Al Jazeera reports that Australia's Roman Catholic Church has confirmed that more than 600 children have been sexually abused by its priests since the 1930s in the state of Victoria. The archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, described the figures as "horrific and shameful."
The child abuse scandals and coverups have caused concern worldwide. In Belgium, there were at least 300 victims and it was reported that a former head of the church advised a victim not to go public. Thousands of abuse cases became public in Ireland, and one report found that four archbishops effectively turned a blind eye to the problem for almost 30 years. There was outrage in the United States when it was discovered that church officials were covering up abuse by two priests in Boston by moving them from post to post. These are just a few of the incidents reported over the past few years.
As to the church's admission of abuse in Australia, children's advocates in the country think the number could be much higher. Advocate Chrissie Foster said "at least it's something" that the Church admitted to the 600 abuses, but agreed with Al Jazeera that the admission was only after a parliamentary inquiry. "The Church has a new program that they've called 'Facing the Truth,' but it was a parliamentary inquiry which has forced them to tell the truth after all of these years," she said, adding that the true number of abuse victims in Australia may be 10,000. She says that each pedophile can have up to 110 victims. Given the years that have passed and number of pedophile priests in the Church, she says that 10,000 abuses throughout Australia is realistic. The 600 figure that the Church admitted to relates to Victoria only, and that number is questioned by victims' advocates.
Two of Foster's three daughters had been sexually abused by priests. "It's just ruined their lives," she said. Her eldest daughter took her life when she was 26. Her second daughter took to drinking and was hit by a car when she was drunk. Thirteen years later, she still requires 24-hour care.
"Why didn't they do something about it years ago?" she asked about the Church's latest admission.
David Clohessy, a member of SNAP — the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests — commented about the Church's admission of Australian abuse.
"We are grateful that so many victims in Australia have spoken up and are continuing to speak up," Clohessy said. "We do believe that these figures [the 600 admitted by the Church] are very low. It would be naive to assume that Church officials who have worked for decades to conceal the abuse would suddenly do a complete reversal and be totally forthcoming. We think that many more kids in Australia have been abused and frankly, are still being abused. We're not very impressed with the Church hierarchy's response so far."
Clohessy thinks that the parliamentary inquiry is a positive influence. "Church officials oftentimes, in a crisis like this, appoint their own panel to investigate. We think those are, just frankly, a diversion and a waste of time. There's a much better chance at getting to the truth if governmental bodies investigate. But beyond that, there also has to be criminal prosecution, not just of the predator priests, but of each and every current and former Catholic official who knew of or suspected the crimes and hid them. Only then will there really be reform in the Church and will kids be safer. We have to go after the higher-ups, not just the child molester clerics themselves."
Al Jazeera asked Clohessy what bothers him the most, after all these years. Clohessy is disturbed by each abuse case that SNAP receives and added, "What is the most problematic or the most troubling to me personally is that we still do see a lot of secular officials who treat Catholic officials with kid gloves and with favoritism and with special treatment. Let's face it. Many of these highly respected, highly educated bishops are in fact acting like criminals and they need to be treated that way. We need to see police and prosecutors and governmental authorities coming down on these complicit church officials like a ton of bricks; otherwise, the crimes and the cover-ups simply continue."