Hearings have begun in Australia into allegations of widespread child sex abuse in the Catholic Church between 1950 and 2010.
In cooperation with the Church, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse has released data suggesting seven percent of priests working in the country in that period were accused of child sex crimes, but few were pursued.
Gail Furness, the lead lawyer assisting the Commission in Sydney said over 1,000 Catholic institutions nationwide were named in relation to sexual abuse claims. Furness added that in total 1,880 alleged perpetrators had been identified between 1980 and 2015.
“Children were ignored or worse, punished,” said Furness.
“Allegations were not investigated. Priests and religious were moved. The parishes or communities to which they were moved knew nothing of their past. Documents were not kept or they were destroyed. Secrecy prevailed as did cover-ups.”
The Vatican has been keeping a close eye on proceedings. Pope Francis’ top adviser Cardinal George Pell was formerly Australia’s most senior Catholic. He has testified at previous hearings and last year said the Church had made “enormous mistakes” and taken “catastrophic” decisions in refusing to believe children’s claims.
Cardinal Pell has also spoken of how authorities reacted to allegations of child sex abuse while he was in Australia. He said abusive priests had been moved from parish to parish and the Church had leaned too much on the counselling of priests to solve the issue.
In the coming weeks, a number of senior Australian Catholics will testify, with the Commission’s final report due by the end of 2017.
Set up in 2013, the Royal Commission is investigating dozens of institutions across the country in relation to allegations of sexual and physical abuse. Schools, sports clubs and religious organisations are all under scrutiny.