Australia: 7% of Catholic priests accused of abuse

The inquiry heard 4,444 claims of child sex abuse were made against 1,880 Catholic Church personnel

Australia: 7% of Catholic priests accused of abuse

Image: Ariel Schalit / AP/Press Association Images

Officials investigating institutional abuse in Australia’s Catholic Church have revealed that 7% of the country’s Catholic priests have been accused of sexually abusing children in recent decades.

Lawyers released the statistics during the opening address of a hearing of Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Australia’s highest form of public inquiry, the Royal Commission has since 2013 been investigating how institutions across the country - including schools, churches, sports clubs and government organisations - have responded to allegations and instances of abuse.

While the commission has already heard testimony from scores of people who suffered abuse at the hands of the clergy, the figures released on Monday reveal for the first time the full extent of the crisis.

The commission conducted surveys of a range of Catholic Church authorities in Australia.

A total of 1,880 claims of sexual abuse were made against Catholic Church personnel - including current and former priests, religious brothers or sisters and “any other person employed in or appointed to a voluntary position by a Catholic Church authority.”

Accusations of abuse

Of the 1,880 claims made:

  • 597, or 32%, were made against religious brothers.
  • 572, or 30%, were made against priests.
  • 543, or 29%, were made against lay-people employed or appointed by the church.
  • 96, or 5%, were made against religious sisters.

Between 1980 and 2015, 4,444 people reported they had been abused at more than 1,000 Catholic institutions across Australia.

The incidents were reported to 93 Catholic Church authorities.

The average age of the children was 10.5 for girls and 11.6 for boys - with victims waiting on average 33 years to report the alleged abuse.

Nine out of ten of the alleged perpetrators were male.

Christian brothers 

Over 20% of the members of four non-ordained religious orders - including the Christian Brothers and Marist Brothers - were alleged perpetrators.

Over 40% of the members of the Brothers of St John of God were alleged perpetrators of child abuse.

Outlining the figures, Gail Furness SC said six out of every ten abuse survivors attending the private royal commission sessions had experienced abuse at faith-based institutions.

Of those, almost two-thirds reported abuse in Catholic institutions.

Ms Furness described the victim’s accounts of their experiences reporting abuse as “depressingly similar.”

"Children were ignored or worse, punished," she said. "Documents were not kept, or they were destroyed. Secrecy prevailed as did cover-ups."

Tragic and indefensible

The Truth Justice and Healing Council (TJHC), which is coordinating the Catholic Church's response to the inquiry said the figures revealed, “a massive failure on the part the Catholic Church in Australia to protect children from abusers and predators.”

Francis Sullivan, TJHC chief executive said each entry in the data, “for the most part represents a child who suffered at the hands of someone who should have cared for and protected them.”

“These numbers are shocking, they are tragic and they are indefensible,” he said. "As Catholics, we hang our heads in shame."

He called the figures an indictment of the priests and religious members who abused the children as well as the, “church leaders who at the time failed to take steps to deal with the abusers, failed to call them to order and failed to deal with them in accordance with the law.”  

“Or worse, took steps which had the effect, if not the intent, of enabling them to abuse again,” he said.

The Archbishops of Sydney, Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra-Goulburn have made their way to Sydney to give evidence as part of the three-week public hearing.

This is the 50th public hearing held by the commission and the 16th dealing with abuse in the Catholic Church.