The Australian government set up the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2013. There were ongoing revelations in the media of institutions moving alleged abusers moving from school to school rather than reporting them to the police. Further, some people, usually senior church, government, and law enforcement figures, allegedly hadn’t tried to stop further abuse when they were in a position to do so.
The majority of the allegations relate to the Roman Catholic Church though they were not the only ones at the sharp end of accusations. There had been calls for a Royal Commission into the issue since the 1990s. It got to the stage there was such a flood of allegations the government could no longer ignore those calls.
As per Wikipedia, in the terms of reference for the Commission,
The commissioners were directed “to inquire into institutional responses to allegations and incidents of child sexual abuse and related matters”.
Revelations Regarding the Roman Catholic Church
There was a partial release of information from the Commission on 7 February 2017. As a result, the horrific story of the abuse of children in Catholic Church institutions hit the headlines in Australia and New Zealand.
This is the take of one New Zealand television news service, 1News.
The Scale of the Abuse
The scale of the abuse is beyond belief, with the Roman Catholic Church receiving the most allegations.
The Royal Commission spoke to 4,444 victims of various Roman Catholic institutions, which made up 37% of all the victims they spoke to. The average age of female victims, who made up 22% of those the Commission spoke to, was 10.5 years. A huge majority of the victims (78%) were male, whose average age was 11.6 years. I think we can assume that in reality there were a lot more.
There were 1,882 perpetrators named and more than 500 unnamed. The average length of time between the abuse and the time of reporting was around 33 years so therefore some memories were unclear. Also, some of those abused did not have, or no longer had, the capacity to fully remember the incident.
Of those who could name their abuser, 32% (597) were religious brothers, 30% (572) were priests, 29% (543) were lay workers, and 5% (96) were religious sisters. Overall, 90% of the abusers were male and 10% were female. Clearly, with more than 2,400 perpetrators and 4,444 victims, some perpetrators had more than one victim.
The victims attended more than 1,000 different institutions in 93 different Church authority areas. To say the abuse was pervasive is no exaggeration.
The Commission’s calculation is that an astonishing 7% of all Catholic priests ministering in Australia between 1950 and 2010 were abusers. In some dioceses, the figure was as high as 15%.
Abusers in Schools
Further, some religious orders seem to be a haven for abusers. As noted in the 1News story, the Commission received allegations relating to 20.4% of Marist brothers, 22% of Christian brothers, and 40.4% of St John of God brothers. Of course, these are the orders that mostly run schools. In particular, the Order of St John of God runs schools for mentally and physically disabled boys.
It seems paedophiles are more likely to join orders where they would have contact with large numbers of children. In the case of the Order of St John of God, they joined an order where the children were especially vulnerable.
Where is Jesus?
The responses of the family members of some victims shows a level of cognitive dissonance. This is common due to betrayal by an institution they should be able to trust above all others.
In the 1News video above a survivor’s husband, Ian Isaacs asks,
“Where is Jesus? Where is He? He’s in that courtroom today in the form of those sitting on the Commission, seeking justice for Australian children.
The truth is that, although they have been very slow about it, justice is coming from secular authorities. History tells us that in countries where the Church of whatever religion sets the rules, they protect themselves. Whoever is in charge, there needs to be a separate institution or branch of government that is able to act as a check on power.
In the same video Chrissie Forster, a victim’s mother, says, “The Catholic priesthood gives God a bad name.”
Anyone who thinks God has a good name in relation to children or anything else hasn’t read their Bible.
The Catholic Church’s Response: Truth, Justice, and Healing Council
In response to the Commission, the Catholic Church established the Truth, Justice, and Healing Council to speak for the entire Church. Their CEO, Francis Sullivan spoke to the commission following the release of the figures. He was clearly upset him. Following his appointment he spoke via YouTube about his mission. You can watch his statement here.
He is saying all the right things, and I’ve no reason to doubt he’s personally sincere. The trouble is the actions of the wider Church are very troubling and do not demonstrate a commitment to the process. As recently as last year, the Vatican was continuing to refuse to provide documentation and information to the Commission.
It was senior counsel Gail Furness who read the statistical details regarding the allegations of abuse relating to the Catholic Church.
The Guardian reports:
[Furness] also revealed that the Holy See had refused to hand over documents involving Australian priests accused of abuse.
“The royal commission hoped to gain an understanding of the action taken in each case,” Furness said. “The Holy See responded, on 1 July 2014, that it was ‘neither possible nor appropriate to provide the information requested’,” she said.
Furness said the responses of Catholic diocese and orders across the country were “depressingly similar”.
“Children were ignored or worse, punished. Allegations were not investigated. Priests and religious [brothers] were moved. The parishes or communities to which they were moved knew nothing of their past,” she said. “Documents were not kept or they were destroyed. Secrecy prevailed as did cover-ups.”
Father Peter Searson
The story surrounding one priest in particular, Father Searson is especially worrying. One Guardian article on Searson includes charges of:
… pointing a handgun at a child; holding a knife to the chest of a young girl and threatening it would “go through her”; showing children a dead body; torturing a cat and stabbing to death a bird in front of children; loitering in children’s toilets; and forcing children to kneel between his legs to say confession.
He was also allegedly stealing parish funds. Another Guardian article says:
Father Searson was plainly nuts, but the Catholic Education Office couldn’t get rid of him. They’d run complaints up to the then archbishop of Melbourne, Frank Little, but nothing would be done.
The headmaster of the school Graeme Sleeman gave the church an ultimatum: the priest had to go or he would. The church backed the priest. Sleeman never worked in the Catholic education system again.
Along came [Cardinal George] Pell. Doveton was in his territory. But [Pell] did nothing effective about this vicious priest despite receiving a delegation of teachers complaining about him in 1989 and another of parents in 1991.
Searson would stay in Doveton for eight more years until he bashed another altar boy whose parents went to the police. Pell was archbishop when the priest was finally sacked in 1997.
Cardinal George Pell
Father Searson was only one man. Even more concerning is the case of Cardinal George Pell. As well as doing nothing about Searson, he kept several other abusers on the job even though he knew what they were doing.
He gave evidence to the Commission on multiple occasions, vowing they could trust his word.
Then the victims gave their evidence. Every time, their evidence was in contradiction to his on vital points. Soon his failure to protect the children in his care became obvious to all, and there was a major scandal in Australia. Pell was made safe by his bosses – he got a new job at the Vatican. He is now prefect of the secretariat for the economy in the Vatican. The Guardian says that makes him “the third most powerful man in the Catholic Church”.
Despite continuing in such a high-powered role, he is apparently too ill to return to Australia to face the Commission. The Commission has taken the word of Vatican doctors that Pell is too ill to travel and he now gives evidence via video link. You can bet he’ll never return to Australia again.
It’s Not Just the Catholics
As a organisation, the Catholics have the largest number of allegations against them, but they only make up 4,444 (37%) of the total cases of institutional sexual abuse in front of the Commission. That means the total number of cases is more than 12,000.
There are some horrific allegations that relate to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Salvation Army, the Mormons, the Jews, the Anglicans, and several others. Some of the cases do not relate to religious organisations.
One of the problems with religion is that it teaches children not to question. Religious leaders in particular are set up as authority figures that children must believe, no matter what.
Too often in religious settings people teach that being unquestioning is synonymous with respect and that faith is a virtue they should aspire to. This is why some children believe they are the ones in the wrong when they are the victims of abuse by someone they should be able to trust.
So the abuse goes on, sometimes for years. And once the abuse stops, the associated mental abuse means the suffering may never go away.
If you enjoyed reading this, please consider donating a dollar or two to help keep the site going. Thank you.