Magazine article Anglican Journal

Challenging a Culture of Silence

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Challenging a Culture of Silence

Article excerpt

IN MARCH, Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released its initial report on how Australian institutions--including churches, schools, sports clubs and government organizations--have responded to allegations of child sexual abuse.

The groundbreaking report revealed that children were allegedly sexually abused in more than 4,000 Australian institutions, including the Catholic and Anglican churches.

From 1980 to 2015, about 4,500 allegations of child abuse involving 1,880 alleged offenders were brought to the attention of authorities in the Australian Catholic church. In that same period, more than 1,100 complaints of child sexual abuse were made in the Anglican Church of Australia. The alleged abuses involved 285 laypeople and 247 clergy from 22 of the church's 23 dioceses.

Since the numbers do not include unreported cases, the true magnitude of the abuse remains unknown. However, the inquiry clearly established the lasting and multi-generational impact of childhood sexual abuse and the great lengths institutions went to protect predators. The commission interviewed more than 1,200 witnesses in public hearings and held 6,500 private sessions with survivors and witnesses, including those in nursing homes and hospitals.

The impact of the commission's work is incalculable and stretches far beyond Australia. Sexual violence against children remains a global reality. The commission's report proves that governments and institutions continue to profoundly fail children.

One would think that after the highly-publicized sex abuse scandals involving pedophile priests in Catholic churches in the U.S., Canada and Ireland, things would be different.

But as Gail Furness, the senior counsel who assisted the commission noted, the accounts they heard from victims were "depressingly familiar." Children's complaints were disregarded by church authorities, she said. "Documents were not kept or they were destroyed. Secrecy prevailed as did cover ups." Perpetrators were moved, with parishes and communities to which they were reassigned not knowing about their sordid, criminal past.

A culture that minimizes the crimes of abusers and belittles victims and survivors allowed the abuse to happen in churches, places that are meant to be sanctuaries, said Australian diocese of Newcastle Bishop Greg Thompson. Conflicts of interests around friendships were also a factor, Thompson told a public hearing of the commission in November. …

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