Church response to child abuse flawed: Australian archbishops

Canberra, Feb 23 (IANS) The Catholic Church’s response to cases of child sexual abuse bordered on criminal negligence, Australian archbishops admitted on Thursday at a hearing of the Royal Commission that is investigating institutional responses to child sexual abuse.

Around 4,500 people reported cases of alleged child sexual abuse involving around 1,880 members of the Church, between 1980 and 2015, with some cases dating as far back as the 1920s, Efe news reported.

“It was a kind of criminal negligence,” said Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher.

“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,” he commented during the hearing.

The commission is scheduled to interrogate five of the country’s seven archbishops between Thursday and Friday.

Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe called the handling of the complaints of abuse by Church authorities “a catastrophic failure” while the Archbishop of Brisbane said it indicated a colossal failure of the religious leadership.

The archbishops noted they have apologised for the sex abuse within the Church, but counsel assisting the commission, Gail Furness, saw the apology as being inadequate although necessary.

Meanwhile, Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson said the response to such complaints should include better ways to reach out to victims, stricter screening of aspiring candidates for the clergy, and safeguarding child welfare, among others.

The Royal Commission was established in 2012 to investigate the authorities’ response to sexual abuse of minors in social, public, sports and religious institutions.

In 2016, it released a report with 99 recommendations on how to deal with and take care of the victims, including a compensation scheme worth 4 billion Australian dollars (over $3 billion), funded by the centres where the abuses were committed.

In November, Australia announced compensation of up to 150,000 Australian dollars to victims of sexual abuse in public and religious institutions in the country.