Tuesday 21 August 2018

Make celibacy optional for priests, says abuse report

Australia’s former prime minister Julia Gillard. Photo: Getty Images
Australia’s former prime minister Julia Gillard. Photo: Getty Images

Jonathan Pearlman

Australia's royal commission into child sex abuse has recommended that celibacy for Catholic priests should be optional as it ended an historic five-year inquiry that exposed horrific cases of abuse and cover-ups.

Releasing a landmark 17-volume report after holding thousands of occasionally emotional and harrowing hearings, the commission said the handling of child sex abuse in Australia had been a "national tragedy".

"Tens of thousands of children have been sexually abused in many Australian institutions," the report said. "We will never know the true number. It is not a case of a few 'rotten apples'. Society's major institutions have seriously failed."

The commission said the highest number of alleged perpetrators and abused children were in Catholic institutions, but it also exposed widespread abuse in other religious organisations, as well as sports and community groups, schools and charities.

Denial

"Australian society must never go back to a state of denial about child sexual abuse in institutional contexts," it said.

Established by former prime minister Julia Gillard in 2012, the commission has probed virtually every significant institution that deals with children and has already had a profound effect on the way that these organisations care for minors and handle reports of abuse.

More than 15,000 survivors and families contacted the commission, which heard from 8,000 victims, 1,300 witnesses and referred 2,500 alleged cases of abuse to authorities. The commission said as many as 60,000 survivors of abuse may be eligible for compensation.

Issuing more than 400 recommendations, the commission specifically criticised forced celibacy in the Catholic Church, saying it had led to "psychosexual dysfunction". It recommended that the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference "request the Holy See consider introducing voluntary celibacy for diocesan clergy".

"While not a direct cause of child sexual abuse, we are satisfied that compulsory celibacy [for clergy] and vowed chastity have contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse," the commission said.

"Compulsory celibacy may have contributed to various forms of psychosexual dysfunction, including psychosexual immaturity, which pose an ongoing risk to the safety of children. For many clergy and religious, celibacy is an unattainable ideal that leads to clergy and religious living double lives."

The commission also recommended the Church end the sanctity of the confessional, saying religious ministers should be forced to speak out when told of alleged child abuse. Anthony Fisher, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, opposed changes to the confessional, saying it was a "distraction".

© Daily Telegraph London

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