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Archbishops Told That Victims Thought 'God's Representative' Abused Them

Australia's highest ranking Catholics face their second day of hearings.

24/02/2017 9:24 AM AEDT | Updated 24/02/2017 2:24 PM AEDT
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Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart, Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher, Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson and Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe appearing before the Royal Commission in Sydney 23rd February 2017

Survivors of sex abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy thought they were being abused by "a representative of God," a Royal commission has heard.

Five archbishops from around the country are giving evidence at the sex abuse Royal Commission in Sydney about how the Catholic church responded to decades of sexual abuse against children in its care.

During an at-times philosophical and theological discussion on Friday, commissioner Andrew Murray reminded those listening what the hearings were about.

"We have been told in private sessions that at the moments of abuse, that the child at the time... thought they were being abused by the representative of God, so it has immense and immediate meaning with respect to child sex abuse," Murray said.

Archbishop Philip Wilson from Adelaide replied: "That's about the most horrible thing I could ever hear. It's just awful that people could behave like that."

"We've heard that many times," Murray replied.

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Archbishop Denis Hart, pictured here at the 12th Annual Anniversary Mass in 2014, told the Royal Commission priests who see celibacy as a burden risk entering "dangerous territory."

During the second day of hearings with the panel of five archbishops, the commission heard potential priests are entering "dangerous territory" if they don't have a healthy view of celibacy.

On Friday Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart told the inquiry the only way celibacy -- a requirement of being a Catholic priest --- can be lived is if its seen as a "gift" and not as "putting something aside".

"If you can't see celibacy as not putting something aside, but as embracing, in imitation of Christ, a love of a whole range of other people rather than a particular commitment of marriage, please, please don't go forward to the priesthood," he said on Thursday.

Celibacy seen as a burden runs the risk of turning in on oneself and would feed any immaturity or lack of balance in the person, he said.

"If they just go to the priesthood and they don't think of all that's implied and they're not educated or supported to see what's implied, then we're in dangerous territory."

Royal Commission
Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson on Thursday

Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson said the church should make sure only people compatible with celibacy are selected.

"If we do maintain celibacy as a requirement we have to be very, very careful with our selection process for that requirement," he said.

The panel-style hearing follows two weeks of inquires into why child sexual abuse happened over decades and what was being done about it. It is the Commission's 15th hearing into the Catholic church.

The latest hearings began in early February 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 the country to hear the Archbishops give evidence.

'They didn't refer to her at all'

ABC/Supplied
Eileen Piper came to Sydney seeking justice for her daughter, Stephanie, who killed herself after being raped by a priest.

Hart on Thursday refused to apologise to the 92-year old mother of a woman who commit suicide 23-years ago after she complained about a brutal rape at the hands Pallottine priest Gerard Mulvale.

Eileen Piper came to Sydney this week to hear an apology from Hart but didn't get it.

"They didn't refer to her at all," she told the ABC, referring to her meeting with Hart on Thursday.

Hart had expressed his sympathy for Eileen's pain.

"I wanted it for Stephanie, what happened my daughter. Not me," Eileen said.

Royal Commission/Supplied
Counsel assisting the Royal Commission Gail Furness.

Shane Healy, director of media Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, told the ABC on Thursday the Melbourne Archdiocese believed Stephanie's case had been investigated thoroughly and it can't be satisfied on the evidence that the abuse occurred.

He said the accusation was twice assessed by Peter O'Callaghan QC, from the Church's Melbourne Response, who came to the same conclusion.

But he said, while Archbishop Hart hasn't read the 49-page report, he had offered Eileen Piper an opportunity to read it.

"He was able to express his deep sympathy. I think maybe that's been lost in this," Healy said.

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