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Australian Catholic leaders reject key calls by child abuse inquiry

Senior leaders in Australia’s Catholic church have rejected calls by a wide-reaching investigation into child abuse to end mandatory celibacy for priests and break the secrecy of confession.

The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse report estimates tens of thousands of children have been abused in Australian institutions, in what the commission described as a « national tragedy. »
The landmark report, which concluded Thursday after five years of work, made a total of 189 new recommendations to address what it described as a « serious failure » by Australia’s institutions to protect its most vulnerable citizens.
« We now know that countless thousands of children have been sexually abused in many institutions in Australia. In many institutions, multiple abusers have sexually abused children, » the report said.
« We must accept that institutional child sexual abuse has been occurring for generations. »
The Catholic Church alone was the target of about 20 recommendations. In what would amount to a radical shake-up of centuries of tradition and religious orthodoxy, the recommendations called for protocols for screening priests, mandatory reporting of religious confessions and a suggestion to end mandatory celibacy for priests.
Of the survivors who reported being abused in a religious institution, 61.4% said it occurred in a Catholic organization.
« The failure to understand that the sexual abuse of a child was a crime with profound impacts for the victim, and not a mere moral failure capable of correction by contrition and penance … is almost incomprehensible, » the report said.
But the Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher refused to consider breaking the sanctity of confession, calling it a « distraction, » while adding ending celibacy would not necessarily end child abuse.
« I think the debates about celibacy will go on however people respond to this issue, » Fisher told a press conference Friday. « We know very well that institutions who have celibate clergy and institutions that don’t have celibate clergy both face this problem. We know very well that this happens in families that are certainly not observing celibacy …. It is an issue for everyone, celibate or not. »
Fisher added that 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. »
Fisher went on to apologize to the victims of abuse, and admitted it had « damaged the credibility of the Church in the broader community. »
Senior Catholic figure Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart echoed the views of Fisher, saying that while he fully apologized on behalf of the church, he « couldn’t » report any child abuse revealed to him inside a confessional.
Speaking at a press conference Friday, the Archbishop added that while he would be unable to report revelations made inside a confessional, he « would certainly insist that if a person came to me and confessed those heinous crimes I would refuse them absolution until they went authorities, » Hart told reporters.(cnn)

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