Priests should not keep silent on abuse

PRIESTS should not use the sanctity of the confessional to keep secret the sexual attacks on children by colleagues, a five-year inquiry into child abuse recommends today.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse says they could be required by law to report offences to church and civil authorities.

Children as young as pre-schoolers should be taught how to counter adult predators, the commission recommended.

And the Federal Government should establish a National Office for Child Safety to prevent abuse.

"Laws concerning mandatory reporting to child protection authorities should not exempt persons in religious ministry from being required to report knowledge or suspicions formed, in whole or in part, on the basis of information disclosed in or in connection with a religious confession," said one of the $500 million inquiry's 189 recommendations.

The measure is part of a strong submission to make reporting of child abuse to authorities mandatory.

Archbishop Denis Hart of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference today said many of the recommendations will have "significant impact" on the way the Catholic Church operates.

"This is a shameful past, in which a prevailing culture of secrecy and self-protection led to unnecessary suffering for many victims and their families," Archbishop Hart said in a statement.

"Once again I reiterate my unconditional apology for this suffering and a commitment to ensuring justice for those affected."

Sister Ruth Durick, president of Catholic Religious Australia, said religious orders would be taking the Royal Commission report very seriously.

"We acknowledge with gratitude the courage of all those survivors who have come forward to the Royal Commission," Sr Ruth said.

Much of the report deals with alleged abuse in Catholic institutions but covers a number of bodies linked to other denominations, including the Anglican Church, and charities.

The government has not yet officially responded to the recommendations but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull today thanked the commissioners' "tough and harrowing work".

Commissioner Justice Peter McClellan (left) and the Governor-General of Australia Peter Cosgrove at the signing ceremony and the release of the Final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse at Government House, Canberra, 15 December, 2017. Photo: Jeremy Piper
Commissioner Justice Peter McClellan (left) and the Governor-General of Australia Peter Cosgrove at the signing ceremony and the release of the Final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse at Government House, Canberra, 15 December, 2017. Photo: Jeremy Piper

"But above all I want to thank and honour the courage of the survivors and their families who have told, often for the first time, the dreadful stories of abuse they've received from people who actually owed them love and protection," he said.

The Royal Commission said institutions should keep records to document any identified incidents of grooming, inappropriate behaviour, including breaches of institutional codes of conduct, or child sexual abuse.

It said: "Records created by institutions should be clear, objective and thorough. They should be created at, or as close as possible to, the time the incidents occurred, and clearly show the author (whether individual or institutional) and the date created."

The commission said the proposed National Office for Child Safety should report to parliament and develop and lead the co-ordination of the proposed National Framework for Child Safety.

There should be national co-ordination of the Child Safe Standards and collaboration with state and territory governments to lead continuous improvement of child safe initiatives.

The inquiry wants to see mandatory prevention education for parents delivered through day care, preschool, school, sport and recreational settings, and other institutional and community groups.

"The education should aim to increase knowledge of child sexual abuse and its impacts, and build skills to help reduce the risks of child sexual abuse," said the report.

There should be online safety education for children, delivered via schools.

"Ministers for education, through the Council of Australian Governments, should establish a nationally consistent curriculum for online safety education in schools," it said.

" The Office of the eSafety Commissioner should be consulted on the design of the curriculum and contribute to the development of course content and approaches to delivery online safety education for parents and other community members."



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