6 Feb 2017

Catholic Church at centre of sex abuse hearing

9:46 pm on 6 February 2017

More than 20 percent of the members of some Catholic religious orders - including Marist Brothers and Christian Brothers - were allegedly involved in child sexual abuse, a royal commission hearing in Sydney has been told.

hands holding rosary beads

Photo: 123RF

The hearing, part of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, is examining the current policies and procedures of the Catholic Church's authorities in Australia relating to child protection and child safety standards, as well as their response to allegations of abuse.

In her opening address, Gail Furness SC said a survey revealed 4444 alleged incidents of abuse between January 1980 and February 2015 were made to Catholic Church authorities.

Ms Furness said 60 percent of all abuse survivors attending private royal commission sessions reported sexual abuse at faith-based institutions.

Of those, almost two-thirds reported abuse in Catholic institutions.

Ms Furness described the victims' accounts as "depressingly similar".

"Children were ignored or worse, punished," she said.

"Documents were not kept, or they were destroyed. Secrecy prevailed as did cover-ups."

The average age of the victims at the time they were allegedly abused was 10 for girls and 11 for boys.

Religious orders were in the firing line with the data suggesting that between 1950 and 2010, more than 20 percent of Marist Brothers, Salesians of the Don Bosco and Christian Brothers had allegations of child sexual abuse against them.

For the St John of God Brothers, that number was 40.4 percent.

It is the first time the data has been released.

Documents were not kept, or they were destroyed. Secrecy prevailed as did cover-ups."

The average age of the victims at the time they were allegedly abused was 10 for girls and 11 for boys.

Religious orders were in the firing line with the data suggesting that between 1950 and 2010, more than 20 per cent of Marist Brothers, Salesians of the Don Bosco and Christian Brothers had allegations of child sexual abuse against them.

For the St John of God Brothers, that number was 40.4 per cent.

It is the first time the data has been released.

Nearly 1300 priests accused of abusing children

One of the Catholic Church's most senior figures choked up as he acknowledged nearly 1300 priests had been accused of abusing children.

Francis Sullivan from the Church's Truth, Justice and Healing Council described the number as "shocking".

"These numbers are shocking, they are tragic and they are indefensible," he said.

"Each entry in this data, for the most part represents a child who suffered at the hands of someone who should have cared for, and protected them."

The Archbishops of Sydney, Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne and Canberra-Goulburn have congregated in Sydney to give evidence as part of the three-week public hearing.

Questions are expected to focus on the extent of child abuse over almost seven decades and what church leaders are doing to protect children.

This is the 50th public hearing of the four-year-long royal commission and it is the 16th dealing with abuse in the Catholic Church.

The royal commission has investigated how institutions across the country, including schools, churches, sports clubs and government organisations, have responded to allegations and instances of abuse.

- ABC

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