An inquiry into sexual abuse committed by Catholic clergymen in Australia has found that seven per cent of all priests allegedly abused children between 1950 and 2010.
Over 4,440 people claim to have been victims between 1980 and 2015, according to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse. The inquiry, which is also looking at abuse in non-religious organisations, found that in one order, over 40 per cent of church figures were accused.
There had been previous insights into abuse in Australia, with harrowing testimonies relating to one priest threatening a girl with a knife or making children kneel between his legs.
Another victim spoke of how he had been sexually abused by a Catholic Christian Brother while his classmates were told to look away.
The statistics released by the Commission – which is the highest form of inquiry in Australia – highlights the full scale of the problem. More than one thousand Catholic institutions across the country were identified in claims of sexual abuse, with a total of 1,880 alleged perpetrators between 1980 and 2015, according to the case’s lead lawyer, Gail Furness.
The average age of the victims was 10.5 for girls and 11.5 for boys and, on average; it took 33 years for each instance of abuse to be reported.
“Children were ignored or worse, punished. Allegations were not investigated. Priests and religious [figures] were moved. The parishes or communities to which they were moved knew nothing of their past,” she said.
The Royal Commission, which was set up in 2013, is investigating allegations of sexual and physical abuse across dozens of institutions in Australia. Ms Furness explained that 60 per cent of all survivors of abuse were from faith-based organisations and that, of those, nearly two-thirds concerned the Catholic Church.
The Church’s response to the inquiry is being led by Francis Sullivan, Chief Executive of the Truth and Healing Council. She said the damning statistics were “shocking”, “tragic” and “indefensible”.
“As Catholics, we hang our heads in shame,” she added.