By Byron Kaye and Elouise Fowler
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia should introduce a law forcing religious leaders to report child abuse, including Catholic priests who are told of abuse in the confessional, according to a report into institutional child abuse released on Friday.
The 17-volume document from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse marks the end of one of the world’s biggest inquiries into child abuse.
The five year investigation found “multiple and persistent failings of institutions to keep children safe, the cultures of secrecy and cover-up, and the devastating affects child sexual abuse can have on an individual’s life”, the commission said in a statement.
The report detailed tens of thousands of child victims, saying their abusers were “not a case of a few rotten apples”.
“We will never know the true number,” it read.
The report called for a National Office for Child Safety and national child safety standards, child abuse reporting and record keeping, which would cover all institutions engaged in child-related work.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the inquiry had “exposed a national tragedy”.
The inquiry spanned religious, government, educational and professional organisations but heard many accounts alleging abuse cover-ups in the Australian Catholic Church, including allegations of moving priests suspected of abuse between parishes to avoid detection.
Of all the survivors who reported abuse in religious institutions, more than 60 percent cited the Catholic Church.
The report said the Catholic Church had demonstrated “catastrophic failures of leadership”, particularly before the 1990s and that the average age of abuse victims at Catholic institutions was 11.
It said clergy who are told of child abuse in the confessional should be required by law to report it and called for the Catholic Church to make celibacy voluntary for clergy, saying it contributed to child abuse.
It also called for a new criminal offence that would make it easier to prosecute institutions who failed to protect children.
“I’m appalled by the sinful and criminal activity of some clergy, religious and lay church-workers,” Australia’s most senior catholic, Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher, said in a statement on Friday.
“I’m ashamed of the failure to respond by some church leaders, and … I stand ready to address any systemic issues behind this.”
The inquiry heard previously that the Australian Catholic Church paid A$276 million ($212 million) in compensation to thousands of child abuse victims since 1980.
($1 = 1.3040 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Byron Kaye and Elouise Fowler; Editing by Michael Perry)