“Catastrophic failure”

Symbolic image of abuse in the church © Andreas Gebert

The final hearing on the Catholic Church's handling of sexual abuse cases in Australia has ended in Sydney. The bishops acknowledged a "catastrophic failure" in dealing with suspected cases.

"I will do everything in my power to ensure that abuse like that in the past never happens again and that the reforms that my fellow bishops and the leaders of religious orders have agreed to in recent years are implemented," said the president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne. Church in Australia will continue to support victims, he said.

Did the structure of the church contribute to the scandal??

Over the past three weeks, the commission had questioned more than 70 witnesses, including various bishops, about the church's handling of abuse cases. The final hearing focused on the extent to which clericalism and the hierarchical structure of the church contributed to the widespread scandal. In addition, the commission wanted to know from the witnesses what measures, structures and protective mechanisms the church will take to exclude sexual abuse of children in the future.

Among the most moving moments of the hearing was Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen's admission of having been sexually abused by a priest himself as a young man after arriving in Australia as a boat refugee from Vietnam. Bishop Long spoke out clearly against the current hierarchical structures of the church. Titles, privileges and the "institutional dynamics in the church" are a breeding ground for "clerical superiority and elitism," Long said.

Final report expected in December

At the start of the hearing in early February, the commission had released data on the extent of abuse in the Catholic Church. According to this, the church received reports of 4.444 people about cases in the period between 1980 and 2015 a. The average age of victims had been 10 for girls and 11 for boys. At 90 percent, however, boys were by far the largest victim group.

The commission to investigate the handling of abuse cases by secular institutions, churches and religious communities had been set up by the Australian government in 2013. The final report is expected in December.

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