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Royal Commission: Ballarat suicides linked to clerical sexual abuse -

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ELIZABETH JACKSON: The child sexual abuse Royal Commission has heard harrowing evidence this week of brutal assaults on children in Catholic institutions in Ballarat.

The long-standing effects of the abuse has been clear, with survivors describing their physical and mental health problems, broken relationships and difficulties staying employed.

The Commission heard that 10 suicides in the city, in just the last year, can be directly linked to clerical sexual abuse.

Samantha Donovan has this report from Ballarat.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Peter Blenkiron is one of nearly 20 survivors of clerical sexual abuse who have given evidence to the Royal Commission this week.

He told the inquiry he was regularly assaulted by one of his teachers, Father Edward Dowlan, at St Patrick's College Ballarat.

PETER BLENKIRON: Been challenging for survivors but I think it's a necessary short-term pain for hopefully a long-term gain, which would be a system which will stop people suiciding and support the people that need the support and also making sure it's no more just words but there's some actions behind those words. And that's vital because the deaths in Ballarat have been far too high, all through the community.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Do you feel that, it being so public in Ballarat and nationally, it will help more Ballarat survivors come forward and come to groups like the ones you're involved in?

PETER BLENKIRON: I say to anybody that's out there - and I have people contact me and I have over the last few days that have never disclosed before - if it's happened to you, reach out. Talk about it.

And look, the chances are - and there are a lot of people that, because everyone's different, they might be fine - but if it's sitting there ticking away like a time bomb, if you can reach out, talk to somebody that knows about this stuff and defuse that time bomb and it potentially might stop your life from falling apart.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: One of the counsellors who's worked with a lot of the survivors told me that you and your friends have been prepared for not only the emotional toll but also the physical toll of giving evidence this week. Has it been stressful in both those ways for the survivors?

PETER BLENKIRON: For me it's been a relief. For the other guys, they say it's a relief. But I've had people coming forward, saying that it's really challenging and I think just to know it's normal that we will have a time after this where it's going to be tough. But it's a short-term pain for, hopefully, a long-term gain.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: The Royal Commission has heard this week that Ballarat is a "very Catholic town".

Some witnesses have given evidence they've been shunned by their families for speaking out about their abuse. Others have feared losing their jobs.

Peter Blenkiron says the reaction to the Royal Commission in the city has been mixed.

PETER BLENKIRON: Lots of different reactions and opinions. But you've got to remember: in the healing phase, which is very similar to the cycle of grief, denial is the first stage.

So I was stuck in my denial phase for almost 30 years, so the community - parts of the community - are stuck in the denial phase still. They're still turning their backs on the survivors that really need to be supported.

Other parts of the community have gotten through the denial phase and definitely in the angry phase. And there's a sadness out there for some people, too. Hopefully the phoenix rises from the ashes and some good comes from all this pain, death and destruction.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: The Catholic Church opted not to cross-examine any of the survivor witnesses about their evidence this week to avoid adding to their distress.

Peter Blenkiron says he and many of his fellow survivors were nervous at the prospect of further questioning and would have liked to have known the of the Church's decision before the hearings started.

PETER BLENKIRON: Would have been nice if they would have told us before the day that it all started. Would have been nice to have been given a bit of notice. But anyway, that seems to be the way it was played.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: The Catholic Church confirmed yesterday afternoon that even though some witnesses have made accusations against Cardinal George Pell, none of the Church parties will seek to cross-examine them.

The hearings resume in Ballarat on Monday.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Samantha Donovan.