Catholic leaders ‘criminally negligent’ on child abuse: archbishop

A television screen photograph of the Australian Archbishops attending the Royal Commission Child Sex Abuse in Sydney

A television screen photograph of the Australian Archbishops attending the Royal Commission Child Sex Abuse in Sydney Photo: AAP

Australia’s metropolitan Catholic archbishops agree a “catastrophic failure” of leadership contributed to ongoing child sexual abuse by clergy across the country.

The archbishops of Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide are jointly giving evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual abuse in Sydney.

Counsel assisting Gail Furness SC on Thursday asked each of them whether they agreed leadership failures were responsible for ongoing abuse in the church.

“I think you might want to use stronger words (than failure), in some cases,” Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said.

“It was a kind of criminal negligence to deal with some of the problems that were staring us in the face.”

Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said he thought the church had a “solemn obligation” to be part of the solution, while Archbishop Fisher said he has repeatedly said “no excuses, no cover-ups, no pedophiles ever again near our churches and schools”.

Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe said the church historically thought it was unique and “so important that it stood aside from the normal things that would be part of any other body”.

“You can then take it down and say, well that’s probably the way many bishops in their own diocese might also think of themselves,” he said.

Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson, who has been charged with concealing child sex offences, said the nature and impact of child sexual abuse had been previously misunderstood.

“It was a crime, Archbishop,” Ms Furness said.

“Yes, that’s right,” Archbishop Wilson replied.

A three-week hearing has been investigating the church’s current policies and procedures, and how it has responded to royal commission hearings so far.

Data released on the first day showed 4444 people had made claims of abuse to Australian Catholic authorities between 1980 and 2015.


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