is clear that their approach to child sexual abuse by clergy was protective of the offender", it said.

While not addressing the recommendations specifically, the press office of the Holy See did acknowledge the report in a brief statement.

"The seal of the confessional, or the relationship with God that's carried through the priest and with the person, is inviolable", Hart said, adding that he "cannot break the seal".

Archbishop Denis Hart, the president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, issued an "unconditional" apology, saying: "This is a shameful past, in which a prevailing culture of secrecy and self-protection led to unnecessary suffering for many victims and their families".

Former prime minister Julia Gillard, who had called for the establishment of the royal commission, said previous efforts to conduct such an inquiry were resisted, despite efforts by whistle-blowers to expose the abuses. Nine survivors out of 10 said they had been abused by men.

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