Make celibacy optional for priests, Australia’s child sex abuse commission says in landmark report
Posted On August 3, 2020
Australia’s royal commission into child sex abuse has recommended that celibacy for Catholic priests should be optional and the sanctity of the confessional should be abandoned, as it ended an historic five-year inquiry that exposed horrific cases of abuse and cover-ups.
Releasing a landmark seventeen-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.
“Australian society must never go back to a state of denial about the nature, cause and impact of child sexual abuse in institutional contexts," the report 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.
“For many Catholic clergy and religious, celibacy is implicated in emotional isolation, loneliness, depression and mental illness. Compulsory celibacy may also 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 that the Church end the sanctity of the confessional, saying religious ministers should be forced to speak out when they were told of alleged child abuse.
“Laws concerning mandatory reporting to child protection authorities should not exempt … information disclosed in or in connection with a religious confession,” it said.
Anthony Fisher, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, said he opposed changes to the confessional, saying it was a "distraction".
"I think any proposal to effectively stop the practice of confession in Australia would be a real hurt to all Catholics and Orthodox Christians and I don’t think would help any young person," he told ABC News.
"I think if young people are to be kept safe, focusing on something like confession is just a distraction."
The average age of children abused at Catholic institutions was 11 years old. Some survivors reported being sexually abused during confession.
The commission recommended the creation of national child safety standards, additional training for schools and those working with children, and mandatory reporting of alleged abuse by occupations such as religious ministers, early childhood workers and psychologists.
Welcoming the report, Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s prime minister, said the commission had been an “outstanding exercise in love”. He expressed gratitude to survivors who had the courage to tell their stories.
“It’s been very tough, often harrowing work, but above all, I want to thank and honour the courage of the survivors and their families who’ve told, often for the first time, the dreadful stories of abuse that they received from people who actually owed them love and protection,” he said.