Tue, Feb 07, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Australian commission releases abuse statistics

AP, SYDNEY

Seven percent of priests in Australia’s Catholic Church were accused of sexually abusing children over the past several decades, a lawyer said yesterday as officials investigating institutional abuse across Australia revealed for the first time the extent of the crisis.

The statistics were released during the opening address of a hearing of Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The royal commission has been investigating since 2013 how the Catholic Church and other institutions responded to the sexual abuse of children over decades.

The commission 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 yesterday, when the commission released the statistics it has gathered.

Commissioners surveyed Catholic Church authorities and found that between 1980 and 2015, 4,444 people reported they had been abused at more than 1,000 Catholic institutions across the nation, commission lead lawyer Gail Furness said.

Overall, 7 percent of priests in Australia between 1950 and 2010 were accused of sexually abusing children, the average age of victims being 10.5 for girls and 11.5 for boys, Furness said.

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

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

Several senior Australian Catholics will be testifying over the next few weeks.

However, victims’ groups said that the data still underestimates the scale of offending.

Bernard Barrett, a researcher with Broken Rites, a Web site documenting Catholic abuse, said the figures were only indicative of the minimal number of perpetrators.

Vlad Selakovic, a survivor of abuse at one of Salvation Army’s boys’ homes, said shame was still keeping many survivors from coming forward.

The commission’s final report is due by the end of this year.

Additional reporting by the Guardian

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