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7 percent of Catholic priests in Australia have been accused of child abuse

An investigation into decades of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Australia revealed Monday that 7 percent of all priests working in the country between 1950 and 2010 had been accused of abusing children.

While the issue of abuse in the Catholic Church has been widely reported around the world in recent years, it is only now that the true extent of the problem in Australia has been set out. A royal commission set up to look at institutional responses to child sexual abuse published the shocking figures on Monday, detailing reports of child sex abuse during a 35-year period up to 2015. The commission also reported some alleged abuse dating back as far as 1950.


These findings not only highlight widespread sexual abuse taking place across Australia but also show how Church leaders effectively worked to cover up the allegations, with children’s accusations being “ignored, or worse, punished,” Gail Furness, the lead lawyer assisting the commission in Sydney, said on Monday.

Here are some of the grim statistics revealed in the report:

  • 4,444 the number of alleged incidents reported between 1980 and Feb. 2015

  • 7 the percentage of priests accused of child abuse between 1950 and 2010. This rose to as high 15 percent in some dioceses between 1950 and 2015

  • 10.5 the average age of alleged female victims, rising slightly to 11.5 years for alleged male victims

  • 1,880 the number of alleged perpetrators

  • 40 the percentage of people in the Brothers of St. John of God order accused of abuse

  • 33 the average number of years between a victim being abused and the victim reporting it or seeking redress

  • 1,000 – the number of institutions in Australia identified in claims of sexual abuse

Furness said the accounts given by children who had suffered the abuse were “depressingly similar,” and pointed out that “Documents were not kept, or they were destroyed. Secrecy prevailed as did cover-ups.”

Priests and brothers accused of abuse in one parish were merely moved to another, Furness said, without the new parish being informed of the allegations made against the person.


In 2014 the Vatican declined a request from the commission to hand over documents about the priests who’d been accused of child abuse, saying it would be “inappropriate to provide such documents.”

However, the issue may become even more problematic for the Vatican, as it was revealed Monday that detectives investigating sexual abuse allegations against the pope’s top financial adviser, Cardinal George Pell, have sent their evidence to prosecutors for review. Pell was previously Australia’s most senior cleric before his move to Rome in 2014.

The Archbishops of Sydney, Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne, and Canberra-Goulburn will all give evidence to the commission in the coming weeks, with a final report due by the end of the year. The commission is also investigating non-religious organizations as part of its remit.

On Monday, Francis Sullivan, chief executive of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, which is coordinating the Catholic Church’s response to the inquiry, described the report as “shocking” and “indefensible.”

“The data is an indictment on the priests and religious who abused these children. It also reflects on the Church leaders who at times failed to take steps to deal with the abusers, failed to call them to order and failed to deal with them in accordance with the law,” Sullivan said.

Chrissie Foster, the mother of two daughters who were abused, gave her verdict on the commission’s findings: “For so long this has been the way they acted to hide perpetrators, to move them on, with no regard for children whatsoever, that other children have become victims, and suffered this terrible fate. They have shown no mercy, no remorse. Nothing.”

Similar research in the U.S. found that 5.6 percent of the 116,153 priests who worked between 1950 and 2015 have been accused of child sexual abuse. In the U.K., an inquiry is currently being conducted into historical child abuse allegations.