Australia

Child abuse: 7% of Australian Catholic priests alleged to be involved

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Media captionAbuse survivor Andrew Collins gives his reaction to the findings

An inquiry examining institutional sex abuse in Australia has heard 7% of the nation's Catholic priests allegedly abused children between 1950 and 2010.

In one religious order, over 40% of church figures were accused of abuse.

Over 4,440 people claim to have been victims between 1980 and 2015, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse was told.

The commission, Australia's highest form of inquiry, is also investigating abuse at non-religious organisations.

It has previously heard harrowing testimony from scores of people who suffered abuse at the hands of clergy.

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Image caption The average age of victims was 10.5 for girls and 11.5 for boys

One victim said he was sexually abused by his Catholic Christian Brother teacher in his classroom, with other students ordered to look away.

In another case, the inquiry heard allegations that a priest threatened a girl with a knife and made children kneel between his legs.

'Children punished'

The full scale of the problem emerged on Monday, when the commission released the statistics it has gathered.

Gail Furness, the lead lawyer assisting the commission in Sydney, said more than 1,000 Catholic institutions across Australia were identified in claims of sexual abuse, with a total of 1,880 alleged perpetrators between 1980 and 2015.

The average age of the victims was 10.5 for girls and 11.5 for boys. On average, it took 33 years for each instance of abuse to be reported.

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Image caption Chrissie Foster, left, whose two daughters were sexually abused by a Catholic priest, said the Church had hidden perpetrators

The victims' stories were "depressingly similar", Ms Furness said.

"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."

Anthony and Chrissie Foster, the parents of two girls who were abused by their parish priest, said the Catholic Church had shown "no mercy, no remorse. Nothing."

"For so long this has been the way they acted to hide perpetrators, to move them on, with no regard for children whatsoever, that other children have become victims, and suffered this terrible fate," they told ABC news.

Abuse survivor Andrew Collins told the BBC it had been "drummed into his head" by the four men who abused him between the ages of seven and 14 - two teachers, a priest and a Catholic Brother - that he was the one who had "done wrong".

"I did try to tell my mum once and she said it was absolute rubbish and a man of God would never do such a thing," he said.

'Shocking, tragic, indefensible'

The royal commission also detailed the number of abuse claims against 10 religious orders, with data showing that four orders had allegations of abuse against more than 20% of their members.

Percentage of church figures behind alleged abuse, 1950-2010
Religious institution Percentage
St John of God Brothers 40.4
Christian Brothers 22.0
Salesians of Don Bosco 21.9
Marist Brothers 20.4
De La Salle Brothers 13.8
Patrician Brothers 12.4
Society of Jesus 4.8
Missionaries of the Sacred Heart 3.3
Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart 0.6
Sisters of Mercy (Brisbane) 0.3
Source: Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

The royal commission, set up in 2013, is investigating allegations of sexual and physical abuse across dozens of institutions in Australia, including schools, sports clubs and religious organisations.

Ms Furness said on Monday that 60% of all survivors of abuse were from faith-based organisations. Of those, nearly two-thirds concerned the Catholic Church.

Francis Sullivan, chief executive of the Truth Justice and Healing Council, which is co-ordinating the Catholic Church's response to the inquiry, said the data reflected "a massive failure'' by the church to protect children.

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Image caption Cardinal George Pell is Australia's most senior Catholic official

"These numbers are shocking, they are tragic and they are indefensible," a tearful Mr Sullivan told the commission. "As Catholics, we hang our heads in shame."

Abuse survivor Mr Collins suggested Australian state laws that allow organisations to be declared criminal should be applied to the Catholic Church over the rape and abuse of children within orders.

The Vatican has watched the proceedings closely. Cardinal George Pell, who was Australia's most senior Catholic before becoming Pope Francis' top financial adviser, has testified at previous hearings about how church authorities responded to allegations of child sex abuse during his time in Australia.

Several senior Australian Catholics will be testifying over the next few weeks. The commission's final report is due by the end of this year.

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