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7% of Australian Catholic priests allegedly abused children, inquiry told

An inquiry examining institutional sex abuse in Australia has heard 7% of the nation’s Catholic priests allegedly abused children between 1950 and 2010.

In one order, more than 40% of church figures were accused of abuse.

Almost 4,500 people claim to have been victims between 1980 and 2015, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse was told.

The commission, Australia’s highest form of inquiry, is also investigating abuse at non-religious organisations.

It has previously heard harrowing testimony from scores of people who suffered abuse at the hands of clergy. But the full scale of the problem was never clear until Monday, when the commission released the statistics it has gathered.

The victims’ stories were “depressingly similar”, said Gail Furness, the lead lawyer assisting the commission in Sydney.

“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.”

Damning statistics

Between 1980 and 2015, 4,444 children were abused at more than 1,000 Catholic institutions across Australia, Ms Furness said.

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The average age of the victims was 10.5 for girls and 11.5 for boys. On average, it took 33 years for each instance of abuse to be reported.

The royal commission also detailed the number of abuse claims against 10 religious orders in the six decades after 1950.

The data showed four orders had allegations of abuse against more than 20% of their members.

Percentage of church figures behind alleged abuse, 1950-2010
Religious institution Percentage
St John of God Brothers 40.4
Christian Brothers 22.0
Salesians of Don Bosco 21.9
Marist Brothers 20.4
De La Salle Brothers 13.8
Patrician Brothers 12.4
Society of Jesus 4.8
Missionaries of the Sacred Heart 3.3
Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart 0.6
Sisters of Mercy (Brisbane) 0.3
Source: Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

The royal commission, set up in 2013, is investigating allegations of sexual and physical abuse across dozens of institutions in Australia, including schools, sports clubs and religious organisations.

Ms Furness said on Monday that 60% of all survivors of abuse were from faith-based organisations. Of those, nearly two-thirds concerned the Catholic Church.

Francis Sullivan, chief executive of the Truth Justice and Healing Council, which is co-ordinating the Catholic Church’s response to the inquiry, said the data reflected “a massive failure” by the church to protect children.

Australian Cardinal George PellImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionCardinal George Pell is Australia’s most senior Catholic official

“These numbers are shocking, they are tragic and they are indefensible,” a tearful Mr Sullivan told the commission. “As Catholics, we hang our heads in shame.”

The Vatican has watched the proceedings closely. Cardinal George Pell, who was Australia’s most senior Catholic before becoming Pope Francis’ top financial adviser, has testified at previous hearings about how church authorities responded to allegations of child sex abuse during his time in Australia.

Several senior Australian Catholics will be testifying over the next few weeks. The commission’s final report is due by the end of this year.


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