First report into clerical sex abuse released

First report into clerical sex abuse released

Peter Westmore

The Victorian Government has introduced legislation following the release of the report of the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the handling of sexual abuse by religious and other non-government organisations.

The Victorian inquiry is the first of three current inquiries involving the extremely distressing issue of the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church's care, and the Church's response to it.

In New South Wales, a report is due to be handed down by 24 February by a Special Commission of Inquiry.

The NSW inquiry was ordered by the state government after Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, in an ABC Lateline interview, criticised the handling of child sexual abuse allegations involving the Maitland-Newcastle Catholic diocese.

Inspector Fox alleged that there had been a systematic cover-up of sexual abuse allegations by both the Church and the NSW Police.

The NSW Inquiry will report on whether the Catholic Church facilitated or obstructed police investigations of alleged child sexual abuse involving two diocesan priests, Fr Denis McAlinden and Fr James Fletcher.

Royal Commission

Separately, the Federal Government established a Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse in November 2012.

The Royal Commission has received thousands of submissions.

The Royal Commission is required to make a final report by the end of 2015 and is expected to recommend changes in laws, policies, practices and systems to better protect children from sexual abuse.

The Victorian parliamentary inquiry summarised its finding in the following terms:

"Each year hundreds of thousands of children and young people in Victoria spend time involved with religious and other non-government organisations.

"These organisations provide a broad range of valuable services and social programs including child care, education, social activities, spiritual guidance and sports and recreation programs. Some organisations also provide temporary or permanent residential care away from the family."

The inquiry found that the "overwhelming majority" of children who participate in organisational activities or who are cared for by personnel in non-government organisations are safe and they gain great benefit from engaging in such activities and services.

However, it said that given children's vulnerability and dependence on adults, "there will always be a degree of risk of them being criminally abused by employees or others associated with non-government organisations."

It added, "The criminal abuse of children represents a departure of the gravest kind from the standards of decency fundamental to any civilised society.

"Although our society has understood this for a long time, we have not given enough attention to the need to take adequate protective measures to prevent it.

"The experience of criminal child abuse has profound and lifelong consequences for the physical, psychological and emotional well-being of victims. For parents of children abused in the care of trusted organisations, it is a betrayal beyond comprehension.

"Community outrage at the occurrence of criminal child abuse in organisations has led to the establishment of public inquiries internationally, nationally and in Victoria. Notably in Australia, religious organisations have generally been overlooked in these inquiries.

"In addition, religious organisations in Victoria have generally not initiated internal reviews to determine the extent of criminal child abuse and how their systems and processes may have contributed to its occurrence.

"Religious organisations are among the most revered and trusted institutions in society.

"Internationally, the exposure of systemic child abuse in religious organisations has called into question this trust and the integrity of some of these organisations. The Catholic Church, in particular, has been at the centre of a worldwide scandal."

The inquiry examined allegations of sexual abuse of children within the Anglican Church, the Salvation Army and the Jewish faith, but its most trenchant criticism was directed towards the Catholic Church's treatment of allegations, the failure to inform law enforcement agencies where criminal behaviour had occurred or was suspected, and the lack of support for the victims who were often not believed when they complained of sexual abuse.

It quoted the statement by Professor Patrick Parkinson of Sydney University, who has worked with the Catholic and Anglican Churches to develop effective methods of protecting children: "The reality is that we have come light years on from 1997 [when he conducted a study of sexual abuse within church communities].

"Most churches - I think all churches - have radically changed their attitudes to all of this. It is important to emphasise that all churches now, including the Catholic Church, are very much safer places than they were. We have, in my view, come a long way, but there is a long way to go."

The inquiry acknowledged that it did not examine the issue of sexual abuse within families or in government institutions as these were outside the inquiry's terms of reference.

It acknowledged that these issues were even more grave than those affecting churches and non-government organisations.

The inquiry put forward a range of recommendations, including registration and character checks on all persons having contact with children, a government-established compensation system for victims, anti-grooming laws, establishing child-safe environments in churches and religious organisations, and mandatory reporting to police of allegations.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.