Hobart archbishop says scale of abuse by Catholic clergy 'difficult' to understand

Julian Porteous tells royal commission blame lies with individual perpetrators but agrees there had been a massive failure in church leadership

The archbishop of Hobart said he still struggles to understand why Catholic clergy abused children on such a massive scale, and blamed the church’s response on an ignorance of “the seriousness of child sexual abuse”.

The royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse on Tuesday heard evidence from a panel of archbishops and bishops, largely from Australia’s smaller Catholic dioceses.

The commissioners are seeking to understand why one in 14 Catholic clergy allegedly abused children in Australia, and are scrutinising the church’s efforts to reform its child protection.

The archbishop, Julian Porteous, was asked to give his thoughts on why the abuse crisis occurred at such a significant scale in the Catholic church. He was unable to give the royal commission a clear answer, saying he found it “very difficult” to understand.

“I struggle to understand why it was so widespread, why there were so many priest perpetrators,” Porteous said.

The royal commission has heard significant evidence that the culture, structure and governance of the church contributed to the abuse, as did vows of celibacy and priest training.

Porteous said he believed the responsibility and fault lay with the individuals who perpetrated abuse and individuals who failed to respond properly, although he later described failings in church culture and agreed there had been a massive failure in leadership.

The archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Christopher Prowse, gave evidence that he wanted to be more open to survivors and the community on the issue of abuse, and wanted to “walk with victims” in their healing process.

That prompted the counsel assisting, Gail Furness, SC, to ask Prowse why he had chosen not to attend the only healing ceremony held for survivors of abuse at Marist College Canberra, held in November. “It was a very recent mistake and somewhat at odds with the evidence you have given,” Furness said.

Prowse conceded it had been a mistake not to attend and repeated an apology he made after his absence caused outrage among the survivors.

The hearing continues on Tuesday and is expected to hear from the bishops of Darwin, Parramatta, Broome and the Maronite diocese.


Christopher Knaus

The GuardianTramp

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