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The contours of an extended child abuse royal commission

  • 03 July 2014

On Monday, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses of Child Sexual Abuse produced its first interim report to government.  The commission has asked the Abbott Government for a two-year extension until December 2017 and an additional $104 million to complete its task.  

When Julia Gillard announced the federal royal commission in November 2012, I expressed some reservations about such a wide ranging inquiry, claiming that it would take at least five years, and I did not know that victims or the rest of us could wait that long to learn critical lessons about how institutions might improve their procedures for the protection of children.  

Justice McClellan is adamant that the job will take five years if it is to be done properly.  The good news is that the victims’ groups seem to think they can wait that long, as anything sooner would be rushed.  The bad news is that we will all be waiting another three and a half years for answers about how to restructure institutions ensuring the better protection of children and about how best to provide compensation and ongoing care for victims.

Before Prime Minister Gillard announced the commission, I said that the Catholic Church needed help, in part because there seemed to be a vast discrepancy in the statistics when it came to the number of abuse claims in the Catholic Church when compared with other Churches and institutions which care for vulnerable children.  The Commission has not yet come up with any answers or theories about the discrepancy.  But its own statistics are frightening and shaming.  The commission has provided a safe space for victims to come forward and tell their stories.  The commission refers to victims as survivors.  60% of the institutions where survivors reported being abused were faith-based institutions (1,033 of 1,719 institutions).  Where abuse occurred in a faith-based institution, 68% of survivors reported that the abuse occurred in a Catholic institution, while only 12% reported that the abuse occurred in an Anglican institution.  Other churches reported lesser figures.  No doubt there were many more Catholic institutions set up for vulnerable children.  But that goes nowhere close to providing a complete explanation for the shameful discrepancy.  It seems that about 40% of all victims who have come forward to tell their story were abused in institutions auspiced by the Catholic Church. When the royal commission was announced, Cardinal Pell said, 'We object to being