Royal Commission details child sexual abuse within the Anglican Church of Australia

Commission finds 1,082 victims of abuse had lodged complaints against 569 perpetrators including 247 clergy and 285 laymen. 

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has released an interim report stating the Anglican Church of Australia received 1,115 complaints of child sexual abuse between 1980 and 2015.  The data released on 17 March 2017 stated 1,082 victims of abuse had lodged complaints against 569 perpetrators by name, and 133 unnamed abusers.  Those named included 247 clergy and 285 laymen. Of these complaints, 84 were referred to the police, who prosecuted 4 abusers, while 23 others remain under investigation.

In a statement to the Royal Commission meeting in Sydney on 17 March 2017 the general secretary of the Anglican Church of Australia, Anne Hywood, said the church had been, at times, more concerned with its reputation than with caring for victims and seeing that justice was done.

“We have witnessed first hand the suffering of those who have shared their stories,” she said.

“We have seen in their faces and heard in their voices not only the pain of the abuse they suffered as a child, but the further damage we inflicted when they came forward as adults, seeking justice and comfort, and we pushed them aside.,” Ms Hywood said.

The Primate of the ACA, Archbishop Philip Freier of Melbourne offered an apology on behalf of the church for its failure to respond in a responsible and Christian manner. “Anglicans have been truly shocked and dismayed at the unfolding in the Royal Commission of the scope of our failure to tackle child sexual abuse within the Church and the depth of survivors’ pain and suffering. We are deeply ashamed of the many ways in which we have let down survivors, both in the way we have acted and the way we have failed to act.”

Ms Hywood told the Commission Anglicans apologized “for the shameful way we actively worked against and discouraged those who came to us and reported abuse. We are ashamed to acknowledge that we only took notice when the survivors of abuse became a threat to us.”

The Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt. Rev. Greg Thompson, who resigned this week under pressure from cliques within his diocese who opposed his attempts to clean up the church testified that factional interests continued to hamper the church in its fight against abuse.

“You have relationships … where people are aligned to groups, to factions. So within a diocese, let alone across the country, there are factions and allegiances which cut across a common response, particularly when there are beliefs and attitudes that have not come to terms with history,” he said.

Within his diocese, he said friendships among senior clergy served to shield abusers from the consequences of their criminal actions. Bishop Thompson, who last year reported that as a young man he was sexually abused by his bishop, said: “Conflicts of interest that arise around friendships, where alleged clergy have offended, have been afforded a lot of protection at various levels, either at a committee level or in the local parish. People refuse to accept that their loved priest has been an offender.”

The Commission learned the church had so far paid approximately $31 million in compensation to victims of abuse. However, fewer than half of all abuse complaints resulted in compensation and victims received on average $67,000.

The investigation into the Anglican Church began in April 2013. The church has turned over approximately 1.5 million documents, and 169 witnesses have testified before the commission over the Anglican Church’s response to abuse within its ranks.

The church was first ordered to produce documents in April 2013 and the royal commission has since received roughly 1.5m documents. The royal commission has heard from 169 witnesses and held 500 private sessions associated with the church.

In February the Royal Commission released an interim report on its investigation of the Catholic Church.   It stated that 4,444 allegations of child abuse were reported to the church between 1980 and 2015. Approximately 1900 perpetrators were identified, with 32 per cent shows to be religious brothers, 30 per cent priests, 29 per cent lay men and 5 per cent nuns. Five hundred unnamed perpetrators were also cited in the report.

The abuse took place in over 1000 institutions across the Catholic Church. However, some dioceses and groups appeared to have been hot-spots of abuse. Forty per cent of the St John of God Brothers are believed to have abused children, 22 per cent of Christian Brothers, 20 per cent of Marist Brothers, and 17 per cent of the Salesians of Don Bosco were named as abusers.

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