The Catholic Church in Australia agreed Wednesday to join a national redress scheme for victims of institutional child sex abuse, declaring that “survivors deserve justice”.
It follows a five-year royal commission detailing thousands of harrowing abuse cases involving Australian churches, orphanages, sporting clubs, youth groups and schools over decades.
That inquiry heard from more than 2,500 survivors of abuse in facilities managed by the Catholic Church and recommended a scheme to support victims with counselling, psychological care and financial payments.
All but one of Australia’s state governments have signed up to the programme, which will offer victims up to Aus$150,000 (Sh1.3 million) in compensation.
In a major step forward, the Church has become the first non-government institution to join the scheme.
“We support the royal commission’s recommendation for a national redress scheme… and we are keen to participate in it,” Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Mark Coleridge said in a statement. “Survivors deserve justice and healing and many have bravely come forward to tell their stories.”
In its findings, the royal commission found that Australian institutions “seriously failed” children in their care with tens of thousands sexually assaulted.
It heard horrific testimony during confronting and often emotionally exhausting hearings, with more than 15,000 survivors detailing their claims. More than 4,000 institutions were accused of abuse.
During the hearings, the commission heard that seven percent of Catholic priests in Australia were accused of abuse between 1950 and 2010, but the allegations were never investigated, with children ignored and even punished when they came forward.
Earlier this month, Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson became one of the highest ranking church officials in the world to be found guilty of covering up child sex abuse.
Legislation to establish the compensation scheme passed through parliament on Tuesday and is due to come into effect from July 1.
Describing the Catholic Church decision as a “significant development”, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the redress scheme would “continue the process of healing” for survivors.
Last year, Australia’s four-year Royal Commission investigating child sex abuse concluded that priests who suspect child abuse after hearing confession should report it to the authorities – or face criminal charges.
The proposal applied to the suspicion of child abuse in an institutional context — for example within an organisation which provides services to children or cares for them, such as a church or a children’s home.
But the Roman Catholic Church in Australia was opposed to the proposal, despite saying that outside of the confession it is “absolutely committed” to reporting all offences against children to the authorities. —BBC