Royal Commission’s report recommendations
The final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional responses to child sexual abuse has been published, a 17-volume report that has more than 400 recommendations, including need for Australia to have national strategy to prevent child sex abuse. It has warned governments and institutions that they must not fail children again.The inquiry has also suggested the Catholic Church consider voluntary celibacy for diocesan clergy and the Jehovah’s Witnesses abandon a 2000-year-old rule in handling child sex abuse cases and stop shunning victims who leave the organisation. It called for strengthened and nationally consistent mandatory reporting laws that include people in religious ministry and no exemption when the information came from a religious confession. More than 8,000 survivors told their personal stories, and a further 1,000 provided written accounts and almost all of the survivors, more than 64 per cent of whom were male, allege they were abused by an adult male, with most saying they were in their early teens when the abuse first happened. Close to 40 per cent claim multiple perpetrators were involved.The majority of religious institutions where abuse is believed to have taken place were Catholic-run, where leaders often had unsupervised access to, and authority over, children.Those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds say they often felt isolated as children, and faced discrimination from the broader society something many perpetrators took advantage of. The 14.3 per cent of survivors who were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background describe the combined pain of being abused and being separated from their family and culture, and of passing this trauma down to future generations.The $500 million, five-year royal commission also wants abusers stripped of any honours and a national memorial to recognise the tens of thousands of children sexually abused in more than 4000 Australian institutions.It also places blame on state instruments, such as the police, child protection agencies and the justice system.Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull praised the courage of the survivors who told their stories.”As you go through that book, you see this repeated: ‘thank you for hearing me, thank you for believing me. The first time someone in authority has listened to me has heard my story’.””What that commission has done has exposed a national tragedy.” Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who established the Royal Commission, expressed her thanks to the Commissioners and staff as well as survivors “who fought so hard for justice and a safer future for our children.”The commission has given the federal, state and territory governments six months to respond to its recommendations and wants institutions to report on how they have implemented its reforms in a year’s time.Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher has promised the multi-volume final report from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse would not “sit on a shelf”.”I will study the findings and recommendations carefully, and then provide a detailed response as we discern, with the rest of the community, the best way forward,” Archbishop Fisher said in a statement. Archbishop Fisher said he stood ready to address systemic issues behind the abuse and said he was appalled by the sinful and criminal activity of some members of the clergy and ashamed by the response of church leaders.”I recognise and understand how this has damaged the credibility of the Church in the broader community, and shocked many of our own faithful,” Archbishop Fisher said.”If we are to be worthy of people’s trust we must demonstrate that the rights of children to be safe, heard and responded to appropriately are always respected.”
Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president, said the bishops would take the royal commission’s recommendations seriously and present them to the Holy See.Archbishop Hart however said the seal of the confession cannot be broken, even if priests face the prospect of criminal charges for failing to report child sexual abuse. “My sacred charge is to respect the seal of the confessional,” added Archbishop Hart.”I revere the law of the land and I trust it but this is a sacred spiritual charge before God which I must honour, and I have to try and do what I can do with both.” Archbishop Hart said if a person confessed “those heinous crimes” to him he would refuse them absolution until they went to the authorities.Archbishop Hart said if a child came to him and told him they had been molested he would see the conversation move outside of confessional and take them to a parent or teacher to see that the allegations were reported.On the suggestion by royal commission’s of voluntary celibacy, Archbishop Hart said he would certainly make sure bishops would pass that recommendation on to the Holy See who will make the decision.While Archbishop Hart said he believed there were benefits to the vow of celibacy, he admitted it was a difficult undertaking.”I believe that there is real value in celibacy where it is walking with every people and with others, as Christ does, and that being supported by prayer and by a relationship which is broader than a relationship of marriage, and that’s living as Jesus did. But it’s a difficult thing,” Archbishop Hart said.”I think it’s a point the commission made was that it’s something not everyone can live up to and we have to be sure that in our training and introduction of young people for training in the priesthood that they understand what they are taking on, and if they can’t be really motivated, really sure and really helped, it’s better they not go forward.”Archbishop Hart reassured people the royal commission findings were being taken “very, very seriously” by the Catholic Church and it had “historically failed children”.”This is a shameful past, in which a prevailing culture of secrecy and self-protection led to unnecessary suffering for many victims and their families,” Archbishop Hart noted.”As a bishop I humbly apologize and I commit the church to walking forward with the community, with victims and survivors into a new future where child sexual abuse will be a thing that doesn’t exist in our community.”Archbishop Hart said the church was “committed to doing whatever we possibly can because this has to be a top priority”.”No more child sexual abuse anywhere in the world,” Archbishop Hart. The government has pledged $52.1 million to support abuse victims’ access to redress from a national scheme, along with a parliamentary committee, to be chaired by Derryn Hinch and a taskforce will also be set up in January to look at and act on the recommendations.The inquiry into how churches, charities and other organisations handled abuse of children concluded that abuse happened “in almost every type of institution where children reside or attend”.“Tens of thousands of children have been sexually abused,” it says, but “we will never know the true number”.