SYDNEY • Seven per cent of Catholic priests were accused of sexually abusing children in Australia between 1950 and 2010, but the allegations were never investigated, according to "shocking and indefensible" data revealed at a top-level inquiry.
The national investigation into paedophilia in institutions heard yesterday that 4,444 alleged incidents were reported to the church authorities, and in some dioceses, more than 15 per cent of priests were perpetrators.
Australia ordered the inquiry - known as a Royal Commission - in 2012 after a decade of growing pressure to investigate allegations of child abuse in organisations with care of children.
"The accounts were depressingly similar. Children were ignored or worse, punished. Allegations were not investigated. Priests and religious (figures) were moved," said Ms Gail Furness, the lawyer leading the questioning at the inquiry.
"The parishes or communities to which they were moved knew nothing of their past. Documents were not kept or they were destroyed. Secrecy prevailed, as did cover-ups."
This data, along with all we have heard over the past four years, can only be interpreted for what it is: a massive failure on the part of the Catholic Church in Australia to protect children from abusers. As Catholics, we hang our heads in shame.
MR FRANCIS SULLIVAN, chief executive of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council.
The average age of the victims at the time was 10 years old for girls and 11 years old for boys.
Of the 1,880 alleged perpetrators, 90 per cent were men.
The Brothers of St John of God religious order had the worst record, with over 40 per cent of members accused of abuse.
The Catholic Church in Australia set up the Truth, Justice and Healing Council to coordinate its response.
"These numbers are shocking, they are tragic, they are indefensible," its chief executive Francis Sullivan told the commission.
"This data, along with all we have heard over the past four years, can only be interpreted for what it is: a massive failure on the part of the Catholic Church in Australia to protect children from abusers.
"As Catholics, we hang our heads in shame."