'A national tragedy' - Australian probe into child abuse calls for end to Catholic celibacy
An Australian inquiry into child abuse has recommended the Catholic Church lift its demand of celibacy from clergy and clarify the extent that the seal of the confession conceals evidence of child abuse.
Australia's Royal Commission into Institution Responses to Child Sexual Abuse delivered its final 17-volume report and 189 recommendations following a wide-ranging investigation.
Australia's longest-running royal commission - which is the country' highest form of inquiry - has been investigating since 2012 how the Catholic Church and other institutions responded to sexual abuse of children in Australia over 90 years.
The report heard the testimonies of more than 8,000 survivors of child sex abuse. Of those who were abused in religious institution, 62% were Catholics.
"We have concluded that there were catastrophic failures of leadership of Catholic Church authorities over many decades," the report said.
Recommendations include that the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference request that the Vatican consider introducing voluntary celibacy for clergy.
The bishops' body should also request clarity on whether information received in the confessional that a child has been sexually abused is covered by the seal of secrecy and whether absolution of a perpetrator should be withdrawn until the perpetrator confesses to police.
Catholic clerics who testified to the royal commission gave varying opinions about what if anything a priest could divulge about what was said in a confessional about child abuse.
The commission's recommendations, which with interim reports total 409, include making failure to report child abuse a criminal offence. Clerics would not be exempt from being charged.
Pope Francis's former finance minister, Cardinal George Pell, testified in a video link from the Vatican in 2016 about his time as a priest and bishop in Australia. Pell this year became the most senior Catholic official to face sex offence charges.
Pell has vowed to fight the charges of sexual assault offences.
The commission found that the church's responses to complaints and concerns about clerics in Australia were "remarkably and disturbingly similar".
President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Denis Hart, said the commission "would have significant impact on the way the Catholic Church and others operate in Australia".
He said the bishops would put to the Vatican the recommendations on celibacy and the confession.
"The seal of the confessional, or the relationship with God that's carried through the priest and with the person, is inviolable. It can't be broken," he told reporters.
He apologised for the church failing children in the past.
Catholicism is the largest denomination in majority-Christian Australia.