Four thousand four hundred and forty four cases of sexual abuse in 35 years.
The number is astounding. So much abuse, so many lives tormented. These numbers come from recently released information about Australia’s Catholic archdiocese. From the Guardian:
Seven per cent of Australia’s Catholic priests were accused of abusing children in the six decades since 1950, according to new data from the royal commission.
On Monday the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse released damning statistics on the scale of the crisis within the Catholic Church. The numbers confirm the extent of sexual predation already suggested by four years of royal commission hearings involving the church, which are now entering their final weeks.
Up to 15% of priests in some dioceses were alleged perpetrators between 1950 and 2015, with abusers most prevalent in the dioceses of Sale and Sandhurst in Victoria, Port Pirie in South Australia, and Lismore and Wollongong in New South Wales. The numbers were even worse in some national Catholic orders. By far the worst was the order of the St John of God Brothers, where a staggering 40% of religious brothers are believed to have abused children.
Forty percent. Try to fathom that two thirds of a dioceses clergyman are child rapists. For the number to be that high, one would imagine they were not hiding their activities. There would be far too many victims. The most logical conclusion is also the most disturbing and horrific: the Church knew about the abuse and intentionally did nothing.
That is hardly a new thing, yet this information does come after the Church has spent years trying to convince people that they have worked to prevent abuse and cover-ups. I doubt many people believed that, and it appears they were right to do so. The Church does not appear to have changed its way, only exploited the eventual downturn in media scrutiny.
Regarding the victims:
The abuse allegedly took place in more than 1,000 institutions. The average age of victims was 10.5 for girls and 11.6 for boys. The overwhelming majority of survivors were male. Almost 1,900 perpetrators were identified and another 500 remained unidentified. Thirty-two per cent were religious brothers, 30% were priests, 29% were lay people and 5% were religious sisters.
This makes it sound like a pedophile ring, as if those inclined to abuse children knew to join or work for the Church.
The most damning part is two-fold. One, the abuse appears to have continued from the 1950s to 2015. That is troubling because the Church has faced scrutiny for the sex abuse cover-up for the past 17 years. Catholic officials have repeatedly stated that they instituted programs and reforms to prevent further abuse. That appears either to not have worked, not been enough, or not have happened.
The second damning aspect is this:
“Children were ignored or worse, punished. Allegations were not investigated. Priests and religious [brothers] were moved. The parishes or communities to which they were moved knew nothing of their past,” she said. “Documents were not kept or they were destroyed. Secrecy prevailed as did cover-ups.”
The Church reacted to the commission by warning parishioners that there would be “grim moments” in the coming weeks:
Church leaders last week began warning churchgoers and schools about the final weeks of the royal commission. The archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, released a video to Catholic school parents and churches warning them to expect some “grim moments”. He said the final hearing would allow the church to tell a “better story” about how it has changed.
“Through these three weeks there will be some grim moments and there will be some shocks, inevitably,” he said. “But there will also be a chance to tell a better story of what has been done and what is being done now.”
One can only wonder what that might be considering the level of cover-up that already occurred. It is shameful yet telling to see the greater concern is for how this makes the dioceses look rather than the abuse the clergymen inflicted. If this is the attitude of the Church, one can expect more cases of abuse.
I would like to note that the findings confirm a pattern I suspected. When looking at older reports of abuse, I noticed that victims wait between 15 to 20 years before reporting the abuse to authorities.
In 2012, the Church claimed these types of offenses were a thing of the past, blaming it on the 1960s sexual revolution. That appears this is very much an ongoing problem. It also appears that the victims followed the pattern. Those abused in the late 1990s and early 2000s are now coming forward. I suspect that the rate of abuse is not the same as it was before, yet it is likely higher than the Church claims.
The question now is what will come of this. Will Australia seek to file charges? What would the abusers be charged with? That latter question is necessary because Australia does not recognize boys as rape victims. What policies will the Church put in place and what guarantee do we have that the new ones will work or be enforced?
It seems unlikely that any of this will change, and that is terrible because it will result in more abused children and more abusers getting away with it.