Catholic priests should not be forced to live a life of celibacy, and the sanctity of the confessional should not prevent religious figures from reporting child sex abuse, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse has said.
These recommendations were two of close to 200 made to state and federal governments and religious institutions in the over 1,000-page, 17-volume final report from the royal commission, released on Friday.
In 20 of the recommendations specifically for the Catholic church (which made up 61.8% of all reported sexual abuse in religious institutions) the commission has said that the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to consider introducing voluntary celibacy for clergy.
"While not a direct cause of child sexual abuse, we are satisfied that compulsory celibacy (for clergy) and vowed chastity (for members of religious institutes) have contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse, especially when combined with other risk factors," the report stated. "We acknowledge that only a minority of Catholic clergy ... have sexually abused children.
"However, based on research we conclude that there is an elevated risk of child sexual abuse where compulsorily celibate male clergy ... have privileged access to children in certain types of Catholic institutions, including schools, residential institutions and parishes."
In response on Friday, Catholic archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher said that the "debate would go on" about celibacy.
When asked about the broader recommendation that people admitting to child sex abuse in confession should be reported to police, Fisher said that it was a distraction.
"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 said. "Focusing on something like confession is a distraction."
Fisher said it was very rare for child sex abuse to be reported in confession, yet the report found that confession "contributed to both the occurrence of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and to inadequate institutional responses to abuse".
"Church leaders have viewed child sexual abuse as a sin to be dealt with through private absolution and penance rather than as a crime to be reported to police," the report stated. "The sacrament of reconciliation enabled perpetrators to resolve their sense of guilt without fear of being reported.
"Also, the sacrament created a situation where children were alone with a priest. In some cases we heard that children experienced sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests in confessionals."
The majority of child sex abuse survivors said the abuse occurred in out-of-home care and at schools (including religious schools).
Among the other recommendations of the report, the commission has recommended the creation of a National Office for Child Safety, and a national framework for child safety. It has also recommended education campaigns, and a national telephone helpline and website.
The commission began in 2012 at the direction of then-prime minister Julia Gillard. The six commissioners have held 57 public hearings and 8,013 private sessions across the country. Over 16,000 people contacted the commission, and over 1,000 survivors provided written accounts of their experiences.
"We now know that countless thousands of children have been sexually abused in many institutions in Australia," the commission stated. "In many institutions, multiple abusers have sexually abused children. We must accept that institutional child sexual abuse has been occurring for generations."
The commission found that of the 6,875 survivors who had spoken to the commission, 64.3% were male, and more than half were aged 10 to 14 when they were first sexually abused.
There should be a national memorial for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, the commission has recommended.
Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Friday that the government would provide $52.1 million to support victims during the redress process. A taskforce will also be established to consider the recommendations and how best to enact them, and a parliamentary committee would be set up to oversee the process, chaired by senator Derryn Hinch.
Survivors were present to thank the commissioners when the report was handed to governor-general Sir Peter Cosgrove on Friday morning.
Josh Taylor is a Senior Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Josh Taylor at email@example.com.
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