Dark clouds over Australia's church © Friso Gentsch

Up to 40 percent of members of Catholic religious orders in Australia, as well as seven percent of the country's priests, are believed to have been involved in child sexual abuse cases. Sydney archbishop expressed shock.

Among the Catholic orders, more than 20 percent of the Marist Brothers, Salesians and Christian Brothers were accused of abuse. At 40.4 percent, the Merciful Brothers of St. John of God in particular stood out negatively. The average age of the victims was reported to be about eleven years old. At 90 percent, boys were by far the largest victim group. More than 4.440 people said they had been sexually abused by priests, religious and staff of church institutions between 1980 and 2015, according to the commission.

In most cases, the allegations were inconsequential, said Gail Furness, senior counsel for the commission, according to Australian media reports. "Children were ignored or – worse – punished. Allegations were not investigated. 'The parishes or communities to which defendants were transferred knew nothing of their past,' Furness says.

"We Catholics are ashamed of ourselves"

Anthony Fisher, Archbishop of Sydney, expressed shock at the new findings in an initial statement, saying, "What the commission has found so far is horrific." He and the church regretted past misconduct that left so many victims. He knows that many priests and believers feel the same: "We Catholics are ashamed of ourselves."However, he pointed out that the abuse report was about allegations and alleged perpetrators. No distinction is made between unconfirmed allegations and legally resolved incidents, it said.

Curia Cardinal George Pell accused

Meanwhile, in Melbourne on Monday, there was a new development with regard to the allegations against Curia Cardinal George Pell. Police, according to consistent reports, handed over evidence to the prosecutor in charge of the case that proved Pell had sexually abused several boys between 1978 and 2001 as a priest in Ballarat and later as archbishop of Melbourne. The public prosecutor's office should examine whether the material is sufficient for an indictment, it was said.

Prevention strategies needed

The Abuse Commission, set up by the Australian government in 2013, began its final hearing on Monday in Sydney into the Catholic Church's handling of the abuse scandal. Three weeks to evaluate evidence and data from past years' hearings on the behavior of Catholic dioceses, religious orders and institutions. The statements of victims and witnesses are also to be addressed. It will also focus on how the church plans to prevent child sexual abuse in the future. To that end, the commission has summoned numerous bishops, canon law experts and other representatives.

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