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Widespread Child Sexual Abuse By Australian Catholic Church Revealed


Shocking, tragic and indefensible - that's how one church official described allegations of child sexual abuse leveled at Australia's Catholic Church. A Royal Commission in Australia has been examining thousands of claims of abuse. And according to data they released this week, 7 percent of priests in Australia's Catholic Church were accused of child sexual abuse. That's over the course of more than 60 years between 1950 and 2015.

For more on this story, we're joined by Rachel Browne who is social affairs editor for the Sydney Morning Herald. Welcome to the program.

RACHEL BROWNE: Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: When and how did this investigation start?

BROWNE: Well, the investigation into the Catholic Church originally started about four years ago under the Royal Commission. And their researchers and the Catholic Church itself set out to go through every single complaint, allegation, claim of child sexual abuse involving Catholic Church authorities over decades. And this is the report they came out with, which was released in Australia on Monday.

SIEGEL: Are these allegations being made by people who are describing something that happened many years ago, but - people who didn't come forward many years ago?

BROWNE: Yes. They found that it takes on average 33 years for a person to come forward after being abused. And when you consider the average age at which the alleged abuse took place was 10 for girls and 11 for boys, we're talking about people coming forward in their mid-40s. So it's taken a long time for these people to come forward, which is one of those things that's actually made it - this data gathering process very difficult.

SIEGEL: Now that figure of 7 percent, as disturbing as it is, is as I understand it an average. There were orders according to the Royal Commission where the number of brothers accused of pedophilia was 20 percent, in one case 40 percent. Are those orders still operating in Australia?

BROWNE: Yes, they are. They're operating worldwide. You know, these are large religious orders. And John of God was the order where 40 percent of the members were allegedly offenders. So that is really a breathtaking number. It's not a huge order in Australia. There's only just over a hundred members, but larger orders would be the Christian Brothers. They're a very big order in Australia. They run a lot of schools. The other large order which is - also had a very high proportion of alleged perpetrators is the Marist Brothers. And one of the things that they're looking at in the Royal Commission is why these orders had such a high proportion of alleged perpetrators. So we'll find out more about that as the hearing continues.

SIEGEL: How would you describe the degree of cooperation that the church in Australia is giving or has given to this Royal Commission's work?

BROWNE: Well, I don't know that the Catholic Church authorities would necessarily be, you know, sort of turning up to the Royal Commission unless they absolutely had to. I would say in one respect they have been cooperative or more cooperative than other institutions which have been involved in this Royal Commission, and that is when it comes to the compensation scheme for survivors. The Catholic Church has been quite proactive in coming out and saying we will contribute money to this compensation scheme, but I suspect it's a very uncomfortable situation for them.

SIEGEL: Rachel Browne of the Sydney Morning Herald, thanks for talking with us.

BROWNE: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And Rachel Browne joined us from Sydney via Skype. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.