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Australian archbishop: ‘As Catholics we hang our heads in shame’

Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher, right, during the Feast of Corpus Christi Mass on May 29, 2016. Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Sydney

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher said he was ashamed and humiliated by revelations that 7 percent of Australia’s Roman Catholic clergy may have abused children between 1950 and 2010.

The alarming figure was presented by the church to an Australian inquiry looking into institutional sex abuse.

“The church is sorry and I am sorry for past failures that left so many so damaged,” Fisher said. “I know that many of our priests, religious and lay faithful feel the same,” Fisher said. “As Catholics we hang our heads in shame.”

The Vatican press office distributed a link to Fisher’s statement on Monday (Feb. 6) and declined to make any further comment.

Over 4,440 Australians claim to have been victims of church abuse between 1980 and 2015, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was told.

“To my shame and sadness it would seem that Australia-wide as many as 384 Catholic diocesan priests, 188 religious priests, 597 religious brothers and 96 religious sisters have had claims of child sexual abuse made against them since 1950,” he said.

“Claims have also been made against 543 lay church workers and another 72 whose religious status is unknown.”

Gail Furness, the main lawyer assisting the commission in Sydney, said more than 1,000 Catholic institutions across Australia were identified in claims of sexual abuse, with a total of 1,880 alleged perpetrators between 1980 and 2015.

Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher. Photo courtesy of Archdiocese of Sydney

Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher. Photo courtesy of Archdiocese of Sydney

Fisher said while the overwhelming number of incidents occurred between the 1950s and 1970s, the church is not complacent about child safety. He vowed to “work towards a culture of greater transparency, accountability and safety for all children.”

“(W)e recognize our responsibility to ensure that all measures are in place to prevent this happening again,” he said. “We also recognize that there are abuse victims who are yet to come forward and perhaps never will.”

The commission, set up in 2013, is investigating allegations of sexual and physical abuse across dozens of institutions, including schools, sports clubs and several religious organizations.

Its latest findings provide further evidence of a global epidemic of sex abuse within the church after widespread abuse was reported in the U.S., Ireland, Brazil, Germany, and elsewhere.

Australian Cardinal George Pell speaks to journalists at the end of a meeting with sex abuse victims at the Quirinale hotel in Rome on March 3, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/File Photo

Australian Cardinal George Pell speaks to journalists at the end of a meeting with sex abuse victims at the Quirinale Hotel in Rome on March 3, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/File Photo

Last year, Cardinal George Pell, who was Australia’s most senior Catholic before becoming Pope Francis’ top economic adviser, was questioned by the commission by video from Rome about how much he knew about alleged pedophile priests and how church authorities had responded to allegations of child sex abuse when he was a senior cleric in Australia.

Public prosecutors in Australia are also reviewing multiple allegations that Pell abused several boys between 1978-2001 while he was a priest in the small town of Ballarat and later as archbishop of Melbourne.

The 75-year-old cardinal has strenuously denied the allegations.

Pope Francis has spoken out several times against clerical sexual abuse and declared “zero tolerance” for clerical abuse in December.

In 2015 Francis set up a Vatican commission, including two victims, to protect minors and advise local churches on how to prevent abuse. He also approved a Vatican tribunal to judge bishops accused of covering up sexual abuse or failing to prevent it.

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.

24 Comments

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  • “Australian archbishop: ‘As Catholics we hang our heads in shame’
    Easily 1000 years to late for that meaningless gesture.

  • Well my previous post about remedies for RCC abuse and hypocrisy seems to have disappeared. Summary…this level of abuse could be cause for receivership and consent decrees, not self policing.

  • Any clerical admission of the horrors that occurred is welcomed, but I hope they understand there is no putting this behind us. Not yet anyway. There are still many who have not come forward, some who cannot come forward that still need time to heal along with those who did come forward. This is not an ugly past, but is still our today and future and I hope the clergy can accept that fact.

    Will they hold a Mass of Supplication for not just each victim, but for each act of abuse? Each vile act must be acknowledged, not some bulk recognition of abuse. This is not some Class Action reconciliation, where it is a one and done situation. While I fully believe in God’s forgiveness, even those who I am still sickened by, this devastation of body, mind, and soul needs constant penitential reverence and supplication.

    Let us also remember it is not the clergy, nor the laity that will determine when the healing is complete, but those who were abused will be the ones who will make that judgement and that is the only mark as to whether this will become the past. Not one second before. Please have the patience, the humility, the real understanding of the suffering that is still going on with survivors. The RCC owes them that at the very least.

  • Should every single teacher’s union offer services to amend for the abuse victims of their colleagues, since teachers abuse children at a higher rate than any profession on the planet?

    These degenerates ought to be brought out and shot. Clergy or not.

    It’s ridiculous to apply the actions of a few to the whole group.

  • 1. Pell didn’t “become” the pope’s top adviser. The pope PROMOTED Pell to that position despite Pell’s making headlines for years about his maltreatment of survivors, even vowing to “crush” a former altar boy who brought a lawsuit. The pope also promoted Cardinal Errazuriz and Bishop Barros, well-known protectors of a pedophile priest.
    2. Although well informed they were pedophiles, this pope did not notify civil authorities but left Bishop Miranda, Archbishop Wesolowski and Fr. Corradi free men to continue to sexually abuse children.
    3. The pope’s sex abuse commission has done nothing except “train” Vatican officials in steps already established over a decade ago by survivors. His tribunal is still non-existent.
    4. “Fisher said while the overwhelming number of incidents occurred between the 1950s and 1970s …” The report stated “the average time between the alleged abuse occurring and the date a claim was made was 33 years.”

  • Based on an old discredited study of teachers because every reported vulgarity or verbal sexual reference was counted as “abuse.”

  • The report stated the average age of abuse victims was 10.5 for girls and 11.6 for boys. Another false interpretation this time of the John Jay Report which made no such assertion. Yes, more victims were male but priests have more access to boys – altar boys, choir, clubs, overnight retreats, outings, all-boy schools etc. Tragically for Australia’s children, this included many boarding schools.

  • 1.It is a crime of opportunity. Priests have better access to boys.
    2. People who want trusted access to children choose occupations that give them this access.
    3. Until very recent, the priesthood was one of few socially acceptable occupations for men who did not want to marry
    4. Men struggling with sexual attraction toward children would choose the priesthood thinking celibacy would cure them.

    In other words, priests are not a representative sample of the population.

    Your vilification of gays is wrong and bigoted. Gays are no more likely to abuse children than anyone else. The most men who molest boys are married.

  • The group systematically protected the perpetrators. While 7% actively abused, the majority of the rest made sure they didn’t get caught.

    Popes protect both those committing these crimes and those who protect abusers, giving them promotions and honor. Every level of the church is complicit.

  • If it came out that 1% of the staff at a major amusement park abused children and management covered it up for months, the park would close and no parent would let their child anywhere near it.

    5% to 7% of priests abuse children, and the organization systematically covered it up for decades (and/or centuries). Yet public opinion has not risen up to shut them down and parents take their children to churches and even send them to Catholic schools.

    This is why so many pervs hide behind religion.

    And this is proof that all that “religion makes one moral” and “religion is necessary for morality” claims are utter nonsense. Religion is as pure as an overflowing outhouse during a cholera epidemic.

    Religion provides the breeding ground where abuse can thrive unfettered. And the supposed all powerful God doesn’t bother to stop it.

  • Of course, you cite a statistic that you must made up, or lifted off the family research council website, known For its gross distortions.

    Some 80% of abuse victims are girls. half the time, the abuser is the father, stepfather, or father surrogate. These are men who would be described as HETEROSEXUAL in terms of their interests, experiences, and perception in the community.

    25% of the time, the user is known to the family of the child.

    Jerry Sandusky, anyone? The perpetrators of abuse in the Boy Scouts? All heterosexual.

    You and your fellow christobigots have pushing this lie for millennia, and the result is just more abused children. Just because a man molests boys does not make him homosexual. And of course, you wouldn’t dream of calling a man who molests girls a heterosexual.

  • Wow that is a real scumbag argument you are making here. That the rampant sexual abuse done within the Catholic Church is somehow excusable because some other group may be somehow even worse.

    “in which not children but post-puberty males were the objects. This is
    horrific, but a 16 or 17 year old boy trying out homosexual tendencies
    cannot be compared to pedophilia”

    If true, (given your gross exaggerations and other bigoted fictions, it is not a given) then you are talking about statutory rape. Still criminal, still considered sexual abuse and still acts which are covered up and where prosecution was deliberately obstructed by the church.

    https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/8b/da/e9/8bdae9ccf3a1d4af0129adf9c805119d.jpg

  • No, it is perfectly fair to point at the whole RCC institution for these abusive actions. Decades of covering this up all over the world, as well as assisting abusive clergy by moving them around parishes while they continued to abuse.

    BTW, the RCC response of public school teachers are worse is not true…Fewer teachers are accused pedophiles because of the background checks and school policy. Teachers also do good work reporting child abuse including domestic…But 4 to 7 % for RCC abusive clergy, who are after all God’s servants and “better” than those secular types.

  • Less than 2% of Catholic priests abuse children, and a vast majority are homosexual abuses. In fact, the John Jay College report to the USCCB of 2012 showed that 81% of all abuse was homosexual in nature. Of course, they didn’t come out and say this because that wouldn’t be politically correct.

    Secondly, the “moving around of clergy” in the US was at the behest of contemporary psychology in the early 1980’s and early 1990’s. The standard operating procedure was to move offenders, from whatever walk of life or profession, from the situation to a place where they knew no one. This was during the time when psychologists assumed that pedophiles could be reformed through therapy.

  • Homosexual in nature does not mean that the people doing it were gay men. That was my entire point.

    Here is dr. Margaret smith in her speech to the bishops: “we do
    not find a connection between homosexual identity and the increased likelihood of subsequent abuse from the data that we have right now.”

    Yes 81% of the victims were male. All that is an indication of is access– the church long ago stopped unsupervised access of priests to girls. But let’s look about what the report DOES say, rather than your deliberate conflation of adult sexuality with pedophilia. The John Jay Report found that 22 percent of the cases of abuse in America were with children under th e age of ten, 51% were between the ages of 11 and 14, and 15 percent were aged 16 or older. In other words, 73% of the abuse cases were with children under the age of 14. That they were male is not particularly relevant. In my entire life, I have met only ONE adult gay man I would identify as gay who had a sexual interest in underage boys.

    The critical issue is abuse, not orientation. The abuse of a young or
    teenage boy is no different in its nature than the abuse of a young or teenage girl. The sin is the abuse of power, and the use of religious authority to subject the defenseless to an adult’s sexual gratification. It’s about the power differential, and the still fragile nature of a developing psyche and sexuality. The sexual orientation of the perpetrator is, strictly speaking, irrelevant to the matter at hand: an institution that sought to cover up, and protect rapists and molesters of minors. If we were talking about adult sexual relationships here, we could have a discussion about sexual orientation. But we’re not. We’re talking about abuse of minors.

    And finally, let’s look at Nicholas Groth, a foremost authority on the subject.

    ” (Paul) Cameron misrepresents my findings and distorts them to advance his homophobic views. I make a very clear distinction in my writing between pedophilia and homosexuality, noting that adult males who sexually victimize young boys are either pedophilic or heterosexual, and that in my research I have not found homosexual men turning away from adult partners to children . .. I consider this totally unprofessional behavior on the part of Dr. Cameron and I want to bring this to your attention. He disgraces his profession.” – Dr.
    A. Nicholas Groth in letter written to the Nebraska Board of Examiners of
    Psychologists on August 21, 1984

    http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2010/12/14/religious-right-leader-admits-to-using-bad-research-to-demonize-gay-community-sees-nothing-wrong-with-it/
    And

    “Reflectin­g the results of these and other studies, the mainstream view among researcher­s and profession­als who work in the area of child sexual abuse is that homosexual and bisexual men do not pose any special threat to children. For example, in one review of the scientific literature­, noted authority Dr. A. Nicholas Groth wrote:

    Are homosexual adults in general sexually attracted to children and are
    preadolesc­ent children at greater risk of molestatio­n from homosexual adults than from heterosexu­al adults? There is no reason to believe so. The research to date all points to there being no significan­t relationsh­ip between a homosexual lifestyle and child molestatio­n. There appears to be practicall­y no reportage of sexual molestatio­n of girls by lesbian adults, and the adult male who sexually molests young boys
    is not likely to be homosexual (Groth & Gary, 1982, p. 147).”

    http://psy­chology.uc­davis.edu/­rainbow/ht­ml/facts_m­olestation­.html

  • Actually, here you are outright lying. Here is the actual synopsis of the study:

    Previous investigations have indicated that the ratio of sex offenders against female children vs. offenders against male children is approximately 2:1, while the ratio of gynephiles to androphiles among the general population is approximately 20:1. The present study investigated whether the etiology of preferred partner sex among pedophiles is related to the etiology of preferred partner sex among males preferring adult partners. Using phallometric test sensitivities to calculate the proportion of true pedophiles among various groups of sex offenders against children, and taking into consideration previously reported mean numbers of victims per offender group, the ratio of heterosexual to homosexual pedophiles was calculated to be approximately 11:1. This suggests that the resulting proportion of true pedophiles among persons with a homosexual erotic development is greater than that in persons who develop heterosexually. This, of course, would not indicate that androphilic males have a greater propensity to offend against children.

    And it argues that they key factor in whether a child molested is male or female has a lot to do with access.

    THE LAST SENTENCE IS THE CRUCIAL STATEMENT. It gives the lie to your deliberate conflation of adult homosexual identity and child molestation.
    There are men who have sex with children. They are pedophiles. They have not been shown to be gay men, but MEN WHO HAVE SEX WITH CHILDREN.

  • “”Secondly, the “moving around of clergy” in the US was at the behest of contemporary psychology in the early 1980’s and early 1990’s.”
    Yet another lie. They were moved around by their superior abbots, bishops, and cardinals.

  • Yet that is precisely what you are doing when you attempt to conflate child molesting with gay adult sexuality.

    Funny how you seem to have an immoral purpose, yet claim to be moral.

  • “Homosexual in nature does not mean that the people doing it were gay men.”

    I do not expect you to agree Ben, but your sentence there entails a clear concession to what the John Jay report was pointing out.

    Once a person is rationally forced to start hair-splitting between the terms “homosexual” and “gay”, that’s pretty much the endgame right there.

    I understand that there are those who want to dispute the John Jay linkage, and you’ll be there to quote them, I imagine. It will always be a dueling-links, dueling-quotes situation.

    But honestly? Just being exposed briefly to the John Jay report and its important information about the clearly homosexual nature of the Catholic Priest scandal, will help inform many people all by itself. So it’s worth it.

  • Only anti gay you would fail to see the difference. Sexuality is far more complicated than what antigay bigots think of it. In your never ending quest to make gay people evil, YOU could come up with no other possible explanation.

    Of course, it wasn’t me that made the statement, but actual experts in the field, unlike, Say, bigot YOU or bigot TALLORDER.

    Once again, Jerry Sandusky is the perfect example. A heterosexually married man, known as heterosexual in his CHURCH, community, and family. And yet there he was, sexually assaulting boys.

    Or these priests themselves. Fyou’d think that men called to the priesthood by god wouldn’t be child molesters, wouldn’t you? It once again just goes to show that morality and religion are strangers each other.

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