Church spokesman has reserved comment

By Mia Armitage
Northern Star
February 7, 2017

WEDNESDAY 4.30pm: NEARLY 14% of Lismore's most experienced Catholic priests were accused of sexually abusing children by 2010 but the diocese's spokesman, the Most Reverend Geoffrey Jarrett, has reserved comment.

Between 52 and 64 priests have served in the Diocese of Lismore in each decade since 1950, with 129 priests having served in the area by 2010, detailed data presented to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has shown.

Some 18 of those priests, or 13.9%, have been accused of sexually abusing children throughout their careers, marking Lismore as one of the nation's top five worst dioceses for child sex accusations against the Church.

Too soon to comment: Diocese of Lismore

But Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese Bishop Jarrett, standing in while Bishop-elect Father Gregory Homeming prepares for his ordination, said it was too early to comment publicly on findings.

"My response is that we are in the early days of the Royal Commission's present three week hearing, and until it completes its investigation, it would be premature to comment on the first release of statistics," Bishop Jarrett said via email to The Northern Star.

"We would expect to have a fuller picture and a wider range of issues as time goes on and I will be available for comment at the end of the hearing."

The '70s and '80s: worst decades on record

The Commission began four years ago and yesterday Senior Counsel Gail Furness launched the fiftieth public hearing, focusing on child sex abuse claims in the Catholic Church.

Ms Furness read a sobering list of numbers gathered by Commission staff and Church representatives detailing claims of abuse against priests since 1950.

Data presented to the Commission suggested alleged victims have become more likely to report their experiences over time, with 3.4% of Lismore priests in the 50s having had claims made against them compared to 13.4% by December 2010.

The 1970's and 80's stood out as decades where more priests in Lismore faced accusations of child sex abuse for the first time in their careers than in other decades but many of those priests may have carried on serving the Church in the 90s and 2000s.

Thirty-three years of silence

Most of the reported Lismore abuse was alleged to have happened in the 70s and 80s and overall data showed alleged victims took an average of 33 years to make a formal complaint.

Nearly 6% of Lismore priests in the 70s and 80s were later accused of sexually abusing children compared to 3.4% in the 50s, 4.4% in the 60s, 2.7% in the 90s and 1% between 2000 and 2010.

CEO Francis Sullivan of the Church's Truth Justice and Healing Council told the ABC on Monday there were likely many more victims who took secrets of their abuse to their graves.

"As Catholics we hang our heads in shame," he told the Commission.

Around 12% of Lismore priests with five or more years experience serving the Church in the 70s, 80's and 90s were accused of abuse at some point in their careers, a figure that increased to 15.4% by the end of 2010.

WEDNESDAY 7am: NEARLY 14% of Catholic priests serving in Lismore between 1950 and 2010 are alleged sexual abusers of children, national investigations have shown.

A final public hearing into Catholic Church authorities began in Sydney on Monday as part of an ongoing Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

More than 37% of people reporting abuse in private hearings over the past four years said their experiences happened in Catholic institutions, Senior Counsel Gail Furness said in a speech when opening the 50th public hearing.

Workers for the commission liaised with representatives from the Truth Justice and Healing Council, a group set up by Australian Catholic authorities, to gather data on claims of child sexual abuse against Catholic Church staff or volunteers made between 1980 and 2015.

There was no date limit on alleged incidents of abuse, meaning a person abused as a child in the 50s who reported the incident to someone working for the Church in the 80s would have their claim included in the Commission.

The Council then employed independent data analysts and a statistician to check data collected.

More than 90 Church authorities received complaints of child sexual abuse relating to 1000 separate Church institutions and nearly 2000 named alleged abusers over the 35 year period investigated, Ms Furness said.

Data showed 4,444 people reported their abuse to Church personnel, an average of 126.9 separate cases per year, or nearly one new complaint every three days.

Girls allegedly abused were, on average, 10.5 years old at the time and boys were 11.6 years old, data showed.

Alleged victims took an average of 33 years to make a formal complaint and where gender was reported, 78% were male and 22% female.

"A total of 1,880 alleged perpetrators were identified in claims of child sexual abuse," Ms Furness said, not including 500 unnamed people who may or may not have been identified by other alleged victims.

Nearly one third of alleged abusers were religious brothers, another 30% were priests, 29% were "lay people" and 5% were religious sisters, data showed.

The majority of alleged abusers - 90% - were male.

"Overall, 7% of priests were alleged perpetrators" between 1950 and 2010, Ms Furness said.

Lismore was one of five areas named as producing the highest percentages of alleged abusers over the sixty-year period, along with Sale (in Gippsland, Victoria), Sandhurst (Melbourne), Port Pirie (South Australia) and Wollongong (south of Sydney).


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