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Tuesday, 7 February 2017
Page: 141


Mr WALLACE (Fisher) (16:59): This week the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse began its final public hearings into the Catholic Church. It should be remembered that the royal commission is examining the conduct not only of those in the Catholic Church but of those in all institutions in Australia.

On 6 February, just yesterday, counsel assisting the royal commission, Gail Furness SC, tendered a report to the commission. The report results from research conducted by the royal commission, supported by the Catholic Church's body for coordinating their response to the royal commission—the Truth, Justice and Healing Council—and from Catholic Church authorities. It sought to estimate the numbers and proportions of priests and non-ordained religious members of the Catholic Church who were alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse in at least one claim. As a committed Catholic I found those figures deeply disturbing, although it is important to point out that the figures relate to allegations of misconduct rather than to actual findings of guilt.

The data relates to incidents that are alleged to have taken place during the period of 1950 to 2010, though it only includes claims reported since 1980. It includes priests, brothers, sisters, lay employees and volunteers. There were 1,880 alleged perpetrators who were identified in claims of child sexual abuse, and 4,444 alleged child sexual abuse incidents were reported—572 of the incidents were by priests, 693 by non-ordained religious members and 543 by lay people. Seven per cent of all priests overall are estimated to have been identified in at least one claim. This figure is higher than the US equivalent of 5.6 per cent. The average age of male victims was 11½ years old, and for female victims it was 10½ years old. The Truth, Justice and Healing Council said:

They are tragic and they are indefensible. Each entry in this data, for the most part, represents a child who suffered at the hands of someone who should have cared for and protected them, and let us not forget the ripples of the abuse also felt by their family, friends and carers.

Perhaps the most disconcerting evidence that has been heard by the commission, if that is at all possible, is the leadership of the church and its systemic failure to protect those most vulnerable who were entrusted to it. Church leadership has a great deal to answer for for its willingness to sweep things under the carpet and, in fact, to hide these atrocities from parishes to where religious members and priests were sent, where their people's history was unbeknown. Many children have suffered and continue as adults to suffer from their experience in Catholic institutions, and we as a government have taken steps to introduce a Commonwealth redress scheme. (Time expired)