Catholic Church paid A$276m to abuse victims in Australia

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Survivors of abuse gather to hear Cardinal George Pell's testimony in Rome last yearImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Survivors of abuse gather to hear Cardinal George Pell's testimony in Rome last year

The Australian Catholic Church has paid A$276m (£171m; $213m) to victims of sexual abuse since 1980, an inquiry has heard.

The money was divided between thousands of victims, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse was told.

The data, released on Thursday, showed the average payment was A$91,000.

The landmark royal commission was set up in 2013 and is also investigating abuse at non-religious organisations.

The Catholic Church made the payments in response to 3,066 of 4,445 child sexual abuse claims between 1980 and 2015, the inquiry heard. More than 40% of claims were received by a handful of male orders.

They included compensation, treatment, legal and other costs, said Gail Furness, the lead lawyer assisting the commission in Sydney.

Numbers 'likely to be greater'

"The royal commission's experience is that many survivors face barriers which deter them from reporting abuse to authorities and to the institution in which the abuse occurred," Ms Furness said.

"Accordingly, the total number of incidences of child sexual abuse in Catholic Church institutions in Australia is likely to be greater than the claims made."

Media caption,

Abuse survivor Andrew Collins recounts his story

The average delay between an alleged abuse and it being reported was 33 years, she said.

Earlier this month, the commission heard 7% of the nation's Catholic priests allegedly abused children between 1950 and 2010.

Reflecting on the findings, 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.

Long-running inquiry

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

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

Image source, Alamy
Image caption,
Cardinal Pell, who is Australia's top Catholic, appears at the inquiry via video link last year

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

Australia's most senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, said last year the church had made "enormous mistakes" and "catastrophic" choices by refusing to believe abused children, shuffling abusive priests from parish to parish and over-relying on counselling of priests to solve the problem.

A royal commission is Australia's most powerful type of inquiry that is able to compel people to testify and recommend legislative changes and criminal charges.

It is also investigating other religious institutions and government and sporting organisations, among others.