The abuse royal commission has recommended a national memorial for child sex abuse survivors and a national strategy to prevent future abuse, including appointing a federal minister for children’s issues.
The $500 million, five-year royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse handed over its final 17-volume report on Friday, having heard harrowing evidence from thousands of survivors in numerous church, sporting, government and community organisations.
‘There is no simple explanation for why child sexual abuse has occurred in a multitude of institutions,’ the final report says.
‘However, we have identified a number of ways in which institutions may, inadvertently or otherwise, enable or create opportunities for abuse.’
Among the recommendations made in the entire volume directed to the Catholic Church was that voluntary celibacy should be considered and much of the church management structure should be reviewed and made transparent.
The recommendations include creating a ministerial portfolio with responsibility for children’s policy issues, and establishing a National Framework for Child Safety to provide a response to the implementation of the Child Safe Standards.
It wants the federal government to oversee the development and implementation of a national strategy to prevent child sexual abuse.
Federal and state government have been asked to respond to the commission’s 189 recommendations within six months.
‘Australian society must never go back to a state of denial about the nature, cause and impact of child sexual abuse in institutional contexts.’
Former prime minister Julia Gillard has described as historic the handing down of the final report from the child abuse royal commission.
Five years ago, Ms Gillard set up the inquiry which on Friday wrapped up its work with a 17 volume report.
‘On this historic day, my personal thanks go to the royal commissioners and all who supported their work. Our nation is indebted to you and to the survivors who fought so hard for justice and a safer future for our children,’ she tweeted.
Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher promised the multi-volume final report would not ‘sit on a shelf’.
He said the report, which asserted elements of the church’s structure and theology may have contributed to abuse, ushered in a period of ‘very serious self-examination’.
‘We have to look very carefully and take very seriously what the commission has found in terms of more systemic issues in our culture, hierarchy, practices and beliefs as Catholics,’ he said.
While the comments seem to leave open the door to fundamental changes to the church, Archbishop Fisher said changing mandatory reporting of abuse that comes to light through confession was ‘a distraction’.
‘While we are yet to study what the commission has had to say about that, I think everyone understands that this Catholic and orthodox practice of confession is always confidential,’ he said.
‘Any proposal to stop the practice of confession in Australia would be a real hurt to all Catholics and Orthodox Christians.’
However, the Catholic Church is unlikely to change its universal laws.
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president, Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart, said the bishops will take the royal commission’s recommendations seriously and present them to the Holy See.
But he said the seal of the confession cannot be broken, even if priests face the prospect of criminal charges for failing to report child sexual abuse.
‘My sacred charge is to respect the seal of the confessional,’ he told reporters on Friday.
‘I revere the law of the land and I trust it but this is a sacred spiritual charge before God which I must honour, and I have to try and do what I can do with both.’
Archbishop Hart said he did not expect canon law would be changed regarding the sacredness of the confessional.
‘I don’t expect that it will be changed but we are committed to doing whatever we possibly can because this has to be a top priority – no more child sexual abuse anywhere in the world.’
The commission says tens of thousands of children were allegedly abused in more than 4000 institutions, but the true number would never be known.
It heard from more than 1300 witnesses in public hearings and was contacted by more than 15,000 survivors or their relatives.
Many survivors thanked the commission for finally allowing their stories to be heard. The commission has recommended that these stories and victims should not be forgotten.
It has also recommended that institutions that have honours or dedications to known abusers remove them, and governments should strip them of any honours.
The Turnbull government has pledged $52.1 million to support abuse victims’ access to redress from a national scheme.
Source: The Daily Mail