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"Tragic, indefensible": Seven per cent of Catholic priests accused of child abuse

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Seven per cent of Australia’s Catholic priests were alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse between 1950 and 2010, according to an analysis released by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

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The royal commission had sought information about claims received by the Australian Catholic Church between 1980 and 2015.

“Between January 1980 and February 2015, 4444 people alleged incidents of child sexual abuse made to 93 Catholic Church authorities,” counsel assisting Gail Furness SC said her opening address at a commission hearing in Sydney today.

The average age of abuse victims was 10.5 for girls and 11.6 for boys. And the average time between the alleged abuse occurring and the date a claim was made was 33 years.

The royal commission also asked 75 Catholic Church authorities about who ministered in Australia between 1950 and 2010. It also looked at information provided by 10 religious orders.

It found more than 40 per cent of St John of God Brothers were alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse, along with 7.9 per cent of diocesan priests and 5.7 of religious priests.

“Overall, seven per cent of priests were alleged perpetrators,” Furness told the commission.

Initial allegations included claims made against current or former priests, religious brothers or sisters or any other employed or voluntary persons.

Furness said there were 1880 alleged perpetrators identified in the claims and there were claims involving more than 500 unknown people. It could not be determined by how much the two groups overlapped.

But 32 per cent were religious brothers, 30 per cent were priests, 29 per cent were lay people and five per cent were religious sisters.

Ninety per cent were male.

The royal commission has conducted 15 public hearings into the conduct of Catholic Church authorities and related institutions.

The Vatican has previously responded to requests to provide documents about cases involving Australian priests by saying it was “neither possible nor appropriate to provide the information requested”.

It had said it would respond to “specific requests” but, despite this, the inquiry heard it had declined to provide all requested documents about a specific priest “to avoid compromising the integrity of the canonical proceeding”.

Six of Australia’s seven Catholic archbishops and the leaders of religious orders will give evidence to the hearing, which will run for three weeks.

The chief executive of the Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council fought back tears as he said the data had found 1265 Catholic priests and religious leaders between 1960 and 2010 were subject to abuse claims.

“These numbers are shocking. They are tragic and they are indefensible,” Francis Sullivan said in a statement to the royal commission.

“This data, along with all we have heard over the past four years, can only be interpreted for what it is: a massive failure on the part of the Catholic Church in Australia to protect children from abusers.”

“As Catholics we hang our heads in shame.”

The royal commission chair has made 309 referrals to police in relation to child sexual abuse allegations involving Catholic Church institutions.

The referrals have resulted in 27 prosecutions, the royal commission heard.

EXTENT OF ABUSE CLAIMS TO CATHOLIC CHURCH

The victims

The perpetrators

The data

Source: Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

– AAP

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