Royal Commission in Australia on Sex Abuse

Investigation Will Scrutinize all Institutions

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SYDNEY, NOV. 13, 2012 ( On Monday Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, announced the federal government will hold a royal commission to investigate institutions on the matter of child sex abuse.

The announcement follows calls for a royal commission into the Catholic Church’s handling of sexual abuse. Some of those calling for an investigation also recommended that it not be limited to the Catholic Church.

A royal commission has wide powers to collect information and to compel witnesses to give testimony. The prime minister said she would discuss the terms of reference for the royal commission with opposition leader Tony Abbott so that there would be bipartisan political support for the investigation. Government institutions, non-profit organizations and churches will all be scrutinized by the royal commission.

Earlier in the year the state parliament of Victoria opened an investigation, still underway, into abuse of children, and other more limited inquiries have been announced in the states of New South Wales and Queensland.

On Monday evening, the federal Acting Minister for Families, Brendan O’Connor, told the ABC’s 7.30 program the government wants to ensure a broad range of institutions be examined. «The child sex abuse offences, and indeed allegations of child sex abuse, are not confined to one church,» he said.

Church welcomes inquiry

A statement issued by the president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Denis Hart, and the permanent committee of the conference welcomed the announcement of the royal commission.

«As Catholic bishops and as individuals we share the feelings of horror and outrage which all decent people feel when they read the reports of sexual abuse and allegations of cover ups,» the statement said.

The statement acknowledged that in the past there were significant problems in the way some dioceses and religious orders handled cases of sexual abuse. «Over the past 20 years, there have been major developments in the way the Church responds to victims, deals with perpetrators and puts in place preventive measures,» it explained.

«Sexual abuse of children is not confined to the Catholic Church. Tragically, it occurs in families, churches, community groups, schools and other organizations. We believe a Royal Commission will enable an examination of the issues associated with child abuse nationally, and identify measures for better preventing and responding to child abuse in our society,» the statement continued.

In a separate statement, Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, who was also one of the signatories of the statement by the bishops’ conference, said that: «Public opinion remains unconvinced that the Catholic Church has dealt adequately with sexual abuse. Ongoing and at times one sided media coverage has deepened this uncertainty.»

«This is one of the reasons for my support for this Royal Commission. I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement. I believe the air should be cleared and the truth uncovered,» said Cardinal Pell.

In a press conference held early Tuesday afternoon, Cardinal Pell repeated the willingness of the Catholic Church to cooperate with the royal commission. He also questioned the effect on sexual abuse victims of media reports that repeatedly raise the same cases of abuse again and again.

«What is important for the press and the public to realize is that because there is a persistent press campaign against the Catholic Church’s adequacies and inadequacies in this area, that does not necessarily represent the percentage of the problem that we offer,» he added.

«We are not interested in denying the extent of misdoing in the Catholic Church. We object to it being exaggerated,» Cardinal Pell said.

«We acknowledge, with shame, the extent of the problem and I want to assure you that we have been serious in attempting to eradicate it and deal with it,» he declared.

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