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Archbishop Says Child Abuse Response Appalling, 'Kind Of Criminal Negligence'

The Royal Commission is investigating what the church Is doing to address its 'catastrophic failure'.

23/02/2017 12:11 PM AEDT | Updated 23/02/2017 6:28 PM AEDT
Supplied/Royal Commission
The Archbishops of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth Appear before the Royal Commission on Thursday

The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney has told a Royal Commission the response by church leaders to abuse allegations by children amounted to "criminal negligence".

On Thursday the archbishops of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth appeared before the sex abuse Royal Commission to give evidence on what the Church is doing to address its decades long failure to protect children.

The archbishops were asked by Counsel assisting, Gail Furness, if a failure of leadership was responsible for abuse in the church.

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said a stronger term might be used.

"That it was a kind of criminal negligence to deal with some of the problems that were staring us in the face," he said

Supplied
Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said the church's failure to deal with abuse properly amounted to 'criminal negligence'

"In other cases, I think there were people that were just like rabbits in the headlights, they just had no idea what to do, and their performance was appalling."

The panel-style hearing follows two weeks of inquires into why child sexual abuse happened over decades and what was being done about it.

Fairfax/Supplied
Senior Counsel Assisting Gail Furness at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse into the Catholic Church authorities .

The latest hearings began two weeks ago with Royal Commission data showing a total of 1880 perpetrators had been identified as alleged abusers since 1950, amid complaints by 4444 victims made to the Church between 1980 and February 2015.

Survivors and families came from all over Australia to hear the Archbishops give evidence.

'If I get an apology, it will be a big help'

Eileen Piper, 92, came to the to Sydney from Melbourne. Her Daughter Stephanie committed suicide two decades ago after allegedly being abused by a priest.

Eileen wants an apology from Archbishop Dennis Hart.

"I would just ask him get down off his high horse, get down off that high horse and just stand in front of me and look me in the eye and say 'I am so sorry for what has happened,'" she told the ABC from outside the inquiry.

ABC
Eileen Piper told the ABC she had travelled to the Royal Commission for the sake of her daughter, Stephanie.

"They can't do it. I want them to do it. It's all I came for. If I get an apology, it will be a big help. It will be good for Stephanie because they branded her a villain. It'd be good for Stephanie's reputation. I'm here for her reputation."

Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe earlier said the church has suffered a "catastrophic failure" when it came to the protection of children.

"The high incidence of sexual abuse of minors by clergy, religious and other Church personnel in the Catholic Church indicates that there has been catastrophic failure in relation to the protection of children in the Church in Australia," he said in a statement to the inquiry.

"The response to this scandal by some Church authorities. especially in the past, has been hopelessly inadequate.

"Sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is a shocking betrayal of everything the Church claims to stand for."

Fairfax/David Mariuz
Archbishop Philip Wilson arrives at a Media conference at Catholic HQ Adelaide, in 2011.

The church has paid $276 million in compensation to victims, while the Royal Commission said of the data many more victims had not come forward.

Archbishop Fisher said he was appalled by the conduct of priests and laypeople who abused children.

"I am determined that those of us in leadership positions in the Church do all we can to ensure such things never happen again in the Church; that those entrusted with the care of the young and vulnerable keep them safe; and that those already harmed are brought justice and compassion," he said.

Fisher and Costelloe appeared alongside Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson, Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart, and Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge on Thursday afternoon.

Wilson is fighting charges he concealed allegations of sexual abuse committed by a priest in NSW, a charge he strongly denies.

Catholic Data Project Results:

  • 4,444 — number of people who alleged incidents of child sexual abuse,
  • 1,000 — The number of separate institutions the claims related to,
  • 78 percent male, 22 percent female — gender of the person making the claim,
  • 97 percent male — people who made claims of child sexual abuse received by religious orders, with only religious brother members,
  • 11.5 for boys, 10.5 for girls — the average age of people who made claims of child sexual abuse at the time of the alleged abuse,
  • 33 years —the average time between the alleged abuse and the date the claim was made,
  • 1880 — number alleged perpetrators were identified in claims,
  • 597 or 32 percent were religious brothers,
  • 572 or 30 percent were priests,
  • 543 or 29 percent were lay people,
  • 96 or 5 percent were religious sisters,
  • 90 percent male, 10 percent female — age of the allege perpetrators,
  • 500+ — number of unknown people were identified as alleged perpetrators.

'A bushfire going through the Catholic church'

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

For the past two weeks the inquiry has heard evidence from various Catholic orders, some of whom ranked among the highest proportion of alleged abusers.

Last month it was reported the Christian brothers had spent $1.53 million on legal fees defending one of the nation's worst pedophiles, Charles Robert Best, prompting a country court judge to declare it "just blows me away".

Overall proportion of non-ordained religious who where alleged perpetrators (1950-2010):

  • 40.4 percent -- St John of God Brothers
  • 22.0 percent -- Christian Brothers
  • 21.9 percent -- Salesians of Don Bosco
  • 20.4 percent -- Marist Brothers
  • 13.8 percent -- De La Salle Brothers
  • 12.4 percent --Patrician Brothers
  • 4.8 percent -- Society of Jesus
  • 3.3 percent -- Missionaries of the Sacred Heart
  • 0.6 percent -- Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart
  • 0.3 percent -- Sisters of Mercy (Brisbane)

The Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday reported on Royal commission testimony that the the Christian Brothers had underpaid sex abuse victims by millions of dollars because they believed they were "going to be taken to the cleaners."

The Bishop of Parramatta, Vincent Long Van Nguyen, told the inquiry earlier this week he suffered sexual abuse by a clergy member after arriving in Australia as a refugee from Vietnam in 1981.

The Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Christopher Prowse, described the revelations of wide spread abuse as being like "a bushfire going through the Catholic church or a tsunami effect, on faith and people's trust in us".

Earlier in the hearings, Francis Sullivan from the Truth, Justice and Healing Council -- a Church advisory body -- said the Royal Commission data was an indictment of the priests and religious who abused children.

"They are tragic and they are indefensible... and 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," he said.


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