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Religious institutions

This volume examines what we learned about institutional responses to child sexual abuse in religious institutions. It discusses the nature and extent of child sexual abuse in religious institutions, the impacts of this abuse, and survivors’ experiences of disclosing it. The volume examines the nature and adequacy of institutional responses to child sexual abuse in religious institutions, and draws out common factors contributing to the abuse and common failings in institutional responses. It makes recommendations to prevent child sexual abuse from occurring in religious institutions and, where it does occur, to help ensure effective responses.

Summary

This volume discusses what we learned during our five-year inquiry about institutional responses to child sexual abuse in religious institutions. It outlines the nature and extent of the abuse, its impacts, and survivors’ experiences of disclosing it. It examines common failures in institutional responses, and draws out factors that may have contributed to the occurrence of abuse and to inadequate responses. It makes recommendations to prevent child sexual abuse from occurring in religious institutions and, where it does occur, to ensure that responses are appropriate and effective.

Children and their wellbeing, safety and protection have been at the centre of our inquiry. Our Terms of Reference recognise that all children deserve a safe and happy childhood and that Australia has international obligations to protect children from sexual and other forms of abuse.

We have examined a broad range of institutions – from schools to Scouts, from the YMCA to sporting and dance clubs, from Defence training establishments to a range of out-of-home care services. We have considered institutions managed by federal, state and territory governments as well as non-government organisations. It is clear that child sexual abuse has occurred in a broad range of institutional contexts across Australia, and over many decades. However, we heard more allegations of child sexual abuse in relation to institutions managed by religious organisations than any other management type.

More than 4,000 survivors told us in private sessions that they were sexually abused as children in religious institutions. The abuse occurred in religious schools, orphanages and missions, churches, presbyteries and rectories, confessionals, and various other settings. In private sessions we heard about child sexual abuse occurring in 1,691 different religious institutions. The sexual abuse took many forms, including rape. It was often accompanied by physical or emotional abuse. Most victims were aged between 10 and 14 years when the abuse first started. We heard about perpetrators including priests, religious brothers and sisters, ministers, church elders, teachers in religious schools, workers in residential institutions, youth group leaders and others.

We conducted 30 case studies on religious institutions. They revealed that many religious leaders knew of allegations of child sexual abuse yet failed to take effective action. Some ignored allegations and did not respond at all. Some treated alleged perpetrators leniently and failed to address the obvious risks they posed to children. Some concealed abuse and shielded perpetrators from accountability. Institutional reputations and individual perpetrators were prioritised over the needs of victims and their families.

Religious leaders and institutions across Australia have acknowledged that children suffered sexual abuse while in their care. Many have also accepted that their responses to this abuse were inadequate. These failures are not confined to religious institutions. However, the failures of religious institutions are particularly troubling because these institutions have played, and continue to play, an integral and unique role in the lives of many children. They have also been key providers of education, health and social welfare services to children in Australia for many years. They have been among the most respected institutions in our society. The perpetrators of child sexual abuse in religious institutions were, in many cases, people that children and parents trusted the most and suspected the least.

Many people who experience child sexual abuse have the course of their lives altered forever. Many of the survivors we heard from continue to experience the ongoing impacts. For some, these impacts have been profound. They include a devastating loss of religious faith and loss of trust in the religious organisation that was once a fundamental part of their life. The impacts have rippled out to affect their parents, siblings, partners, children and, in some cases, entire communities. Some victims have not survived the abuse, having since taken their own lives.

It would be a mistake to regard this child sexual abuse as historical; as something we no longer need to be concerned about. While much of the abuse we heard about in religious institutions occurred before 1990, long delays in victims disclosing abuse mean that an accurate contemporary understanding of the problem is not possible. Some of the abuse we heard about was recent. More than 200 survivors told us they had experienced child sexual abuse in a religious institution since 1990. We have no way of knowing how many others may have had similar experiences.

However, it would also be wrong to say that nothing has changed. In some religious institutions there has been progress during the past two decades. Some of the religious institutions examined in our case studies told us about their child protection reforms. Others remained reluctant to accept the need for significant internal changes.

We have developed a comprehensive set of recommendations aimed at making religious institutions safer for children. Many of the recommendations apply to all religious institutions in Australia. Some are specific to particular religious institutions. In some cases, the recommendations are also relevant to the international leadership of religious organisations.

The recommendations focus on factors that we identified as contributing to the occurrence of child sexual abuse in religious institutions and to inadequate institutional responses. Some relate to governance, internal culture and underlying theological and scriptural beliefs and practices. We have examined these matters to the extent that they have affected – and may continue to affect – the vulnerability of children to abuse, and the likelihood of religious institutions responding poorly when abuse occurs. Religious leaders in Australia have recognised the importance of our role in providing recommendations on such matters.

While positive reforms are underway in some religious institutions, there is still much progress to be made before the community can be confident that all religious institutions in Australia are as safe as possible for children.

The Royal Commission’s work on religious institutions

Our particular focus on child sexual abuse in religious institutions was based on a number of factors. Most significantly, we received more allegations of child sexual abuse in relation to institutions managed by religious organisations than any other management type.

Other factors included that previous inquiries suggested that many children had been sexually abused in religious institutions; that the Royal Commission was established, in part, in response to allegations of child sexual abuse in religious institutions; and that religious institutions have played an integral role in the lives of a large number of children – including through religious worship and associated activities, schooling and various forms of out-of-home care.

As of 31 May 2017, 15,249 people had contacted us about child sexual abuse that fell within our Terms of Reference. Of these, 7,382 people (48.4 per cent) told us about child sexual abuse in religious institutions. Many went on to attend a private session. As of 31 May 2017, we had heard from 6,875 survivors in private sessions, of whom 4,029 (58.6 per cent) told us about child sexual abuse in religious institutions. We heard more allegations of child sexual abuse in relation to the Catholic Church than any other religious organisation, followed by the Anglican Church, The Salvation Army and others.

We examined responses to child sexual abuse in religious institutions in various ways, including through public hearings, private sessions with survivors, written accounts from survivors, policy and research work, roundtables, data surveys, targeted investigations, community engagement and engagement with religious institutions.

We held 57 public hearings, including 30 case studies that examined responses to child sexual abuse in religious institutions. Fifteen case studies examined Catholic institutions, seven examined Anglican institutions and three examined institutions managed by The Salvation Army. Other case studies examined institutions managed by or affiliated with each of the following: the Uniting Church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Australian Christian Churches (ACC) and affiliated Pentecostal churches, Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne (religious institutions forming part of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement of Orthodox Judaism) and the Australian Indigenous Ministries (formerly the Aborigines Inland Mission, a non-government and interdenominational faith ministry).

We considered a number of factors in deciding which religious institutions to examine in case studies. We aimed to provide a broad understanding of the problems that have existed across different types of religious institutions – including places of worship, schools and residential institutions – and in different parts of Australia. We aimed to bear witness to the often horrific and life-altering experiences of those who suffered sexual abuse as children. We focused on the religious institutions about which we received the most allegations, or in relation to which particular systemic issues arose. The limits on our time and resources meant that we did not hold case studies on religious institutions that were raised with us by a very small number of people.

Religion in Australia

Australia is a secular, multicultural and multi-faith society that is home to more than 170 religious groups. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander systems of spiritual belief existed across Australia at the time of colonisation and continue today. Since the first national census in 1911, most of the Australian population included in the census has reported affiliation with a Christian religion. However, there has been a long-term decline in the proportion of the population identifying as Christian, and a steady increase in the number of people reporting ‘no religion’ in the census. The Anglican Church remained the largest Christian denomination in Australia until the mid-1980s, when it was overtaken by the Catholic Church. Patterns of immigration since the Second World War and particularly since the beginning of the 1970s have seen an increase in religious diversity in Australia and a steady rise in affiliation with non-Christian religions.

The occurrence of child sexual abuse in religious institutions – which we heard was most common in religious schools and residential institutions – should be considered against the backdrop of the roles that religious organisations have played in Australian society. In particular, religious organisations have provided educational and social welfare services to a large number of children, and have received considerable amounts of government funding for this service provision. Religious organisations have also affected the lives of a large number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia, including those who were forcibly removed from their families as children and placed in Christian missions.

Previous inquiries into child sexual abuse in religious institutions

Prior to this Royal Commission, previous inquiries suggested that many children had been sexually abused in religious institutions, both in Australia and overseas.

Many of these inquiries focused on child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. These inquiries indicated that child sexual abuse in the church has been widespread. They also revealed commonalities in responses to child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions in different countries, including failures to report alleged perpetrators to civil authorities; failures to use available canon law measures to discipline perpetrators; the transfer of alleged perpetrators from parish to parish and between dioceses; sending alleged perpetrators for treatment but failing to remove them from ministry; and failures to appreciate the devastating impacts of child sexual abuse on victims and their families.

In addition, our research has shown that child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is not a recent phenomenon. It dates back to the earliest centuries of Christianity. In Australia, documentary references to the sexual abuse of children in Catholic institutions can be traced back to the middle of the 19th century.

Some previous inquiries in other countries considered child sexual abuse in institutions managed by or affiliated with religious organisations other than the Catholic Church. These inquiries revealed common failures in responses to child sexual abuse in different religious institutions in a number of countries. These included failures to report alleged perpetrators to civil authorities; limited accountability of alleged perpetrators and people responsible for responding to allegations; and failures to consider or prioritise the needs of survivors over other interests, such as financial interests or the welfare of alleged perpetrators.

A number of previous inquiries in Australia considered child sexual abuse in institutions managed by or affiliated with religious organisations, including the Catholic, Anglican, Uniting, Methodist and Presbyterian churches, and The Salvation Army. These inquiries revealed a high number of allegations of child sexual abuse over many decades. Common institutional responses detailed in the Australian inquiry reports include the denial or minimisation of child sexual abuse; failures to report alleged perpetrators to civil authorities; transferring alleged perpetrators between institutions or locations; acting to minimise public scandal and limit legal and financial liability; and failures to appreciate the impacts of child sexual abuse on victims.

Many of the findings of previous inquiries are broadly consistent with our findings about the responses of religious institutions in Australia to child sexual abuse.

At the start of this Royal Commission there was limited information available about the extent of child sexual abuse in religious institutions in Australia or overseas. During our inquiry we compiled key sources of material to increase understanding of the extent of child sexual abuse in religious institutions in Australia, as outlined below.

We do not know exactly how many children have experienced sexual abuse in religious institutions in Australia. Many survivors take years or even decades to disclose that they have been sexually abused, and some may never tell anyone. However, it is clear that thousands of children have been affected.

There are a number of limitations on the data sources available to us. They do not represent the total number of allegations of child sexual abuse relating to religious institutions in Australia and cannot be used to determine the incidence or prevalence of child sexual abuse in religious institutions. They represent only those survivors who have come forward, and may not accurately represent the demographic profile or experiences of those who have not come forward. They are also likely to under-represent victims of more recent abuse, as long delays in disclosing child sexual abuse are common.

Private sessions information

As of 31 May 2017 we had heard from 6,875 survivors in private sessions, of whom 4,029 (58.6 per cent) told us about child sexual abuse in religious institutions.

The largest proportion of these survivors spoke to us about child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions. We heard from 2,489 survivors about child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions, representing almost two-thirds (61.8 per cent) of survivors who told us about child sexual abuse in religious institutions and more than one-third (36.2 per cent) of all survivors we heard from in private sessions. In private sessions we heard about child sexual abuse occurring in 964 different Catholic institutions.

We also frequently heard about child sexual abuse in Anglican institutions (594 survivors or 14.7 per cent of survivors who told us about abuse in religious institutions, involving 244 different Anglican institutions) and Salvation Army institutions (294 survivors or 7.3 per cent of survivors who told us about abuse in religious institutions, involving 64 different Salvation Army institutions).

In addition, we heard from smaller numbers of survivors of child sexual abuse in institutions managed by or affiliated with various Protestant churches, Presbyterian and Reformed churches, the Uniting Church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Baptist Church, Pentecostal churches, the Brethren, Churches of Christ, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Lutheran Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and in Jewish institutions. Religious institutions raised by fewer than five survivors in private sessions included Eastern Orthodox churches, Oriental Orthodox churches and Islamic, Baha’i and Hindu institutions.

Other data sources

We collected data from the Catholic, Anglican and Uniting churches in Australia about claims and complaints of child sexual abuse.

Catholic Church authorities provided information about claims of child sexual abuse they received between 1 January 1980 and 28 February 2015 (the Catholic Church claims data). Of the 201 Catholic Church authorities surveyed, 92 authorities (46 per cent) reported having received one or more claims of child sexual abuse. Overall, 4,444 claimants alleged incidents of child sexual abuse in 4,756 reported claims to Catholic Church authorities.

Anglican Church dioceses provided information about complaints of child sexual abuse they received between 1 January 1980 and 31 December 2015. Of the 23 Anglican Church dioceses surveyed, 22 reported having received one or more complaints of child sexual abuse. Overall, 1,085 complainants alleged incidents of child sexual abuse in 1,119 reported complaints to Anglican Church dioceses.

The Uniting Church in Australia provided data regarding allegations and claims of child sexual abuse received between 22 June 1977 when it was established, and 3 March 2017. The data showed that 430 allegations of child sexual abuse were made to the church’s six synods in Australia. Of these allegations, 102 resulted in claims of child sexual abuse where the claimant sought redress through a redress process or civil litigation.

Victims and survivors of child sexual abuse

During our inquiry, in private sessions, written accounts and public hearings, we heard from thousands of victims and survivors and their family members about child sexual abuse in religious institutions. The personal stories we heard informed our understanding of people’s experiences of abuse, difficulties disclosing abuse, and the devastating impacts. These accounts were also important in highlighting personal experiences of institutional responses to child sexual abuse, which in many cases were just as difficult to comprehend as the abuse itself.

The majority of survivors who told us in private sessions about child sexual abuse in religious institutions were male. The average age of victims at the time of first abuse was 10.3 years. Most survivors told us about multiple incidents of abuse and many told us about abuse that continued for more than a year.

We heard about children experiencing sexual abuse in religious institutions in Australia from the late 1920s until well after the establishment of this Royal Commission. Of the survivors who told us in private sessions about child sexual abuse in religious institutions, 90.0 per cent told us about abuse occurring before 1990 and 5.8 per cent told us about abuse occurring from 1990 onwards. Some survivors did not discuss the date of abuse. Because of delayed disclosure, information gathered from private sessions is likely to under-represent the number of survivors of more recent abuse. The survivors we heard from in private sessions took, on average, 23.9 years to disclose that they had been sexually abused.

The Catholic Church claims data showed that the average age of claimants at the time of the first alleged incident of child sexual abuse was 11.4 years for all claimants, 11.6 years for male claimants and 10.5 years for female claimants. Of those who made a claim, 78 per cent were male and 22 per cent were female. The largest proportion of first alleged incidents of child sexual abuse occurred in the 1970s. The average duration of abuse was 2.4 years. There was an average delay of 33 years between the date of the first alleged incident of abuse and the date the claim was made.

The Anglican Church complaints data showed that the average age of complainants at the time of the first alleged incident of child sexual abuse was approximately 11 years for both male and female complainants. Of those who made a complaint, 75 per cent were male and 25 per cent were female. The largest proportion of first alleged incidents of child sexual abuse occurred in the 1970s. The average duration of abuse was 1.7 years. There was an average delay of 29 years between the date of the first alleged incident of abuse and the date the claim was made.

We heard from a wide range of people during our inquiry. The victims and survivors who came forward were from diverse backgrounds and had many different experiences. Of the 4,029 survivors who told us in private sessions about child sexual abuse in religious institutions:

  • 428 survivors (10.6 per cent) identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Many told us about experiences of abuse in residential institutions before 1990. The legacy of colonisation and the forced removal of thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, now known as the Stolen Generations, was part of the experience of many of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survivors who came forward. Many of these children were placed in institutions such as missions that were managed by religious organisations.
  • 128 survivors (3.2 per cent) identified as being from a culturally or linguistically diverse background. This included some survivors who were sent to Australia as child migrants and placed in residential institutions managed by religious organisations, where they experienced sexual and other forms of abuse.
  • 122 survivors (3.0 per cent) told us they had disability at the time of the abuse. In private sessions and public hearings we heard from people with disability who were sexually abused as children in religious institutions. Some had cognitive or intellectual impairments; others had physical, sensory and psychosocial disabilities. We also heard from parents and carers of survivors with disability.

Perpetrators of child sexual abuse

We heard about thousands of alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse in religious institutions. We are not able to provide a definitive number because some survivors did not identify the individuals responsible for the abuse, and some did not identify the number of people who abused them.

If we received information relating to potential contraventions of Australian law, we made referrals to police in cases where the alleged perpetrator could have been alive and the survivor wished us to report the matter. There were many cases where the alleged perpetrator was either known to be, or was almost certainly, deceased. If there was a prospective risk to any child a referral was made irrespective of the wish of the survivor. As of 31 July 2017, we had made 2,252 referrals to police, and police had laid charges in a number of cases. Of those 2,252 referrals, 1,229 related to child sexual abuse in religious institutions.

Of the 4,029 survivors we heard from in private sessions about child sexual abuse in religious institutions, the majority (2,533 survivors or 62.9 per cent) provided information about the age of the person who sexually abused them. Of those, 2,164 survivors (85.4 per cent) told us about abuse by an adult perpetrator. Most of those (2,063 survivors or 95.3 per cent) said they were abused by a male adult. Far fewer (139 survivors or 6.4 per cent) said they were abused by a female adult, and 50 survivors (2.3 per cent) said they were abused by both a male adult and a female adult.

The perpetrators of child sexual abuse we heard about in private sessions held various positions in religious institutions, but most held positions of leadership or authority. Some held more than one position, such as people in religious ministry who were also teachers. Some survivors told us about multiple perpetrators who held different positions. Of the 4,029 survivors we heard from in private sessions about child sexual abuse in religious institutions, most (3,879 survivors or 96.3 per cent) told us about the position held by a perpetrator. Of those, 2,053 survivors (52.9 per cent) told us about perpetrators who were people in religious ministry. We also frequently heard about perpetrators who were teachers (901 survivors or 23.2 per cent) or residential care workers (506 survivors or 13.0 per cent). Other perpetrators we heard about included housemasters, foster carers and volunteers.

The Catholic Church claims data identified 1,880 known alleged perpetrators. Additionally, 530 alleged perpetrators whose identities were not known were the subject of claims of child sexual abuse. Overall, 90 per cent of alleged perpetrators were male and 10 per cent were female. Around two-thirds of alleged perpetrators identified in claims of child sexual abuse were either priests (30 per cent), religious brothers (32 per cent) or religious sisters (5 per cent). Just under one-third (29 per cent) were lay people.

The Anglican Church complaints data identified 569 known alleged perpetrators. Additionally, 133 alleged perpetrators whose identities were not known were the subject of complaints of child sexual abuse. Overall, 94 per cent of alleged perpetrators were male and 6 per cent were female. Of the alleged perpetrators identified in complaints of child sexual abuse, 50 per cent were lay people and 43 per cent were ordained clergy (the religious status in respect of the other 7 per cent was unknown).

Children with harmful sexual behaviours

Of the 2,533 survivors who told us during private sessions about child sexual abuse in religious institutions and who provided information about the age of the person who sexually abused them, 498 survivors (19.7 per cent) told us about abuse by another child (under 18 years). Of these, 431 survivors (86.5 per cent) told us about abuse by a boy and 76 survivors (15.3 per cent) told us about abuse by a girl. A small number of survivors told us about abuse by a boy and by a girl.

During private sessions we heard about children with harmful sexual behaviours in different types of religious institutions. The most common contexts were residential institutions managed by religious organisations before 1990 and religious schools.

Children may have exhibited harmful sexual behaviours in institutional contexts for various reasons, including an institutional culture that allowed bullying, violence or intimidation by staff and other children.

The most common religious contexts in which we heard about child sexual abuse occurring were religious schools, residential institutions, and places of worship or religious activities. Of the 4,029 survivors who told us in private sessions about child sexual abuse in religious institutions:

  • 39.0 per cent (1,570 survivors) told us about abuse in religious schools
  • 35.2 per cent (1,419 survivors) told us about abuse in residential institutions managed by religious organisations before 1990, such as orphanages, children’s homes and missions
  • 24.8 per cent (1,000 survivors) told us about abuse in places of worship or during religious activities
  • 1.6 per cent (66 survivors) told us about abuse during recreational activities affiliated with religious organisations, such as church-run camps.

Some survivors told us about child sexual abuse in more than one of these contexts.

Religious schools

We heard that many children experienced sexual abuse in religious schools, including day schools and boarding schools. Of the 6,875 survivors who told us in private sessions about child sexual abuse in institutional contexts, 2,186 survivors (31.8 per cent) told us about abuse in schools. Of those, 1,570 survivors (71.8 per cent) told us about abuse in religious schools.

The victims we heard about included children of both primary and secondary school age, and both boys and girls. Survivors told us about school cultures that permitted abuse and silenced victims. We heard that children experienced sexual abuse in various locations on their school grounds or during school-related activities. Some survivors told us about being sexually abused by people in religious ministry in church premises located on or next to their school grounds. Boarding schools were a particularly risky environment in which perpetrators had ready access to children, and survivors told us about sexual abuse that occurred in dormitories or staff bedrooms.

We heard that children were sexually abused by a range of individuals in religious schools, including males and females of various ages and who held various positions. However, many of the perpetrators we were told about were adult males who were people in religious ministry. Many perpetrators were teachers, and some were housemasters or dormitory masters.

In private sessions, we also heard from 112 survivors about being sexually abused by another child in a religious school. This abuse occurred in boarding schools and day schools, and a substantial proportion (29.5 per cent) occurred from 1990 onwards.

Residential institutions managed by religious organisations

We heard that many children experienced sexual abuse in residential institutions managed by religious organisations, including orphanages, children’s homes and missions.

Social contexts, policy and legislation during the last century meant that children from a range of backgrounds were sent to live in residential institutions, some of which were managed by religious organisations. Multiple previous inquiries – including those focusing on the experiences of the Stolen Generations, Former Child Migrants and the Forgotten Australians – have outlined the harsh conditions for children in many residential institutions.

Of the 6,875 survivors who told us in private sessions about child sexual abuse in institutional contexts, 2,858 survivors (41.6 per cent) told us about abuse in out-of-home care settings. Of these, 1,419 survivors (49.7 per cent) told us about abuse in residential institutions managed by religious organisations before 1990. Around one in five of these survivors (20.8 per cent) identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. The victims we heard about were boys and girls of various ages and from a range of backgrounds, including orphans, state wards, child migrants and children with disability.

We heard that children were particularly vulnerable in residential institutions. Many of these institutions were located in remote places and children were often isolated, having little interaction with people outside the institution. Staff often had unfettered access to children. Survivors told us about experiencing child sexual abuse in various locations within residential institutions, commonly in shared dormitories or nearby staff bedrooms. We heard that children in these institutions, in addition to experiencing sexual abuse, often grew up in an environment of physical brutality, emotional abuse and extreme neglect.

We heard in private sessions about different types of perpetrators in residential institutions managed by religious organisations, including people in religious ministry, staff who worked at the institutions, housemasters, teachers and others. Most survivors told us about male adult perpetrators, but we also heard about female adult perpetrators.

We also heard that many victims in residential institutions were sexually abused by other children. Of those who told us during private sessions about child sexual abuse in residential institutions managed by religious organisations before 1990, and who told us about the age of the person who sexually abused them, 321 survivors (38.8 per cent) told us about abuse by another child.

The Catholic Church claims data showed that nine of the 10 Catholic institutions identified as having the most claims of child sexual abuse were residential institutions. The majority of claims of child sexual abuse relating to residential institutions identified a religious brother as an alleged perpetrator (51 per cent). This was followed by priests (26 per cent), lay people (14 per cent) and religious sisters (7 per cent).

Places of worship, religious activities and recreational activities

Of the 4,029 survivors who told us in private sessions about child sexual abuse in religious institutions, 1,000 survivors (24.8 per cent) told us about abuse in places of worship or during religious activities. Sixty-six survivors (1.6 per cent) told us about abuse during recreational activities affiliated with religious organisations, such as church-run camps or youth groups. The victims we heard about included boys and girls of various ages and from different religious backgrounds.

Each religious organisation has its own places of worship and religious rituals and activities, which often involve children. In private sessions and case studies we heard about children experiencing sexual abuse in places of worship or related locations such as a confessional, a priest’s residence or a ritual bathhouse; in seminaries and houses of religious formation; and during religious activities such as altar boy duties, Bible study or Sunday school.

Most of the perpetrators we heard about in places of worship or during religious activities were adult males who were people in religious ministry. We frequently heard about the trust and respect shown by religious communities and families to people in religious ministry, and how this was a factor in perpetrators gaining access to, grooming and abusing children.

We also heard from some survivors about experiencing child sexual abuse in family homes, in some cases perpetrated by people in religious ministry and in other cases perpetrated by religious family members. This sexual abuse was considered to be within our Terms of Reference when it was reported to and handled by the relevant religious institution.

We heard about some aspects of institutional child sexual abuse which were specific to religious institutions.

We heard that such abuse generally occurred in the context of a religious community. Survivors told us about characteristics of their religious communities that may have contributed to the risk of abuse, acted as a barrier to disclosure, or affected institutional responses. We heard about some religious communities that could be described as ‘closed’, where children had limited interaction with the broader community. We also heard from survivors about growing up in religious communities with little or no education about sex, and about how this left them vulnerable to sexual abuse.

In devout religious families, parents often had such high regard for people in religious ministry that they naturally trusted them to supervise their children. People in religious ministry were considered to be representatives of God. Many parents were unable to believe they could be capable of sexually abusing a child. In this environment, perpetrators who were people in religious ministry often had unfettered access to children.

Children were often sexually abused by people in religious ministry after the perpetrator had groomed the child’s family members by becoming closely involved in their family life. We commonly heard about perpetrators who ingratiated themselves into the family and became regular visitors to the home. Sometimes perpetrators stepped into the role of ‘father figure’ or exploited particularly vulnerable families such as those experiencing marriage breakdown or mourning a death.

Survivors also told us that as children they were threatened or blamed for the sexual abuse they experienced, often in ways that manipulated their religious beliefs – such as the threat of being sent to hell if they resisted sexual abuse or disclosed it. The use of threats and blame in the name of God had a powerful effect on children.

We heard about priests misusing the practice of religious confession to facilitate child sexual abuse or to silence victims. Survivors told us about experiencing sexual abuse as children in the confessional at their church. We also heard that some children experienced sexual abuse that involved the use of religious rituals, symbols or language. Some survivors described such experiences as amounting to a type of ‘spiritual abuse’, which profoundly damaged their religious beliefs and trust in their religious organisation.

The impacts of child sexual abuse in institutional contexts can be devastating. There can be distinctive impacts where the abuse is inflicted in a religious context.

Some survivors told us they felt a sense of spiritual confusion or spiritual harm after being sexually abused as a child by a person in religious ministry. Many survivors said they lost their religious faith. We heard that children were raised to have the utmost respect for the religious organisation their family was a part of, and were often taught that people in religious ministry, such as priests, were God’s representatives on earth. Some perpetrators used this status to facilitate child sexual abuse. When a religious child was sexually abused by such a person, the impacts were often profound. Some children felt that they had been abused by God or that God must have willed the abuse to happen.

Some survivors told us they became pregnant after being sexually abused as children by people in religious ministry such as church elders, religious brothers or priests. In some cases we heard that this led to miscarriage. In other cases we heard that it led to forced adoption, abortion or marriage.

The impacts of child sexual abuse extend beyond victims. Their parents, siblings, partners, carers and children can be significantly affected, as can other children and staff in institutions where abuse occurs. The impacts can be intergenerational and can affect entire communities.

We heard that some religious families were torn apart when children disclosed that they had been sexually abused by people in religious ministry, because parents were unable to believe that people in religious ministry could be capable of perpetrating such abuse. Some survivors told us that negative reactions from family members when they disclosed abuse led to alienation between them and their family members for years, in some cases a lifetime.

We also heard that some survivors were not believed, or were ostracised by their religious community, after disclosing experiences of child sexual abuse. The cohesion of a religious community can be shattered when child sexual abuse – and poor institutional responses to that abuse – come to light. Communities can become divided, particularly when the abuse is revealed to be extensive or when institutions have attempted to conceal it. We heard about members of religious communities feeling as though they had been betrayed by religious leaders and institutions they had believed in, revered, and entrusted their children to.

Many survivors told us they had experienced suicidal thoughts or had attempted to end their life after being sexually abused in a religious institution as a child. Some survivors described ‘clusters’ of suicides in affected communities. In some cases we heard about children who took their own lives.

Survivors told us about the various coping strategies they had used to overcome the child sexual abuse they experienced. These included drawing on supportive relationships, seeking therapeutic assistance and drawing on sources of strength and meaning. While many survivors told us they lost their religious faith as a result of being sexually abused, others told us their spirituality or religious faith helped them to cope.

We learned that many survivors of child sexual abuse take years or even decades before they feel they can disclose the abuse. Survivors who spoke with us during private sessions took, on average, 23.9 years to tell someone they had been sexually abused. Some survivors may never tell anyone.

Many survivors of child sexual abuse in religious institutions told us about their experiences of disclosing the abuse, or about barriers that prevented them from doing so. These barriers included fear of disclosing to their devout religious family, fear of disclosing because of attitudes to sex and sexuality in their religious community, fear of being ostracised by their religious community, and reluctance to ‘bring shame’ on their religious organisation. We heard that perpetrators of child sexual abuse in religious institutions created barriers to disclosure through various strategies, including grooming or psychological manipulation of victims, threatening victims, and punishing victims who did disclose.

We also heard about institutional barriers to disclosure of child sexual abuse in religious institutions, including cultures of secrecy and of abuse; religious beliefs and practices that acted as barriers; inappropriate responses to children who disclosed abuse, including during religious confession; and non-existent or inadequate avenues for victims to disclose abuse. While some of these factors would also have been present in other institutional contexts, in religious institutions they were often exacerbated by an overarching context in which people in religious ministry were revered and feared. We heard that the status and authority afforded to people in religious ministry prevented many victims of child sexual abuse from disclosing their experiences of abuse by such people.

Our consideration of institutional responses to child sexual abuse in religious institutions largely focused on evidence gathered through our case studies on the Anglican Church, the Catholic Church, The Salvation Army, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the ACC and affiliated Pentecostal churches, and Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne.

There are significant structural and theological differences both between and sometimes within these religious organisations. The contexts in which child sexual abuse occurred also differed – in some cases we primarily heard about abuse in schools or residential institutions, while in others we heard about abuse in places of worship, during religious or recreational activities, or within family homes (where allegations of sexual abuse were reported to and handled by the relevant religious institution). In some cases we primarily heard about perpetrators who were people in religious ministry, while in others we heard about a higher proportion of perpetrators who were lay people.

Despite these differences, there were remarkable similarities in the institutional responses to child sexual abuse across religious institutions.

Our case studies demonstrated that it was a common practice of religious institutions to adopt ‘in-house’ responses when dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse. Sometimes there was no response at all. Often, alleged perpetrators were treated with considerable leniency. ‘Inhouse’ responses ensured that allegations remained secret, and shielded religious institutions from public scrutiny or accountability.

Leaders of religious institutions often showed insufficient consideration for victims at the time they disclosed child sexual abuse. They frequently responded with disbelief or denial, or attempted to blame or discredit the victim. We also heard of instances where children who disclosed sexual abuse in religious institutions were punished or suffered further abuse. Leaders of religious institutions often minimised the sexual conduct that was reported to them and wrongly concluded that there was no criminality in the alleged actions. In other cases religious leaders knew that actions were or may have been criminal. However, leaders of religious institutions typically did not report allegations to police.

Leaders of religious institutions were often reluctant to remove alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse from positions in ministry or employment after suspicions of child sexual abuse were raised or allegations were received. In some cases perpetrators made admissions of behaviour amounting to child sexual abuse, yet religious leaders were still reluctant to take decisive action or report them to police.

Victims who reported child sexual abuse were at times assured by leaders of religious institutions that action would be taken against alleged perpetrators, when often none was. The number of complaints received by some religious institutions, often including multiple complaints about the same individual, suggested a pattern of inaction in responding to alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse. Some alleged perpetrators remained in the same positions with access to children for years, some for decades, after initial and successive allegations of abuse were raised.

Some leaders of religious institutions made serious errors of judgment in the face of compelling evidence of child sexual abuse, by giving alleged perpetrators a ‘second chance’ with continued or successive appointments. This included moving alleged perpetrators to new positions in different locations where they were offered a ‘fresh start’, untarnished by their history of sexual offending or previous allegations. In some instances, these new appointments were geographically removed from the locations where the original complaints arose, and involved movements across Australia or between different religious institutions. The communities that perpetrators were moved into were in some cases not made aware of the risks these individuals posed.

Leaders of religious institutions also commonly allowed alleged perpetrators to continue in ministry or employment with little or no risk management or monitoring of their interactions with children. In many cases, supervisory arrangements were either not put in place or were not effective. Some perpetrators who continued in ministry or employment continued to sexually abuse children.

Across religious institutions, the inadequacy of internal disciplinary systems and the limited use of disciplinary measures meant that some perpetrators of child sexual abuse were not disciplined at all; some were disciplined, but in a minimal way; and others were disciplined, but only many years after allegations were raised or they were convicted. This often meant that perpetrators who were in religious ministry retained their religious titles, and lay perpetrators remained attached to religious institutions in circumstances where it was plainly inappropriate for them to do so.

Instead of reporting allegations to police or engaging with formal disciplinary processes for the dismissal of perpetrators of child sexual abuse from religious ministry, people who responded to allegations of child sexual abuse in religious institutions sometimes encouraged perpetrators to retire or resign as a way of dealing with these matters ‘quietly’. Some leaders of religious institutions also took steps to conceal the real reasons for which people were removed from positions in ministry or employment following allegations or admissions of child sexual abuse. This included, for example, allowing perpetrators to retire or resign on false grounds, such as for health reasons.

Commencing in the 1990s, some religious organisations developed protocols for responding to complaints of child sexual abuse, as well as redress processes. For some survivors, engaging with redress processes developed by religious institutions was a positive experience that contributed to their healing. Some survivors were complimentary about particular aspects of these processes, including offers of pastoral support, and spoke of receiving genuine apologies that had a significant healing effect.

However, many survivors told us that their experiences were difficult, frightening or confusing. Religious institutions frequently failed to provide appropriate care and support for survivors during redress processes, civil litigation or criminal proceedings. This sometimes exacerbated the trauma experienced by survivors.

Processes for receiving and responding to complaints and claims for redress were often overly legalistic, lacked transparency, involved generic apologies or no apologies at all, and failed to appropriately recognise the long-term and devastating impacts of child sexual abuse on victims, survivors and their families.

Multiple and often interacting factors have contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse in religious institutions and to inadequate institutional responses to such abuse. Our work suggests these include a combination of cultural, governance and theological factors.

In several of the religious institutions we examined, the central factor, underpinning and linked to all other factors, was the status of people in religious ministry. We repeatedly heard that the status of people in religious ministry, described in some contexts as ‘clericalism’, contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse in religious institutions, as well as to inadequate institutional responses.

The power and authority exercised by people in religious ministry gave them access to children and created opportunities for abuse. Children and adults within religious communities frequently saw people in religious ministry as figures who could not be challenged and, equally, as individuals in whom they could place their trust.

Within religious institutions there was often an inability to conceive that a person in religious ministry was capable of sexually abusing a child. This resulted in a failure by adults to listen to children who tried to disclose sexual abuse, a reluctance of religious leaders to take action when faced with allegations against people in religious ministry, and a willingness of religious leaders to accept denials from alleged perpetrators.

In some cases, it is clear that leaders of religious institutions knew that allegations of child sexual abuse involved actions that were or may have been criminal, or perpetrators made admissions. However, there was a tendency to view child sexual abuse as a forgivable sin or a moral failing rather than a crime. Some leaders of religious institutions claimed to have had a general lack of understanding about paedophilia and conduct amounting to child sexual abuse. Others inappropriately saw an allegation of child sexual abuse as an ‘aberration’ or a ‘one-off incident’ and not as part of a pattern of behaviour.

Consequently, rather than being treated as criminal offences, allegations and admissions of child sexual abuse were often approached through the lens of forgiveness and repentance. This is reflected in the forgiveness of perpetrators through the practice of religious confession, as well as encouraging victims to forgive those who abused them.

Many leaders of religious institutions demonstrated a preoccupation with protecting the institution’s ‘good name’ and reputation. Actions were often taken with the aim of avoiding, preventing or repairing public scandal, and concealing information that could tarnish the image of the institution and its personnel, or negatively affect its standing in the community.

In some cases, the structure and governance of religious institutions may have inhibited effective institutional responses to child sexual abuse. Independent, autonomous or decentralised governance structures often served to protect leaders of religious institutions from being scrutinised or held accountable for their actions, or lack of action, in responding to child sexual abuse. At times, the structure and governance of particular religious institutions gave rise to conflicts of interest for those involved in responding to allegations of child sexual abuse. In some instances religious leaders showed a lack of understanding of or disregard for perceived or actual conflicts of interest in circumstances where there were inadequate checks and balances to regulate their personal power.

In some religious institutions, the absence or insufficient involvement of women in leadership positions and governance structures negatively affected decision-making and accountability, and may have contributed to inadequate institutional responses to child sexual abuse. Leaders of both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church told us they believed that the involvement of women in leadership positions would contribute to making their institutions safer for children.

The interpretation and, at times, inappropriate application of religious laws, rules or principles in some religious organisations also contributed to inadequate institutional responses to child sexual abuse by hindering appropriate internal action on allegations of abuse and by acting as a barrier to external reporting. It is clear that for some religious organisations, internal laws or specific scriptural, doctrinal or theological principles present an ongoing obstacle to the reforms needed to ensure that children are safe from sexual abuse in religious institutions.

Seven of our case studies examined responses to child sexual abuse in institutions managed by or affiliated with the Anglican Church. Three of these case studies focused on the institutional responses of various dioceses and one associated organisation, the Church of England Boys’ Society. The remainder examined the institutional responses of schools, each of which had varying degrees of oversight and governance by the Anglican Church. Evidence in these case studies provided us with information about institutional responses to child sexual abuse in Anglican institutions before and after the development of national model procedures by the General Synod in 2004. These national model procedures were designed to bring greater consistency across all 23 Anglican Church dioceses in their responses to allegations of child sexual abuse.

Our institutional review hearing involving the Anglican Church in March 2017 considered some of the key factors that may have contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse in Anglican institutions or affected institutional responses to this abuse.

As of 31 May 2017, of the 4,029 survivors who told us during private sessions about child sexual abuse in religious institutions, 594 survivors (14.7 per cent) told us about abuse in Anglican institutions. The majority (76.4 per cent) were male and 23.4 per cent were female. The average age of victims at the time of first abuse was 10.6 years. Of the 376 survivors who told us about the age of the person who sexually abused them, 309 survivors (82.2 per cent) told us about abuse by an adult and 90 survivors (23.9 per cent) told us about abuse by a child. A small number of survivors told us about abuse by an adult and by a child. Of the 309 survivors who told us about sexual abuse by an adult, 95.8 per cent said they were abused by a male adult. Of the 565 survivors who told us about the position held by a perpetrator, 26.0 per cent told us about perpetrators who were people in religious ministry. This was followed by teachers (21.8 per cent), residential care workers (15.0 per cent) and housemasters (11.5 per cent).

We also commissioned a survey to gather data from the 23 Anglican Church dioceses in Australia regarding complaints of child sexual abuse they received between 1 January 1980 and 31 December 2015. This data showed that:

  • 1,085 complainants alleged incidents of child sexual abuse in 1,119 reported complaints
  • the largest proportion of first alleged incidents of child sexual abuse occurred in the 1970s (25 per cent of all complaints with known dates)
  • 75 per cent of complainants were male and 25 per cent were female, and the average age of the complainant at the time of the first alleged incident of child sexual abuse was approximately 11 years for both male and female complainants
  • 94 per cent of alleged perpetrators were male
  • of all known alleged perpetrators, 50 per cent were lay people and 43 per cent were ordained clergy
  • 472 complaints of child sexual abuse resulted in a payment being made following a claim for redress, with a total of $34.03 million paid, at an average of approximately $72,000 per claim.

Institutional responses to child sexual abuse in the Anglican Church

Our consideration of the early institutional responses of the Anglican Church to allegations of child sexual abuse revealed multiple failures.

Before the early 2000s, leaders of Anglican Church institutions often dismissed, did not believe, or minimised allegations of child sexual abuse against both clergy and lay people. Some leaders of Anglican Church institutions who responded to complaints during this time told victims that there was nothing they could do, suggested that victims had misinterpreted alleged perpetrators’ behaviour, or told victims that they should be ‘forgiving’ or ‘let sleeping dogs lie’. Survivors told us of the devastating impacts of such responses.

Senior Anglican Church personnel at times asked complainants to remain silent, in one case, we were told, ‘to protect the good name of the church’. We heard of instances where senior Anglican Church personnel raised the threat of potential legal action against survivors and others who made complaints. We heard that such threats dissuaded complainants from reporting to police.

Before the early 2000s, complaints were rarely reported to police or other civil authorities and, in some cases, those who made complaints to the Anglican Church were actively discouraged from taking further action. In some cases, alleged perpetrators were not reported to police despite them having made admissions relating to child sexual abuse to a bishop. In other cases alleged perpetrators were not reported to police despite multiple allegations being made over years or decades. Where policies requiring reporting to police existed, they were not followed. One Anglican bishop acknowledged that had he gone to the police, much suffering would have been avoided.

Before the early 2000s, a common response to complaints about child sexual abuse was to allow alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse to remain in ministry or lay involvement in Anglican institutions, sometimes for years or decades. In some cases, conditions were imposed, or were purportedly imposed, on alleged perpetrators. However, we found that these conditions failed to adequately mitigate the risks to children, or were not complied with. In some cases, there were further allegations of child sexual abuse.

At times, clergy and lay people were promoted and progressed through the ranks of Anglican institutions even after allegations of child sexual abuse had been made against them. In some instances clergy and lay people against whom allegations had been made were allowed to resign or retire quietly, to avoid scandal for the Anglican Church. Disciplinary action that could have been taken against some clergy was not taken, and we heard that the disciplinary mechanism available to dioceses (the diocesan tribunal system) was rarely used. Where disciplinary proceedings were held, we heard that the processes at times caused additional trauma to survivors.

Since 2004, Anglican Church dioceses in Australia have adopted and implemented a range of measures under a professional standards framework to respond to complaints of child sexual abuse, with the intention of achieving a consistent national approach. However, there remain differences in the way this framework operates in each of the 23 dioceses, leading to inconsistent outcomes for survivors.

The professional standards framework, while not specifically mandating that allegations of child sexual abuse are reported to police or other civil authorities, nevertheless requires dioceses to have procedures for working with law enforcement, prosecution and child protection authorities. Furthermore, professional standards committees have a power and a duty to refer information to such authorities. However, our case studies showed that where policies existed, Anglican Church personnel did not necessarily report historical allegations in a timely manner, if at all.

Following the introduction of the professional standards framework, there was a shift away from the tribunal-based system of disciplining clergy to a mechanism that considers whether clergy and church workers remain fit to hold a licence, office or position of responsibility where allegations have been made against them. However, our case studies showed that such disciplinary action was not always taken, and the process could be long and protracted.

We also heard that lay people involved in the governance of the Anglican Church can significantly influence the prevailing culture of a diocese. In the Diocese of Newcastle in New South Wales, this led to child safety not being prioritised, the undermining of attempts to implement professional standards processes, and backlash directed at bishops and others in leadership positions when they sought to bring about positive cultural change in relation to the issue of child sexual abuse.

Although pastoral care and assistance schemes have operated in most dioceses since the 1990s, we heard that these were not always followed or properly implemented. Where there were civil claims, sometimes the approach adopted by a diocese was legalistic and defensive, which caused further trauma for some survivors. A number of Anglican bishops who gave evidence during our institutional review hearing on the Anglican Church told us that their dioceses had sought to improve their responses to survivors. Despite this, we heard from some survivors about their negative experiences with diocese-based redress schemes, including delays, inconvenient processes, and perceptions that the maximum payments available through these schemes were inadequate.

Contributing factors in the Anglican Church

The lack of a consistent national approach in the Anglican Church to responding to allegations of child sexual abuse has led to inconsistent outcomes for survivors. Barriers to a consistent national approach include dispersed and decentralised authority, diocesan autonomy, and theological and cultural differences between dioceses. We recommend that all religious organisations adopt the Royal Commission’s 10 Child Safe Standards as nationally mandated standards for each of their affiliated institutions and drive a consistent approach to the implementation of the standards (Recommendations 16.32 and 16.33). Given these barriers, the Anglican Church should develop a mechanism to not only drive a consistent approach to child safety, but also monitor its adoption in the 23 dioceses and their affiliated institutions.

A failure of leadership by diocesan bishops contributed to inadequate responses to child sexual abuse. In two of our case studies, alleged perpetrators remained in positions where they had access to children after a bishop had received a complaint of child sexual abuse, and there were subsequently further allegations of child sexual abuse. These failures occurred in a context where there was a lack of oversight and accountability of bishops, and no uniform process for complaints about bishops’ handling of allegations of child sexual abuse. We recommend that the Anglican Church adopt a uniform episcopal standards framework to ensure that bishops and former bishops are accountable to an appropriate authority or body in relation to their response to complaints of child sexual abuse (Recommendation 16.1).

In some instances conflicts of interest arose for diocesan bishops and senior diocesan officeholders in their responses to individuals accused of child sexual abuse. Bishops have close relationships with clergy in their dioceses, which at times clearly affected their response to allegations. Conflicts also arose for senior officeholders as a consequence of their personal and professional interests. We recommend that the Anglican Church adopt a policy relating to the management of actual or perceived conflicts of interest that may arise in relation to allegations of child sexual abuse (Recommendation 16.2).

Lay people have a high level of involvement in the governance and operation of the Anglican Church. While lay involvement in the governance of religious institutions can contribute to child safety, in some instances in the Anglican Church, responses to child sexual abuse have been affected by particular lay cultures in a diocese. These local cultures, when they do not prioritise the safety of children, can have a significant impact on the ability of a bishop to effectively lead a diocese, and can contribute to inadequate responses to allegations of child sexual abuse. We recommend that the Anglican Church amend Being together and any other statement of expectations about the behaviour of members of Anglican Church communities, to expressly refer to the importance of child safety (Recommendation 16.3).

Aspects of clericalism – that is, the theological belief that the clergy are different to the laity – may have contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse in the Anglican Church and impeded appropriate responses to such abuse. A culture of clericalism may have discouraged survivors and others from reporting child sexual abuse, including to police. Greater transparency and a more extensive role for women in both ordained ministry and lay leadership positions in the Anglican Church, among other measures, could address the negative impacts of this culture of clericalism.

In some cases in the Anglican Church there was a focus on extending forgiveness and compassion to perpetrators rather than properly considering the needs of victims. One consequence of a culture of forgiveness, when combined with a poor understanding of child sexual abuse, was that survivors were encouraged to forgive the person who abused them. Similarly, third parties who raised complaints were encouraged to forgive the person they suspected of perpetrating child sexual abuse.

In addition to these cultural factors there were failures in the selection and screening of people for ordination. Clergy and church workers in the Anglican Church also need professional supervision and support. We recommend that the Anglican Church develop a national approach to the selection, screening and training of candidates for ordination (Recommendation 16.4). We further recommend that the Anglican Church develop and implement mandatory national standards to ensure that all people in religious or pastoral ministry undertake regular professional development, undertake professional/pastoral supervision and undergo regular performance appraisals (Recommendation 16.5).

At its 17th session in September 2017, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia passed a number of canons aimed at achieving national minimum standards in many of these areas. It is now up to the 23 dioceses to adopt uniform legislation to ensure that the Anglican Church has a consistent national approach to child safety.

Fifteen of our case studies examined responses to child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions, including schools, residential institutions, places of worship and during religious activities. Case studies also focused on the operation of redress processes in the Catholic Church and the operation of canon law in relation to priests against whom allegations had been made. Case studies considered responses to child sexual abuse by a number of dioceses and religious institutes (also known as religious orders or congregations) including the Christian Brothers, the Marist Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy.

We also held an institutional review hearing to consider current policies and procedures of Catholic Church authorities in Australia in relation to child protection, as well as factors that may have contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions or to inadequate institutional responses to such abuse.

As of 31 May 2017, of the 4,029 survivors who told us during private sessions about child sexual abuse in religious institutions, 2,489 survivors (61.8 per cent) told us about abuse in Catholic institutions. The majority (73.9 per cent) were male and 25.9 per cent were female. A small number of survivors identified as gender-diverse or did not indicate their gender. The average age of victims at the time of first abuse was 10.4 years. Of the 1,489 survivors who told us about the age of the person who sexually abused them, 1,334 survivors (89.6 per cent) told us about abuse by an adult and 199 survivors (13.4 per cent) told us about abuse by a child. A small number of survivors told us about abuse by an adult and by a child. Of the 1,334 survivors who told us about sexual abuse by an adult, 96.2 per cent said they were abused by a male adult. Of the 2,413 survivors who told us about the position held by a perpetrator, 74.7 per cent told us about perpetrators who were people in religious ministry and 27.6 per cent told us about perpetrators who were teachers. Some survivors told us about more than one perpetrator.

We also commissioned a survey to gather data from Catholic Church authorities in Australia regarding claims of child sexual abuse they received between 1 January 1980 and 31 December 2015. This data showed:

  • 4,444 claimants alleged incidents of child sexual abuse in 4,756 reported claims
  • the largest proportion of first alleged incidents of child sexual abuse occurred in the 1970s (29 per cent of all complaints with known dates)
  • 78 per cent of claimants were male and 22 per cent were female, and the average age of the claimant at the time of the first alleged incident of child sexual abuse was approximately 11.4 years (11.6 years for males and 10.5 years for females)
  • 90 per cent of alleged perpetrators were male
  • of all known alleged perpetrators
    • 37 per cent were non-ordained religious (32 per cent were religious brothers and 5 per cent were religious sisters)
    • 30 per cent were priests
    • 29 per cent were lay people
  • 3,057 claims of child sexual abuse resulted in a payment being made following a claim for redress, with a total of $268.0 million paid (of which $250.7 million was paid in monetary compensation in relation to 2,845 claims, at an average of approximately $88,000 per claim).

The accounts of child sexual abuse that we heard about in relation to Catholic institutions largely related to schools and residential institutions. Of the 1,049 institutions identified in the Catholic Church claims data, 549 were schools and 83 were residential institutions. However, claims of child sexual abuse were much more likely to be made in relation to residential institutions than schools – an average of 16 claims were made in relation to each residential institution, while an average of four claims were made in relation to each school.

We also sought information from 75 Catholic archdioceses/dioceses and religious institutes about the number of their members who ministered in Australia from 1 January 1950 to 31 December 2010, and how long each of them ministered. We then calculated the proportion of members of these Catholic Church authorities who ministered in the period 1950 to 2010 who were alleged perpetrators, taking into account the duration of ministry (a weighted average methodology).

Of all Catholic priests included in the survey who ministered between 1950 and 2010, taking into account the duration of ministry, 7 per cent were alleged perpetrators.

The weighted proportion of alleged perpetrators in specific Catholic Church authorities included: the St John of God Brothers (40.4 per cent); the Christian Brothers (22.0 per cent); the Benedictine Community of New Norcia (21.5 per cent); the Salesians of Don Bosco (20.9 per cent); the Marist Brothers (20.4 per cent); the Diocese of Sale in Victoria (15.1 per cent); the De La Salle Brothers (13.8 per cent) and the Archdiocese of Adelaide in South Australia (2.4 per cent).

Institutional responses to child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church

Awareness of allegations of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church

Our inquiry revealed numerous cases where senior officials of Catholic Church authorities knew about allegations of child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions but failed to take effective action. It is also evident that other priests, religious (members of a religious institute) and lay members of the Catholic community were aware either of specific complaints of child sexual abuse or of rumours or gossip about certain priests or religious. While the knowledge and understanding of child sexual abuse may have developed and deepened in the last two decades of the 20th century, it is clear that Catholic Church leaders were aware of the problem well before that time.

Institutional responses to child sexual abuse before the development of national procedures

We have concluded that there were catastrophic failures of leadership of Catholic Church authorities over many decades, particularly before the 1990s.

Those failures led to the suffering of a great number of children, their families and wider communities. For many, the harm was irreparable. In numerous cases, that harm could have been avoided had Catholic Church authorities acted in the interests of children rather than in their own interests.

Few survivors of child sexual abuse that occurred before the 1990s described receiving any formal response from the relevant Catholic Church authority when they reported the abuse. Instead, they were often disbelieved, ignored or punished, and in some cases were further abused.

The responses of various Catholic Church authorities to complaints and concerns about their priests and religious were remarkably and disturbingly similar. It is apparent that the avoidance of public scandal, the maintenance of the reputation of the Catholic Church and loyalty to priests and religious largely determined the responses of Catholic Church authorities when allegations of child sexual abuse arose.

Complaints of child sexual abuse were not reported to police or other civil authorities, contributing to the Catholic Church being able to keep such matters ‘in-house’ and out of the public gaze. Had Catholic Church authorities reported all complaints to police, they could have prevented further sexual abuse of children.

In some cases, leaders of Catholic Church authorities were reluctant to remove alleged perpetrators from positions that involved contact with children. Some alleged perpetrators were allowed to remain in religious ministry in the same positions and locations for extended periods of time after allegations of child sexual abuse were raised; in some cases there were further allegations of the sexual abuse of children. If appropriate protective steps had been taken, subsequent abuse may have been avoided.

In other cases, alleged perpetrators were moved to new positions in other locations after allegations were raised, where in some instances they continued to sexually abuse children. The removal of priests and religious from locations where allegations of child sexual abuse arose, and their subsequent transfer to new locations, was one of the most common responses adopted across Catholic Church authorities in Australia before the development of national procedures in the early 1990s. Some priests and religious brothers who were accused of child sexual abuse were moved on multiple occasions.

When the priest or religious left, sometimes hurriedly, untrue or misleading reasons were sometimes given for their departure. On occasions, the move was timed to avoid raising suspicion. In some cases, no warning, or no effective warning, was given to the new parish or school of the risk posed by the incoming priest or religious.

Until at least the early 1990s, alleged perpetrators often were sent away for a period of ‘treatment’ or ‘reflection’ before being transferred to a new appointment or being allowed to continue in an existing one. Some leaders of Catholic Church authorities believed that psychological or other forms of counselling could assist or ‘cure’ alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse.

In some cases, priests or religious against whom allegations of child sexual abuse had been made were simply granted leave, or restrictions were placed on their ministry, such as by appointing them to administrative positions. These measures were not always effective in preventing them from having access to children.

Throughout this period, there was a system under canon law for disciplining priests and religious accused of child sexual abuse, under which the most severe penalty was dismissal from the priesthood or religious life and return to the lay state. However, the Catholic Church authorities we examined did not engage with these canonical processes for priests or religious accused of child sexual abuse in the decades before the development of national procedures in the early 1990s. Instead, bishops and religious superiors adopted a range of informal responses aimed at limiting the capacity of alleged perpetrators to engage in ministry or, at most, permanently removing alleged perpetrators from particular dioceses or religious congregations. These measures did not always prevent alleged perpetrators from continuing in ministry in another Catholic Church authority, or continuing in other positions where they had access to children.

The clearest indication of the inappropriateness and ineffectiveness of institutional responses by Catholic Church authorities to alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse in this period is that often they did not prevent the further sexual abuse of children. Some perpetrators continued to offend even after there had been multiple responses following initial and successive allegations of child sexual abuse.

Development of national procedures

In the late 1980s, Catholic Church leaders began to discuss the issue of child sexual abuse more formally at the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC). In 1988 the ACBC established a dedicated committee to consider issues related to child sexual abuse, and the adoption of a series of national protocols from 1990 was an important step towards formulating a nationally consistent response. However, these protocols retained a focus on responding to the alleged perpetrators of sexual abuse rather than on the needs of victims, and their implementation by Catholic Church authorities was sporadic.

By the mid-1990s there had been a shift in understanding about the appropriateness of keeping alleged perpetrators in ministry where they would be in regular contact with children. At about the same time, members of the newly constituted Bishops’ Committee for Professional Standards recognised that a new protocol focusing on the needs of victims was required. The formulation and adoption of Towards Healing and the Melbourne Response in 1996 were considerable achievements in this regard.

In November 1996, the ACBC agreed that Towards Healing would be implemented in March 1997. A month earlier, the then Archbishop of Melbourne, Archbishop George Pell, had announced that the archdiocese would proceed with the Melbourne Response. The introduction of the Melbourne Response shortly before the implementation of Towards Healing effectively meant that there would not be a uniform national approach.

Institutional responses to alleged perpetrators during and after the development of national procedures

From the mid-1990s, there were some improvements in the responses of Catholic Church authorities to allegations of child sexual abuse. Alleged perpetrators began to be placed on administrative leave while complaints were investigated, and steps were generally taken to remove perpetrators from ministry if complaints against them were substantiated. However, these processes were not always followed, and some measures masked the reasons for the action taken. Further, processes to dismiss priests and religious appear to have been rarely used during the 1990s and early 2000s.

While the early protocols contained some provisions relating to alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse, they did not comprehensively set out the obligations of bishops and religious superiors in responding to alleged perpetrators and convicted offenders. Furthermore, it appears that leaders of Catholic Church authorities were not always aware of or did not consistently follow these protocols.

The early protocols did not require leaders of Catholic Church authorities to report allegations to the police. Towards Healing did not mandate this until 2010. From the mid-1990s, leaders of Catholic Church authorities continued not to report alleged perpetrators to police, leaving this to victims and survivors. This had the effect of keeping many complaints from the public gaze and in some cases meant that children continued to be at risk.

The early protocols saw the introduction of the approach that alleged perpetrators should be required to take leave from active duties while allegations were investigated. However, Catholic Church leaders in some cases did not take this action and alleged perpetrators continued in the same positions for extended periods of time after allegations had been raised. In other cases, alleged perpetrators were temporarily removed from religious ministry. Some were placed on types of leave such as sick leave, instead of administrative leave, which masked the reasons for which they were placed on leave. Some continued to have access to children. In the Catholic Church authorities we examined, it appears that, from the time that Towards Healing and the Melbourne Response were introduced, priests and religious were generally placed on administrative leave if allegations of child sexual abuse were made against them.

In some cases, leaders of Catholic Church authorities took steps to remove perpetrators from religious ministry when complaints of child sexual abuse were substantiated or if they were convicted. In other cases action was taken due to a concern about the level of risk posed by an alleged perpetrator. In the case of priests, removal from ministry was generally achieved through the ‘withdrawal of faculties’.

Some bishops permitted priests to resign or retire following allegations of child sexual abuse, in circumstances where it was not made publicly known that allegations had been made against them. Other priests were bestowed with honorific titles, such as Pastor Emeritus, at the time of their resignation, despite being the subject of allegations or having made admissions of child sexual abuse.

Following the introduction of Towards Healing, bishops and religious superiors retained considerable latitude with respect to the measures they should take in response to perpetrators whose guilt had been admitted or proved. It appears that they took disciplinary steps under canon law to dismiss offenders in only a small number of cases during the 1990s and early 2000s. The reluctance of Catholic Church leaders to engage with canonical disciplinary processes may have been caused, in part, by confusion about those processes, as well as by a view that the Vatican tended to resolve matters in favour of offending priests. It may also have been due to the fact that formal canonical disciplinary processes took considerable time.

The delayed or limited use of canon law processes to dismiss those found to have committed child sexual abuse meant that some perpetrators remained in the priesthood or in religious orders for many years after their guilt had been admitted or established. In addition, the Vatican was very slow to respond to petitions for dismissal from Catholic Church authorities in Australia, and it is clear that the Vatican’s approach to child sexual abuse by clergy was protective of the offender. One bishop told us that in a number of cases his requests to have offender priests dismissed from the clerical state were refused and he was instead directed to ensure that the priests live a life of prayer and penance.

Institutional responses to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse after the development of national procedures

In several case studies we considered the experiences of victims and survivors of child sexual abuse who engaged with Towards Healing and the Melbourne Response. For some, participating in these processes was a positive experience which contributed to their healing. However, others told us that their experiences were difficult, frightening or confusing, and led to further harm and re-traumatisation.

We recognise that many people who have engaged with the Towards Healing process since 1997 may have received greatly needed compassion and support and derived important benefits from their participation. However, some survivors have been disappointed by the process and critical of it. We heard from a number of survivors that the principles and procedures set out in Towards Healing were not followed by Catholic Church authorities. Some survivors told us that the personnel they engaged with did not communicate with them clearly or sensitively. In some cases, survivors felt they were not consulted about important decisions. Significantly, a number of survivors told us they perceived that the personnel they engaged with were insufficiently independent of the Catholic Church. Some told us they experienced a power imbalance between themselves and the Catholic Church representatives involved.

We made a number of observations in relation to the Melbourne Response in our report on that case study. We observed that the practice of Independent Commissioners meeting survivors in their barrister’s chambers, an environment that may be threatening, if not overwhelming, was unlikely to provide a sense of confidence and security for a survivor. We said that the Archdiocese of Melbourne should meet the costs of lawyers for survivors, and should inform survivors of this at the outset of the process. We concluded that the archdiocese should review the terms of appointment for the Independent Commissioners to further clarify expectations concerning the rights of victims and the reporting of allegations to police. We also observed that administrators or decision-makers in a redress scheme should never give advice to applicants about likely outcomes of a report to police, even if they are independent of the relevant institution. We observed that the Melbourne Response is a scheme heavily dominated by lawyers and that a traditional legal process is unlikely to provide the most supportive environment for survivors of child sexual abuse.

In 2014, the Archbishop of Melbourne, Archbishop Denis Hart, announced a review of the Melbourne Response, the report of which he received in 2015. This review made recommendations including an increase to the cap on redress payments. In December 2016, Archbishop Hart announced that the cap on payments would be increased on 1 January 2017 and that additional payments would be made to survivors of child sexual abuse who had already received payments, to reflect the new cap.

In case studies we also considered the experiences of survivors of child sexual abuse who pursued civil litigation against Catholic Church authorities or negotiated redress directly with Catholic Church authorities. We heard that particular challenges arise in such cases, including the operation of statutory limitation periods and the need to identify a responsible party against whom to bring legal proceedings. We heard from a number of survivors who pursued civil litigation that Catholic Church authorities took advantage of the legal defences available to them and conducted litigation in a manner that did not adequately take account of the pastoral and other needs of survivors of child sexual abuse.

We also heard that in some cases, Catholic Church authorities avoided or resisted meeting with communities affected by child sexual abuse and failed or refused to provide pastoral support to communities who both needed and requested it. We heard of instances where Catholic Church authorities withheld information from affected communities, which meant that people were not alerted to possible cases of child sexual abuse or were left with unanswered questions.

Institutional responses to child sexual abuse in Catholic schools

Child sexual abuse in schools represented a substantial proportion of the abuse we heard about in relation to Catholic institutions. Of the 2,489 survivors who told us in private sessions about child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions, 49.2 per cent told us about abuse in schools. Of the 1,049 named institutions in the Catholic Church claims data, 549 were schools. This data also showed that, of all claims made in relation to child sexual abuse in a Catholic school, 74 per cent involved religious brothers or priests.

In case studies we considered the responses of Catholic Church authorities to allegations of child sexual abuse in Catholic schools, including responses by teachers and principals, by Catholic education offices and by diocesan authorities and leaders of religious orders. Many of the responses were similar to those of other Catholic Church institutions, outlined above. Allegations were not reported to police. Alleged perpetrators were commonly left in positions where they had access to children or were moved to new locations, often remaining in teaching positions. In a number of cases alleged perpetrators who were not removed from positions where they had access to children went on to further sexually abuse children.

In relation to a number of cases we considered where alleged perpetrators were priests associated with Catholic schools, we concluded that the relevant bishop or archbishop knew about allegations of child sexual abuse, but failed to take appropriate action to protect children from the risk of abuse, sometimes for years. Their inaction left these priests in positions where they had ongoing access to children in Catholic schools. It was left to principals and teachers to attempt to manage the risk that these individuals posed to children.

In relation to Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, we found that the employment structure, where the parish priest is the employer of the school principal and staff for parish schools, is dysfunctional. There is a risk that having the priest as employer could act as a barrier to people reporting concerns about child sexual abuse. We recommend that parish priests not be the employer of principals and teachers in Catholic schools (Recommendation 16.6).

A common feature of cases we examined regarding Christian Brothers or Marist Brothers was that provincial leaders of these religious orders allowed religious brothers teaching in Catholic schools to remain in positions where they had access to children, or to move to different schools, despite allegations – in some cases numerous allegations – of child sexual abuse being made against them. During the time period considered by our case studies, the highly centralised structures for decision-making within the Marist Brothers and the Christian Brothers contributed to failures to respond appropriately to allegations of child sexual abuse.

Contributing factors in the Catholic Church

We considered a range of factors that may have contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions or affected institutional responses to such abuse.

Child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and religious may be explained by a combination of psychosexual and other related factors on the part of the individual perpetrator, and a range of institutional factors, including theological, governance and cultural factors. The same theological, governance and cultural factors that contributed to the occurrence of abuse also contributed to the inadequate responses of Catholic institutions to that abuse.

Individual factors

Individual pathology on its own is insufficient to explain child sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic clergy and religious. Rather, a heightened risk of child sexual abuse arises when specific factors in relation to an individual’s psychosexual immaturity or psychosexual dysfunction combine with a range of situational and institutional factors.

Compared with perpetrators of child sexual abuse in the wider community, research suggests that Catholic clergy perpetrators are an atypical group. They tend to begin offending later in life and to be better educated, less antisocial and more likely to have male than female victims.

Factors that may influence whether a priest or religious is susceptible to sexually abusing a child may include confusion about sexual identity, childish interests and behaviour, lack of peer relationships, and a history of having been sexually abused as a child. Further, some clergy and religious perpetrators appear to have been vulnerable to mental health issues, substance abuse and psychosexual immaturity. We heard that personality factors that may be associated with clergy and religious perpetrators include narcissism, dependency, cognitive rigidity and fear of intimacy.

Although most of the perpetrators of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church that we heard about were male adults, and most victims were boys or adolescents, it is a misconception that all perpetrators who sexually abuse children of the same gender as them are samesex attracted. Research suggests that child sexual abuse is not related to sexual orientation: perpetrators can be straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual. Research has indicated that men who identify as heterosexual are just as likely as men who identify as homosexual to perpetrate child sexual abuse. Vatican documents that link homosexuality to child sexual abuse are not in keeping with current psychological evidence or understanding about healthy human sexuality.

Clericalism

Clericalism is at the centre of a tightly interconnected cluster of contributing factors. Clericalism is the idealisation of the priesthood, and by extension, the idealisation of the Catholic Church. Clericalism is linked to a sense of entitlement, superiority and exclusion, and abuse of power.

Clericalism nurtured ideas that the Catholic Church was autonomous and self-sufficient, and promoted the idea that child sexual abuse by clergy and religious was a matter to be dealt with internally and in secret.

The theological notion that the priest undergoes an ‘ontological change’ at ordination, so that he is different to ordinary human beings and permanently a priest, is a dangerous component of the culture of clericalism. The notion that the priest is a sacred person contributed to exaggerated levels of unregulated power and trust which perpetrators of child sexual abuse were able to exploit.

Clericalism caused some bishops and religious superiors to identify with perpetrators of child sexual abuse rather than victims and their families, and in some cases led to denial that clergy and religious were capable of child sexual abuse. It was the culture of clericalism that led bishops and religious superiors to attempt to avoid public scandal to protect the reputation of the Catholic Church and the status of the priesthood.

We heard that the culture of clericalism continues in the Catholic Church and is on the rise in some seminaries in Australia and worldwide.

Organisational structure and governance

The governance of the Catholic Church is hierarchical. We heard that the decentralisation and autonomy of Catholic dioceses and religious institutes contributed to ineffective responses of Catholic Church authorities to child sexual abuse, as did the personalised nature of power in the Catholic Church and the limited accountability of bishops.

The powers of governance held by individual diocesan bishops and provincials are not subject to adequate checks and balances. There is no separation of powers, and the executive, legislative and judicial aspects of governance are combined in the person of the pope and in diocesan bishops. Diocesan bishops have not been sufficiently accountable to any other body for decision-making in their handling of allegations of child sexual abuse or alleged perpetrators. There has been no requirement for their decisions to be made transparent or subject to due process. The tragic consequences of this lack of accountability have been seen in the failures of those in authority in the Catholic Church to respond adequately to allegations and occurrences of child sexual abuse.

The hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church created a culture of deferential obedience in which poor responses to child sexual abuse went unchallenged. Where senior clergy and religious with advisory roles to diocesan bishops or provincials of religious institutes were aware of allegations of child sexual abuse, often they did not challenge or attempt to remedy the inadequate responses of their bishop or provincial, or believed that they could not do so.

The exclusion of lay people and women from leadership positions in the Catholic Church may have contributed to inadequate responses to child sexual abuse. In accordance with contemporary standards of good governance, we encourage the Catholic Church in Australia to explore and develop ways in which its structures and practices of governance may be made more accountable, more transparent, more meaningfully consultative and more participatory, including at the diocesan and parish level. We recommend that the ACBC conduct a national review of the governance and management structures of dioceses and parishes, including in relation to issues of transparency, accountability, consultation and participation of lay men and women (Recommendation 16.7).

We accept that diocesan bishops and provincials of religious institutes are increasingly making use of professional expertise in the management of their various institutions, including in the administration of their responses to child sexual abuse. We also accept that the Catholic education and Catholic community services sectors have increasing lay involvement in their governance, operate professionally and are subject to significant government regulation.

Leadership

In its responses to child sexual abuse, the leadership of the Catholic Church has failed the people of the Catholic Church in Australia, in particular its children. The results of that failure have been catastrophic.

It appears that some candidates for leadership positions have been selected on the basis of their adherence to specific aspects of church doctrine and their commitment to the defence and promotion of the institutional Catholic Church, rather than on their capacity for leadership. This meant that some bishops were ill equipped and unprepared for the challenges of dealing with child sexual abuse and responding to emerging claims. Catholic Church leaders in Australia have prioritised protecting the reputation of the church at the expense of the welfare of individuals when responding to child sexual abuse.

Meaningful and direct consultation with, and participation of, lay people in the appointment of bishops, as well as greater transparency in that process, would make bishops more accountable and responsive to the lay people of the Catholic Church, including in responding to child sexual abuse. We recommend that the ACBC request that the Holy See amend the appointment process for bishops (Recommendation 16.8).

We also recommend that each religious institution in Australia ensure that its religious leaders are provided with leadership training, both before and after their appointment, including in the promotion of child safety (Recommendation 16.36).

Canon law

The disciplinary system imposed by canon law for dealing with clergy and religious who sexually abuse children contributed to the failure of the Catholic Church to provide an effective and timely response to alleged perpetrators and perpetrators. We heard that canon law as it applied to child sexual abuse was cumbersome, complex and confusing. We recommend that the ACBC request that the Holy See amend a number of provisions in canon law.

We recommend that canon law should be amended so that offences related to child sexual abuse are framed as crimes against the child rather than ‘delicts’ against morals or a breach of the obligation to observe celibacy (Recommendation 16.9).

There should be no provision in canon law that attempts to prevent, hinder or discourage compliance with mandatory reporting laws by bishops or religious superiors. While we do not make any findings about the proper interpretation of canon law in relation to mandatory reporting to civil authorities, it appears that during the 1990s and early 2000s, the Holy See considered that bishops were not free to report allegations of child sexual abuse by clergy to civil authorities. However, the Holy See’s approach to mandatory reporting changed significantly in 2010. We recommend that canon law be amended so that the ‘pontifical secret’ does not apply to any aspect of allegations or canonical disciplinary processes relating to child sexual abuse (Recommendation 16.10).

We conclude that the emphasis in canon law on the ‘pastoral approach’, which requires bishops and religious superiors to treat withdrawal from ministry and dismissal from the priesthood or religious life as a ‘last resort’, has been a significant obstacle for bishops and religious superiors who wanted to initiate a canonical disciplinary process. It has also contributed to the mistaken view that child sexual abuse was a forgivable moral failing rather than a crime that should be reported to police. We recommend that canon law be amended to ensure that the ‘pastoral approach’ is not an essential precondition to the commencement of canonical action relating to child sexual abuse (Recommendation 16.11).

Other aspects of the canon law disciplinary system that should be reformed include the statute of limitations (‘prescription’) on initiating a canon law process, given that many victims take years to disclose their experience of abuse (Recommendation 16.12), and the ‘imputability’ defence, which allows responsibility for a delict to be reduced if the individual has a diagnosis of paedophilia (Recommendation 16.13).

A number of the issues we identified have impeded the permanent removal from ministry of priests or religious against whom complaints of child sexual abuse have been substantiated, or the dismissal of priests or religious convicted of offences related to child sexual abuse. We recommend that if a complaint of child sexual abuse against a person in religious ministry is substantiated, the person be permanently removed from ministry. Canon law should be amended to this effect (Recommendations 16.14 and 16.55). We also recommend that canon law be amended to ensure that priests and religious who are convicted of a child sexual abuse-related offence in a civil court are dismissed from the priesthood and/or religious life (Recommendations 16.14 and 16.56).

Further, we recommend that decisions of Vatican Congregations and canonical appeal courts with respect to priests and religious accused of child sexual abuse be published in a timely manner (Recommendation 16.16).

Celibacy

While not a direct cause of child sexual abuse, we are satisfied that compulsory celibacy (for clergy) and vowed chastity (for members of religious institutes) have contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse, especially when combined with other risk factors. We acknowledge that only a minority of Catholic clergy and religious have sexually abused children. However, based on research we conclude that there is an elevated risk of child sexual abuse where compulsorily celibate male clergy or religious have privileged access to children in certain types of Catholic institutions, including schools, residential institutions and parishes.

For many Catholic clergy and religious, celibacy is implicated in emotional isolation, loneliness, depression and mental illness. Compulsory celibacy may also have contributed to various forms of psychosexual dysfunction, including psychosexual immaturity, which pose an ongoing risk to the safety of children. For many clergy and religious, celibacy is an unattainable ideal that leads to clergy and religious living double lives, and contributes to a culture of secrecy and hypocrisy. This culture appears to have contributed to some clergy and religious overlooking violations of celibacy and minimising child sexual abuse as forgivable moral lapses committed by colleagues who were struggling to live up to an ideal that for many proved impossible.

We recommend that the ACBC request that the Holy See consider introducing voluntary celibacy for diocesan clergy (Recommendation 16.18). We also recommend that Catholic religious institutes implement measures to address the risks of harm to children and the potential psychological and sexual dysfunction associated with celibacy (Recommendation 16.19). Further, we recommend that, to promote healthy lives for those who choose to be celibate, Catholic Church authorities improve their processes of selection, screening and training of candidates for the clergy and religious life, and their processes of ongoing formation, support and supervision of clergy and religious (Recommendation 16.20).

Selection, screening and initial formation

It is apparent that initial formation practices were inadequate in the past, particularly before the 1970s, in relation to the screening of candidates for admission, preparing seminarians and novices to lead a celibate life, and preparing them for the realities of a life in religious or pastoral ministry. The initial training of priests and religious occurred in segregated, regimented, monastic and clericalist environments, and was based on obedience and conformity. These arrangements are likely to have been detrimental to psychosexual maturity, and to have produced clergy and religious who were cognitively rigid. This increased the risk of child sexual abuse.

Although from the 1970s there have been improvements in the selection, screening and formation of candidates for the priesthood and religious life, it appears that these have largely been implemented in an ad hoc and inconsistent manner. In particular, there is still a lack of consistency between seminaries and houses of religious formation in relation to the selection and screening of candidates. We recommend that the Catholic Church adopt a national protocol for screening candidates and that bishops and religious superiors draw on wide-ranging professional advice in their decision-making in relation to the admission of individuals to ordination or the profession of vows (Recommendations 16.21 and 16.22). We also recommend that guideline policy documents relating to the formation of clergy and religious be revised to explicitly address child sexual abuse and its prevention (Recommendation 16.23).

We also heard that certain models of formation may be instrumental in inculcating a culture of clericalism. We recommend that the ACBC and Catholic Religious Australia conduct a national review of current models of initial formation (Recommendation 16.24).

Oversight, support and ongoing training of people in ministry

It is apparent that Catholic clergy and religious have not received adequate training in relation to professional responsibility, the maintenance of healthy boundaries, and ministerial and professional ethics. It is clear that inadequate preparation for ministry, loneliness, social isolation, and personal distress related to the difficulties of celibacy, have contributed to the sexual abuse of children.

Processes for the management and oversight of clergy and religious in their working ministry have been poor. Bishops and religious superiors have limited capacity to personally oversee the activities of clergy or religious, and, especially within dioceses, ‘middle management’ structures have been inadequate. We heard that there has been a view, particularly on the part of some Catholic clergy, that following ordination they do not need ongoing training. We heard that the Catholic Church in Australia has developed a code of conduct for clergy and religious that includes standards in relation to professional development, professional supervision and appraisal. However, we also heard that most clergy do not fully comply with ongoing formation activities.

Improved and updated policies and practices in relation to the oversight, support and ongoing training of all people in religious and pastoral ministry in the Catholic Church are essential to reducing the risk of child sexual abuse and ensuring better institutional responses to abuse.

We recommend the development and implementation of mandatory national standards to ensure that all people in religious or pastoral ministry in the Catholic Church in Australia undertake regular professional development, undertake professional/pastoral supervision and undergo regular performance appraisals (Recommendation 16.25).

We also heard that specialised programs for the screening, induction, and professional support and supervision of priests and religious recruited from overseas are inadequate. We recommend the creation of targeted programs for these purposes (Recommendation 16.46).

Sacrament of reconciliation (confession)

We are satisfied that the practice of the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) contributed to both the occurrence of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and to inadequate institutional responses to abuse. We heard in case studies and private sessions that disclosures of child sexual abuse by perpetrators or victims during confession were not reported to civil authorities or otherwise acted on. We heard that the sacrament is based in a theology of sin and forgiveness, and that some Catholic Church leaders have viewed child sexual abuse as a sin to be dealt with through private absolution and penance rather than as a crime to be reported to police. The sacrament of reconciliation enabled perpetrators to resolve their sense of guilt without fear of being reported. Also, the sacrament created a situation where children were alone with a priest. In some cases we heard that children experienced sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests in confessionals.

We recommend that any religious institution with a rite of religious confession implement a policy that confession for children be conducted in an open space and in a clear line of sight of another adult (Recommendation 16.48).

We make recommendations in our Criminal justice report (Recommendation 33) and in Volume 7, Improving institutional responding and reporting (Recommendation 7.3) in relation to the introduction of a ‘failure to report’ offence, and amending laws concerning mandatory reporting to child protection authorities to ensure that people in religious ministry are included as a mandatory reporter group. We also recommend that there should be no exemption to obligations to report under mandatory reporting laws or the proposed ‘failure to report’ offence in circumstances where knowledge or suspicions of child sexual abuse are formed on the basis of information received in or in connection with a religious confession (Recommendation 7.4 and Recommendation 35).

During our public hearings on the Catholic Church, it emerged that Catholic archbishops and canon lawyers were unclear about whether information received from a child during the sacrament of reconciliation that they had been sexually abused would be covered by the seal of confession, and about whether absolution could and should be withheld if a person confessed to perpetrating child sexual abuse, until they report themselves to civil authorities. We recommend that the ACBC seek clarification on these matters from the Holy See, and make public any advice it receives (Recommendation 16.26).

Three of our case studies examined the responses of The Salvation Army to incidents and allegations of child sexual abuse in its residential institutions, responses to claims for redress made in relation to child sexual abuse, and responses to Salvation Army officers accused of child sexual abuse. These case studies examined responses of The Salvation Army’s Eastern Territory and Southern Territory in Australia. We also held an institutional review hearing which provided an opportunity for The Salvation Army to inform us of its current policies and procedures in relation to child protection and child safe standards, including responding to allegations of child sexual abuse.

As of 31 May 2017, of the 4,029 survivors who told us during private sessions about child sexual abuse in religious institutions, 294 survivors (7.3 per cent) told us about abuse in Salvation Army institutions. The majority (73.1 per cent) were male and 26.9 per cent were female. The average age of victims at the time of first abuse was 10.3 years. Of the 174 survivors who told us about the age of the person who sexually abused them, 126 survivors (72.4 per cent) told us about abuse by an adult and 71 survivors (40.8 per cent) told us about abuse by a child. Some survivors told us about abuse by an adult and by a child. Of the 126 survivors who told us about sexual abuse by an adult, 88.9 per cent said they were abused by a male adult. Of the 274 survivors who told us about the position held by a perpetrator, 7.3 per cent told us about perpetrators who were people in religious ministry. Most survivors told us about perpetrators who were residential care workers (46.4 per cent) or housemasters (20.1 per cent).

Institutional responses to child sexual abuse in The Salvation Army

In our case studies we heard that in Salvation Army institutions, particularly residential institutions, vulnerable children were preyed upon by those responsible for their care, as well as by other abused and traumatised children. Such abuse was not inevitable, but resulted from the failures of individuals, including many in positions of authority and leadership.

The failure of Salvation Army personnel and leaders to respond appropriately and with compassion when victims had the courage to disclose their experiences of abuse is appalling. In many instances, despite having in place policies and procedures to deal with the discipline of officers and appropriate conduct in relation to children, The Salvation Army failed to follow them. As a consequence, it failed to protect children in its care.

We found that The Salvation Army left some alleged perpetrators in positions where they had access to children despite multiple complaints that they had sexually abused children in their care. Some were transferred to other Salvation Army institutions. While some alleged perpetrators were dismissed from officership in The Salvation Army because of allegations of child sexual abuse, in some cases this was undermined by their later readmission. From our case studies, it appears that allegations of child sexual abuse against Salvation Army personnel were reported to police or other civil authorities by The Salvation Army on only a few occasions.

Victims of child sexual abuse in Salvation Army homes who disclosed that they had been abused were frequently disbelieved or accused of lying, or no action was taken in response to their disclosures. In some cases victims who disclosed sexual abuse were physically punished or further abused as a result. Many survivors who later sought redress, including apologies, from The Salvation Army were disappointed or further traumatised by the manner in which their claims were handled.

Contributing factors in The Salvation Army

We considered a number of factors that may have contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse in Salvation Army institutions or to inadequate institutional responses to such abuse.

Some of these factors were broadly associated with the operation of residential institutions in the period up to the 1990s. This included resourcing constraints that affected both staffing levels and living conditions, impacting the quality of care provided to children. Staff were inadequately trained and complaint handling policies were inadequate or non-existent. Further, there was limited government oversight and poor external accountability of those running Salvation Army residential institutions.

Other contributing factors related to aspects of the organisational culture in which managers of Salvation Army institutions wielded absolute authority over the children in their care. The hierarchical management structure of The Salvation Army contributed to inadequate responses to child sexual abuse. Subordinate officers and staff did not challenge managers about the abuse that they were responsible for, or their response to complaints of child sexual abuse, and children did not have a higher authority from whom to seek help. Within this organisational culture, children were devalued and often treated harshly. Further, as was common across many religious institutions, The Salvation Army’s responses to allegations of child sexual abuse were underpinned by a concern for the reputation of the organisation.

One of our case studies examined the responses of the Jehovah’s Witness organisation to allegations of child sexual abuse. We also held an institutional review hearing to provide an opportunity for the Jehovah’s Witness organisation to inform us of its current policies and procedures in relation to child protection and child safe standards, including responding to allegations of child sexual abuse.

As of 31 May 2017, of the 4,029 survivors who told us during private sessions about child sexual abuse in religious institutions, 70 survivors told us about abuse in the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Of the victims we heard about, 80.0 per cent were female. The average age of victims at the time of first abuse was 8.4 years. Of the 53 survivors who told us about the age of the person who sexually abused them, 44 survivors (83.0 per cent) told us about abuse by an adult and 12 survivors (22.6 per cent) told us about abuse by a child. A small number of survivors told us about sexual abuse by an adult and by a child. The vast majority of survivors who told us about abuse by an adult perpetrator said they were abused by a male adult.

Of the 65 survivors who told us during private sessions about the role of a perpetrator, 26.2 per cent told us about child sexual abuse by family members. This was considered to be within our Terms of Reference when the sexual abuse was reported to and handled by the religious institution. We also heard from survivors about other perpetrators including volunteers (13.8 per cent), lay leaders (9.2 per cent) and other adults who attended the religious institution (9.2 per cent).

As part of our case study, the Jehovah’s Witness organisation provided us with files containing allegations, reports or complaints of child sexual abuse. They provided us with documents relating to at least 1,800 children and over 1,000 alleged perpetrators.

Institutional responses to child sexual abuse in the Jehovah’s Witnesses

Our case study regarding the Jehovah’s Witnesses showed that the organisation dealt with allegations of child sexual abuse in accordance with internal, scripturally based disciplinary policies and procedures. We found that at least until 1998, individuals making complaints of child sexual abuse were required to state their allegations in the presence of the person against whom the allegations were made. The ‘two-witness’ rule applied – that is, wrongdoing could only be established on the basis of testimony from two or more ‘credible’ eyewitnesses to the same incident (or strong circumstantial evidence testified to by at least two witnesses or testimony of two witnesses to the same kind of wrongdoing). Allegations were investigated by elders, all of whom were men and had no relevant training.

We found that in deciding the sanctions to impose and/or the precautions to take in relation to a known or suspected perpetrator of child sexual abuse, the Jehovah’s Witness organisation had inadequate regard for the risk that the person might reoffend. Alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse who were removed from their congregations as a result of allegations of child sexual abuse were frequently reinstated. We found no evidence of the Jehovah’s Witness organisation reporting allegations of child sexual abuse to police or other civil authorities.

During our case study we heard from survivors of child sexual abuse that they were not provided with adequate information by the Jehovah’s Witness organisation about the investigation of their allegations, felt unsupported by the elders who handled the allegations, and felt that the investigation process was a test of their credibility rather than that of the alleged perpetrator. We also heard that victims of child sexual abuse were told by congregational elders not to discuss the abuse with others, and that if they tried to leave the organisation, they were ‘shunned’ or ostracised from their religious community.

Contributing factors in the Jehovah’s Witnesses

We considered a number of factors that may have contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse in the Jehovah’s Witnesses or to inadequate institutional responses to such abuse.

The Jehovah’s Witness organisation addresses child sexual abuse in accordance with scriptural direction, relying on a literal interpretation of the Bible and 1st century principles to set practice, policy and procedure. These include the ‘two-witness’ rule as discussed, as well as the principle of ‘male headship’ (that men hold positions of authority in congregations and headship in the family). Scripturally, only men can make decisions. Other scripture-based policies include the sanctions of reproval (a form of discipline that allows a perpetrator to remain in the congregation), disfellowshipping (exclusion or excommunication as a form of punishment for serious scriptural wrongdoing), and shunning (an instruction to the congregation not to associate with a disfellowshipped person). As long as the Jehovah’s Witness organisation continues to apply these practices in its response to allegations of child sexual abuse, it will remain an organisation that does not respond adequately to child sexual abuse and that fails to protect children.

We recommend that the Jehovah’s Witness organisation abandon its application of the two-witness rule in cases involving complaints of child sexual abuse (Recommendation 16.27), revise its policies so that women are involved in processes relating to investigating and determining allegations of child sexual abuse (Recommendation 16.28), and no longer require its members to shun those who disassociate from the organisation in cases where the reason for disassociation is related to a person being a victim of child sexual abuse (Recommendation 16.29).

We welcome the inclusion in the recently published Child safeguarding policy of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia of a requirement to report child sexual abuse to civil authorities in cases where elders consider that a child may still be at risk of harm. The Jehovah’s Witness organisation should also amend all of its policies and procedures relating to child sexual abuse to ensure that this requirement is included.

One of our case studies examined the responses of the ACC and affiliated Pentecostal churches to allegations of child sexual abuse. Specifically, we considered institutional responses to allegations of child sexual abuse made in relation to the Northside Christian College and the Northside Christian Centre in Victoria, the Sunshine Coast Church in Queensland, and the Sydney Christian Life Centre and the Hills Christian Life Centre in New South Wales. We also considered the responses of the ACC and Assemblies of God Australia (AOGA). In addition, we held an institutional review hearing which provided an opportunity for the ACC to inform us of its current policies and procedures in relation to child protection and child safe standards, including responding to allegations of child sexual abuse.

As of 31 May 2017, of the 4,029 survivors who told us during private sessions about child sexual abuse in religious institutions, 37 survivors told us about abuse in Pentecostal institutions. Of the victims we heard about, 67.6 per cent were female and 32.4 per cent were male. The average age of victims at the time of first abuse was 10.6 years. Of the 28 survivors who told us about the age of the person who sexually abused them, the vast majority told us about sexual abuse by an adult and most of those said they were abused by a male adult. Of the 37 survivors, 29.7 per cent told us about perpetrators who were people in religious ministry and 27.0 per cent told us about perpetrators who were volunteers. We also heard about perpetrators who were residential care workers, foster carers or teachers.

Institutional responses to child sexual abuse in the ACC and affiliated Pentecostal churches

Our examination of the ACC and affiliated Pentecostal churches considered responses to child sexual abuse involving three different perpetrators. In one case an alleged perpetrator was left in a position where he had access to children for a long time after allegations of child sexual abuse were first made. In two other cases conflicts of interest affected the institutional responses to allegations of child sexual abuse.

We found that the senior pastor of the Northside Christian Centre had sufficient knowledge that a teacher posed an unacceptable risk to children at the Northside Christian College from the late 1980s and failed to act to ensure the protection of children. The leadership of the Northside Christian Centre subsequently acknowledged that the ‘situation’ had been ‘completely bungled by the past leadership’. The victims of child sexual abuse did not receive any apology until our case study.

In our consideration of the responses of the Sunshine Coast Church to allegations of child sexual abuse against a youth pastor, we found that the senior pastor who responded to the allegations had a clear conflict of interest because of his personal and family relationships. The Sunshine Coast Church also failed to follow the ACC process to remove the youth pastor’s ‘credential’ or ministry certificate, despite him having been charged with child sexual abuse. The ACC ultimately apologised to the victim and his family for its failure to provide appropriate care and support.

In our consideration of the responses of AOGA to allegations of child sexual abuse against a senior pastor, we found that the National President of AOGA had a conflict of interest when he assumed responsibility for handling the allegations against his father. The AOGA National Executive failed to recognise and respond to this conflict of interest. They did not report the allegations to police or report the disciplinary proceedings to state authorities as required by legislation.

Contributing factors in the ACC and affiliated Pentecostal churches

We considered factors that may have contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse in the ACC and affiliated Pentecostal churches or to inadequate institutional responses to such abuse.

It is apparent that a concern for institutional reputation affected responses to allegations of child sexual abuse by the ACC and its affiliated churches. The role of pastors in ACC-affiliated churches was also a contributing factor. The trust placed in pastors can contribute to their access to children, and the lack of control over who is able to represent themselves as a pastor of the ACC is a weakness in the safety controls that the ACC should have in place to protect children. The inadequate management of conflicts of interest was a further feature in the organisation’s poor responses to child sexual abuse.

Perhaps the most significant factor that affected institutional responses to allegations of child sexual abuse was the autonomous nature of Pentecostal churches, which meant that senior pastors had discretion about whether to adopt child protection policies, including in relation to the training, supervision and discipline of staff.

One of our case studies examined the responses of two Jewish institutions in the Chabad- Lubavitch movement to allegations of child sexual abuse: the Yeshiva Centre and Yeshiva College in Bondi, New South Wales (Yeshiva Bondi) and the Yeshivah Centre and Yeshivah College in Melbourne, Victoria (Yeshivah Melbourne). We also held an institutional review hearing which provided an opportunity for senior members of the Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne institutions to inform us of their current policies and procedures in relation to child protection and child safe standards, including responding to allegations of child sexual abuse.

As of 31 May 2017, of the 4,029 survivors who told us during private sessions about child sexual abuse in religious institutions, 25 survivors told us about abuse in Jewish institutions. Fifteen of those survivors told us about child sexual abuse in connection with Yeshiva Bondi or Yeshivah Melbourne. Those 15 survivors were all male, they all told us about sexual abuse by males, and most told us about sexual abuse by adult perpetrators. The average age of victims at the time of first abuse was 11.3 years. Most of the perpetrators we heard about were teachers. We also heard about perpetrators who were people in religious ministry (rabbis), ancillary staff at the institutions or volunteers.

Institutional responses to child sexual abuse in Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne

In relation to both Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne, when children or their parents made contemporaneous disclosures of sexual abuse to persons in positions of authority, they were disbelieved or ignored. Alleged perpetrators were either left in positions with continued access to children or were quietly removed from the institution.

At least until the 2000s, those in leadership positions did not report allegations of child sexual abuse to police or other civil authorities. In some cases, the failure of those in positions of authority to act after receiving allegations of child sexual abuse allowed perpetrators to continue to sexually abuse children.

If action was taken in response to allegations of child sexual abuse, this occurred ‘in-house’. In two cases, alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse were allowed to leave Australia after allegations were made against them to persons in positions of authority at Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne. One of these alleged perpetrators was subsequently convicted of sexual offences against children that were committed overseas.

In the cases we examined, the institutional responses to survivors of child sexual abuse who reported the abuse years after it occurred were dismal. Rather than supporting survivors or assisting them through the process of reporting allegations to police and during and after criminal proceedings, community leaders of Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne made efforts to silence survivors and to condemn those who would not be silent. Members of the relevant communities shunned survivors and their families, which added to their suffering and may also have deterred other survivors from coming forward. Neither the Yeshiva Bondi nor the Yeshivah Melbourne community leaders provided direct, personal apologies to the survivors who did come forward, either for the child sexual abuse they suffered or for the manner in which the institutions handled their complaints.

Contributing factors in Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne

We considered a number of factors that may have contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse in Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne or to inadequate institutional responses to such abuse.

Until at least 2007, Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne did not have adequate policies, procedures or practices for responding to complaints of child sexual abuse.

In each community, the head rabbi was considered to be the spiritual head of the community. However, there was no overarching external rabbinical authority to which rabbis could be held accountable. A reverence for rabbinical leaders and a lack of oversight contributed to an absence of scrutiny of the rabbis’ responses to allegations of child sexual abuse.

The failure to recognise and deal transparently with perceived and actual conflicts of interest contributed to poor governance on the part of the Committee of Management at Yeshivah Melbourne. We found a marked absence of supportive leadership for survivors of child sexual abuse and their families in Yeshivah Melbourne. We also found that the leadership did not create an environment that was conducive to the communication of information about child sexual abuse.

The manner in which some cultural beliefs and practices, including Jewish law concepts, were applied in Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne contributed to inadequate institutional responses to child sexual abuse. For example, senior leaders at Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne did not take action to dispel concern, controversy and confusion among the community over the application of the concepts of loshon horo (unlawful gossip) and mesirah (which prohibits a Jew from informing on another Jew or handing them over to a civil authority) to the reporting of child sexual abuse to civil authorities. During the institutional review hearing, witnesses from Jewish representative bodies and representatives from Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne unanimously confirmed that the concepts of loshon horo and mesirah have no application in the case of child sexual abuse. We recommend that all Jewish institutions’ complaint-handling policies explicitly state that these concepts do not apply to the communication and reporting of allegations of child sexual abuse to police and other civil authorities (Recommendation 16.30).

In some of our case studies on religious institutions, we considered the responses of other types of institutions, such as police, public prosecution agencies and child protection departments, to allegations of child sexual abuse. In some cases we found deficiencies.

In case studies we heard about the limited oversight provided by state and territory child protection authorities of residential institutions managed by religious organisations before 1990. Survivors of child sexual abuse from some residential institutions told us that they rarely saw officers from child protection authorities and when they did, they were not allowed to speak to them. Some survivors told us that when they were able to tell child protection authorities about child sexual abuse perpetrated against them, nothing happened and the abuse continued. We found that reports of some child protection authorities did not adequately comment on the care or welfare of children in residential institutions.

We heard from a number of survivors that they attempted to run away from residential institutions and to report sexual abuse to police. Some survivors told us that police officers told them not to tell lies and returned them to the institution.

In some cases we heard that police investigations were not initiated when a child reported having been sexually abused in a religious institution. In other cases we heard about failures by state police agencies in their conduct of criminal investigations of institutional child sexual abuse. In one case that we examined in detail, we found that senior members of a state police agency deliberately prevented a detective from continuing his investigation into a Catholic priest’s sexual offending against children.

Over the past two decades, many religious institutions in Australia have improved their approach to child safety, including how they respond to allegations of child sexual abuse. While positive reforms are underway, there is still much progress to be made before the community can be confident that all religious institutions in Australia are as safe for children as possible. To better protect children in future, we have considered how religious institutions should address the factors that we identified as potentially contributing to child sexual abuse and to inadequate institutional responses.

The Child Safe Standards

In Volume 6, Making institutions child safe, we recommend that institutions implement the 10 Child Safe Standards identified by the Royal Commission (Recommendation 6.4 and Recommendation 6.5). In recognition of the crucial role of religious institutions in the lives of many children, we recommend that all religious institutions implement the Child Safe Standards (Recommendation 16.31).

We recognise, however, that setting consistent standards is not enough. There must be mechanisms by which institutions can be held to those standards. We therefore recommend that a new or existing oversight body be appointed as a central regulator of the mandatory Child Safe Standards in each state and territory (Recommendations 6.8, 6.9 and 6.10).

Religious organisations have a responsibility to drive consistent standards in their affiliated institutions. Religious organisations should adopt the Child Safe Standards as nationally mandated standards for each of their affiliated institutions and drive a consistent approach to the implementation of the standards (Recommendations 16.32 and 16.33).

Religious organisations are uniquely positioned to understand the nature of the services their affiliated institutions provide to children, the capacity of those institutions, and the support they may need to provide child safe environments. Religious organisations should work closely with relevant state and territory oversight bodies to support implementation of and compliance with the Child Safe Standards in each of their affiliated institutions (Recommendation 16.34). As part of this approach, we encourage religious organisations to implement a process to measure compliance with the Child Safe Standards in their affiliated institutions, and to make public the results of any internal audits of their affiliated institutions with respect to child safety.

Addressing child safety in religious institutions

Leadership

Leaders of religious institutions have a significant role to play in creating and maintaining child safe cultures. It is evident that leaders of the religious institutions we examined were not adequately prepared for what was required of them in preventing and responding to child sexual abuse. Religious leaders should be provided with leadership training, including in relation to the promotion of child safety. They should also ensure that there are mechanisms through which they receive advice from individuals with relevant professional expertise on all matters relating to child sexual abuse and child safety (Recommendations 16.36 and 16.37).

Governance

Our inquiry has revealed how an institution’s governance structure can impact the accountability of individuals within it, and the institution’s ability to identify and appropriately respond to child sexual abuse. A particular issue was the accountability of religious leaders within governance structures, particularly for the decisions they made with respect to child safety. Governance standards in religious institutions have also been inadequate. We make recommendations aimed at improving governance in religious institutions, including making leaders more accountable and ensuring that governance mechanisms, such as conflict of interest policies, are in place and child-focused (Recommendations 16.38 and 16.39).

Culture

We heard about cultures in religious institutions that placed the protection of an institution’s reputation above the interests of children. We heard about various ways to improve culture in religious institutions. They include prioritising the best interests and safety of children, addressing clericalism, improving leadership and governance, sharing accountability for child safety, enhancing the role of women in decision-making in relation to child safety, embedding a culture of child safety through policies and procedures, and understanding the impacts of child sexual abuse.

Children’s participation and empowerment

Many of our case studies revealed that religious institutions did not listen to children or engage with them about their safety. Many survivors told us about their difficulty in disclosing child sexual abuse within a religious institution.

Improving children’s participation and empowerment in religious institutions is essential to addressing some of the barriers to disclosure of abuse that we identified. We recommend that religious institutions provide children in their care with age-appropriate guidance on practical and effective ways to protect themselves, and information about where and how they can complain if they feel unsafe. Prevention education provided by religious institutions should specifically address the role of people in religious ministry, and highlight for children that no one, including a person in religious ministry, has a right to invade their privacy or make them feel unsafe (Recommendation 16.40).

Family and community involvement

Some religious institutions that we examined effectively operated as closed societies, in relative isolation from the broader community. Information related to child safety was not provided to the religious community. We recommend that religious institutions increase family and community involvement in matters relating to child safety in their institution through a range of mechanisms, including seeking periodic feedback from the community about the effectiveness of their approach to child safety (Recommendation 16.41).

Human resource management

Ensuring that people in religious ministry are both suitable for their position and supported in their child-related work raises some distinct considerations. The nature of religious ministry requires more rigorous screening, selection, training and management processes for people in religious ministry than for other employees, to ensure that individuals are suitable for and supported in their roles.

In addition to a range of other screening mechanisms, we recommend that religious institutions require candidates to undertake external psychological testing, including psychosexual assessment, to determine their suitability to be a person in religious ministry and to undertake work involving children (Recommendation 16.42).

Candidates for religious ministry need comprehensive initial training on matters relating to child safety. That training should equip candidates with an understanding of the Child Safe Standards and educate them on:

  • professional responsibility and boundaries, ethics in ministry and child safety
  • policies regarding appropriate responses to allegations or complaints of child sexual abuse, and how to implement these policies
  • how to work with children, including childhood development
  • identifying and understanding the nature, indicators and impacts of child sexual abuse (Recommendation 16.43).

We heard in our case studies and consultations that oversight and professional supervision of people in religious ministry have not been common. Religious institutions should ensure that all people in religious and pastoral ministry are subject to effective management and oversight and undertake annual performance appraisals. They should also have professional supervision with a trained professional or pastoral supervisor who has a degree of independence from the institution within which the person is in ministry. (Recommendations 16.44 and 16.45.)

We also heard that some religious institutions are increasingly recruiting or sourcing personnel from overseas, including candidates for and people in religious and pastoral ministry. Overseas recruitment can raise difficulties for appropriate screening, training, supervision and professional development. Religious institutions that receive personnel from overseas should have targeted programs for the screening, initial training and professional supervision and development of those people (Recommendation 16.46).

Training and education

Our inquiry revealed failures by religious institutions to ensure that staff, including people in religious ministry, were properly equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to protect children in their institutions. In particular, training on child safety for people in religious ministry has been at times poor or non-existent. We recommend that each religious institution require all people in religious or pastoral ministry, including religious leaders, to undertake regular training on the institution’s child safe policies and procedures. They should also be provided with opportunities for external training on best practice approaches to child safety (Recommendation 16.47).

Physical environments

The risk of child sexual abuse can increase where an institution’s physical environment allows perpetrators to isolate children or to operate without scrutiny. We heard that some children were sexually abused when they were alone with perpetrators in places of worship or while they were participating in religious activities. Some survivors told us they were sexually abused by Catholic priests during confession, which was often held in a confessional or a dedicated private room in a church.

We heard that many Catholic Church authorities have updated their practices in relation to the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) for children, to ensure that it is conducted in an open place, with clear visibility, under the supervision of a teacher, parent or guardian. However, we understand that some Catholic Church authorities are yet to formalise this practice in a written policy, and that some dioceses retain the option of hearing confessions from children in a confessional with the door closed.

Children’s participation in religious confession, either in a confessional or a room alone with a member of the clergy, represents an unacceptable risk to children. We recommend that religious institutions which have a rite of religious confession for children implement a policy requiring that the rite only be conducted in an open space within the clear line of sight of another adult (Recommendation 16.48).

In Volume 7, Improving institutional responding and reporting, we provide guidance on how institutions should handle complaints about child sexual abuse. We recommend in that volume that institutions should have a child-focused complaint handling policy and procedure (Recommendation 7.7).

Making complaints to religious institutions

Codes of conduct play an important role in the complaint handling process. They identify behaviour that meets the threshold to warrant a complaint being made. In Volume 7 we recommend that all institutions that engage with children, including religious institutions, have a code of conduct that sets out the behaviour by staff members towards children that the institution considers unacceptable (Recommendation 7.8).

There is a lack of practical detail in some religious institutions’ codes of conduct about what constitutes prohibited or concerning conduct, especially on the part of people in religious ministry. We found this to be problematic, particularly given that the status of people in religious ministry can contribute to a belief in the minds of children, parents and people in religious ministry themselves, that the behaviour of people in religious ministry cannot, or should not, be challenged.

There should be clear understanding on the part of people in religious ministry, employees and the broader community about what constitutes unacceptable conduct in an institution. We recommend that codes of conduct in religious institutions should explicitly and equally apply to all people in religious ministry and lay people (Recommendation 16.49). We also recommend that all persons associated with a religious institution undergo initial and periodic training on the institution’s code of conduct to ensure that they understand, and can recognise and report, early indicators of potential abuse or ‘high-risk behaviour’ (Recommendation 16.50).

Assessing risk and putting temporary safeguards in place

When a complaint of child sexual abuse has been made, the institution should assess the risks associated with the complaint and implement necessary safeguards. A particular issue for religious institutions is risk assessment and effective risk management in relation to people in religious ministry.

Ministerial roles can include a wide range of duties that can be difficult to circumscribe. People in religious ministry can often have both personal and professional relationships with people in their pastoral care.

Our case studies revealed instances where religious institutions allowed alleged perpetrators to continue in ministry after suspicions had been raised or complaints had been received about their conduct, with little or no corresponding risk management or monitoring of their interactions with children. In some instances, the failure to manage the risk associated with a person in religious ministry represented a missed opportunity to prevent further sexual abuse of children.

We recommend that if a complaint of child sexual abuse against a person in religious ministry is plausible and there is a risk that the person may come into contact with children in the course of their ministry, the person be stood down from their ministry while the complaint is investigated (Recommendation 16.52).

We also consider that all religious institutions’ complaint handling policies should require that the institution, on receiving a complaint of child sexual abuse, conduct an initial risk assessment to identify and minimise any risks to children (Recommendation 16.51).

Investigation of complaints

It is apparent from the evidence we received that there are significant issues with the policies and procedures that some religious organisations have in place for investigating complaints of child sexual abuse against people in religious ministry. One of the issues is that certain religious organisations have processes for investigating complaints against people in religious ministry that are different from those for investigating complaints against other people associated with the institution.

Some religious organisations apply their own standards of proof when investigating complaints against people in religious ministry. Some of these standards of proof are high and can be problematic where they prevent the institution from acting to reduce the risk to children.

We recommend that the standard of proof a religious institution should apply when deciding whether a complaint of child sexual abuse has been substantiated is the balance of probabilities. In deciding whether it is more probable than not that the alleged conduct occurred, the institution should have regard to the principles in Briginshaw v Briginshaw (Recommendation 16.53).

We also recommend that religious institutions apply the same standards for investigating complaints of child sexual abuse whether or not the subject of the complaint is a person in religious ministry (Recommendation 16.54).

Determining and implementing an outcome

Decision-making regarding future religious ministry

An issue for religious institutions is how to determine and implement outcomes for complaints of child sexual abuse against people in religious ministry.

Our case studies demonstrated that even when people in religious ministry were found to have sexually abused children, either by an admission or through an investigation, they were not always dismissed from the religious institution.

Some religious institutions are subject to the internal laws of their religious organisation, which contain rules relating to the disciplinary procedures and outcomes that apply to people in religious ministry found to have perpetrated child sexual abuse. Despite this, for all religious institutions the priority and determining factor in dealing with a person who is the subject of a complaint of child sexual abuse must be the minimisation of risks to children.

We consider that any person in religious ministry against whom a complaint of child sexual abuse is substantiated, on the balance of probabilities, having regard to the principles in Briginshaw v Briginshaw, should be permanently removed from ministry. This also applies to a person who is convicted by a court of an offence relating to child sexual abuse (Recommendation 16.55).

Permanent removal from ministry should mean that a person cannot be given any position in which he or she would perform ministry, and that the person is not otherwise permitted to perform any ministerial activities, such as preaching or hearing confessions. The person should also be effectively prohibited from holding themselves out in any way as being a person in religious ministry, including by using a title such as ‘priest’ or wearing religious apparel or insignia.

Dismissing a person in religious ministry from a religious organisation and removing their religious status

Some of the religious organisations we examined require people who seek to take on religious ministry to go through a process of ordination or to profess particular vows. In some cases, this has implications for how those people can be dismissed from that organisation or have their status in ministry removed in the event they are convicted of offences relating to child sexual abuse, or they are the subject of a substantiated complaint of child sexual abuse.

In both the Anglican Church and the Uniting Church in Australia, in the event that a complaint of child sexual abuse against an ordained member of clergy is substantiated, those churches can dismiss that cleric from the organisation and depose or withdraw their status in ministry.

In the Catholic Church in Australia, the question of whether a priest or religious who is convicted of an offence relating to child sexual abuse or the subject of a substantiated complaint of child sexual abuse, should be dismissed from the priesthood or religious life has been contentious.

Some of the key arguments we heard from Catholic Church authorities against dismissal were based on their desire to retain some level of oversight and supervision over a perpetrator, while providing them with some material support. We do not consider that this is a sufficient basis to justify allowing priests or religious who commit child sexual abuse to remain in the priesthood or religious life.

People should not be retained in the priesthood or religious life purely for the purpose of maintaining some level of oversight of them, or providing material assistance to them. Supervision and control may be achieved by, for example, making material assistance conditional on compliance with supervision arrangements and other terms.

We recommend that a person in religious ministry who is convicted of an offence relating to child sexual abuse should:

  • in the case of Catholic priests and religious, be dismissed from the priesthood and/or dispensed from his or her vows as a religious
  • in the case of Anglican clergy, be deposed from holy orders
  • in the case of Uniting Church ministers, have his or her recognition as a minister withdrawn
  • in the case of an ordained person in any other religious denomination that has a concept of ordination, holy orders and/or vows, be dismissed, deposed or otherwise effectively have their religious status removed (Recommendation 16.56).

In making this recommendation, we do not seek to discourage any religious organisation if they consider it appropriate and/or necessary to take these steps in relation to a person in religious ministry who is the subject of a substantiated complaint of child sexual abuse, as opposed to a criminal conviction. In many cases, this would be appropriate.

We acknowledge that there are challenges for Catholic bishops and heads of religious institutes who want to have a priest dismissed from the priesthood or have a religious dispensed from their vows. For example, the standard of proof required by the Catholic Church under canon law before this could occur is ‘moral certainty’, which is equivalent to the standard of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ used for criminal conviction in Australian courts. In addition, Catholic Church authorities in Australia need to apply to the Holy See in order to have a priest dismissed from the priesthood or a religious dispensed from their vows.

Nevertheless, given what we have heard about the status of people in religious ministry and the role that status played in enabling the perpetration of child sexual abuse, we consider that there is a need for religious organisations to ensure that this status is removed when a person is convicted of child sexual abuse.

Managing participation of perpetrators in religious communities

During our case studies and consultations we heard that an issue facing some religious institutions is how to manage the situation in which a person (whether a lay person or a person currently or formerly in religious ministry) who the institution knows has either been convicted of child sexual abuse, or had a complaint of child sexual abuse against them substantiated, wants to attend and/or participate in religious services.

Where a religious institution becomes aware that a person attending its religious services or activities has been convicted or been the subject of a substantiated complaint of child sexual abuse, the religious institution should assess the level of risk posed to children by that person’s ongoing involvement in the religious community. If the institution assesses that the risk posed by the person can be adequately managed, they should take appropriate steps to manage that risk (Recommendation 16.57).

If the institution determines that they cannot effectively manage the risk if the person attends services or activities at the institution, it should prioritise the safety of children and prohibit the person from attending and/or participating in services or activities run at the institution.

Reporting to external authorities

Mandatory reporting to child protection authorities

In Volume 7, Improving institutional responding and reporting, we recommend that state and territory governments amend laws concerning mandatory reporting to child protection authorities to achieve national consistency in those who are required to report. Our recommended reporting groups include people in religious ministry (Recommendation 7.3).

Laws concerning mandatory reporting to child protection authorities should not exempt people 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 (Recommendation 7.4).

Failure to report offences

In our Criminal Justice report, we recommend that each state and territory government introduce legislation to create a ‘failure to report’ offence targeted at child sexual abuse in institutional contexts (Recommendation 33). This offence should apply to institutions that operate facilities or provide services to children in circumstances where children are in the care, supervision or control of the institution. Religious institutions that provide services to children come under the scope of this offence.

We recommend that the ‘failure to report’ offence should apply in relation to knowledge or suspicions formed on the basis of information disclosed in or in connection with a religious confession (Recommendation 35).

Oversight of institutional complaint handling

Independent oversight of institutional complaint handling can improve identification and reporting of institutional child sexual abuse, improve the capacity of institutions to handle complaints, and strengthen institutions’ accountability for and transparency in the way they respond to complaints.

In Australia, the only model for independent oversight of institutional responses to complaints of child abuse and neglect across multiple sectors is known as a reportable conduct scheme. These schemes oblige heads of institutions to notify an oversight body of any reportable allegation, conduct or conviction involving any of the institution’s employees, and provide for the oversight body to monitor the way institutions investigate and handle allegations.

In Volume 7, Improving institutional responding and reporting, we recommend that state and territory governments establish nationally consistent reportable conduct schemes that include religious institutions (Recommendations 7.9 and 7.12).

In case studies and private sessions we heard from hundreds of survivors about their experiences of redress schemes and processes operated by religious institutions. Some survivors told us that engaging with these schemes was a positive experience. Many others told us their experiences were difficult and led to further harm and re-traumatisation. We also heard from survivors who faced barriers in taking civil action against religious institutions.

In 2015, we released our Redress and civil litigation report. This report made recommendations about improving redress and civil litigation for survivors, including the establishment of a single national redress scheme. In 2016, the Australian Government announced that it would lead and operate a national redress scheme, which institutions and governments could opt in to. A number of state and territory governments have also taken steps to address our recommendations on civil litigation.

Providing appropriate redress to survivors and addressing barriers to civil litigation remain important issues for religious institutions. Given that many survivors take years, even decades, to disclose their experience of childhood sexual abuse, religious institutions need to continue to provide avenues through which survivors can obtain justice for past abuse. In our view, this can best be achieved by religious institutions participating in the national redress scheme.

Current and future approaches to redress by religious institutions

In recent years, a number of the religious institutions we examined during our inquiry have improved the way they provide redress to survivors of child sexual abuse.

We heard that some religious institutions have established new redress schemes that strive to be consistent with recommendations we made in our Redress and civil litigation report. Others have attempted to improve the way that existing schemes and processes are administered, including by adopting our interim principles for redress while they await the national redress scheme. Some religious institutions have established new processes and protocols that govern the way they respond to survivors who make direct approaches to them for redress.

A number of survivors of child sexual abuse told us they were upset by the amount of the payments they had received through redress schemes or processes. Since the start of our inquiry, some religious institutions have undertaken to reconsider monetary payments that have been made to survivors through redress schemes or processes or by way of settlement before or during civil action.

In recent years, a number of leaders from religious institutions we examined have sought to provide collective forms of direct personal response to survivors of child sexual abuse and the broader community. This engagement has taken a number of forms, including public apologies, permanent memorials, healing ceremonies and ‘prayers of lament’. As the Royal Commission concludes, such collective processes can play a powerful role in healing for survivors and affected communities. However, they will not work in the same way for everyone. Religious institutions need to consult carefully with survivors and communities to ensure that whatever process they adopt is appropriate to the wishes and needs of those parties.

Civil litigation involving religious institutions

We heard in our case studies and consultations that limitation periods and proper defendant issues – sometimes referred to as technical legal defences – were prominent barriers for survivors attempting to bring civil claims against religious institutions. We made recommendations about these issues in our Redress and civil litigation report. Since that time, a number of religious institutions have considered and applied our recommendations. Some told us they will no longer rely on technical legal defences and have taken steps to establish model litigant guidelines, which govern their response to civil claims for compensation for allegations of child sexual abuse.

Improving recordkeeping by religious institutions

Good recordkeeping is an important part of creating child safe institutions. In Volume 8, Recordkeeping and information sharing, we recommend that institutions that engage in childrelated work should implement five principles for records and recordkeeping to a level that responds to the risk of child sexual abuse within the institution (Recommendation 8.4).

During our institutional review hearings, we received evidence about current approaches to recordkeeping in religious institutions, including various policies and procedures. In Volume 8, we outline our review of those policies and procedures and set out how approaches, policies and procedures could be strengthened with reference to our five principles on recordkeeping.

In Volume 8, we also recommend that institutions engaging in child-related work, including religious institutions, should retain, for at least 45 years, records relating to child sexual abuse that has occurred, or is alleged to have occurred (Recommendation 8.1).

Improving information sharing by religious institutions

In Volume 8, we recommend that Australian governments implement nationally consistent information exchange arrangements, in each jurisdiction, for intra-jurisdictional and interjurisdictional sharing of information related to children’s safety and wellbeing, including information relevant to child sexual abuse in institutional contexts (Recommendations 8.6 and 8.7). We suggest that religious institutions be considered by Australian governments for inclusion in the scheme.

Leaders of religious institutions can promote a culture of information sharing by implementing our Child Safe Standards; improving the guidance and training provided to people in religious ministry, employees and volunteers; and establishing national registers for information sharing.

Registers provide platforms for collecting information and facilitating the exchange of information in a number of sectors across Australia. Registers of people in religious ministry in religious organisations can help to promote children’s safety by alerting institutions to the risk posed by individuals against whom allegations of child sexual abuse have been made, or in respect of whom concerns have been raised. National registers can be key tools in overcoming issues with sharing information relating to people in religious ministry for the purposes of risk management and ensuring children’s safety.

For this reason, we recommend that religious organisations consider establishing national registers that record limited but sufficient information to help affiliated institutions identify and respond to any risks to children that may be posed by people in religious or pastoral ministry (Recommendation 16.58).

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