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'We hang our heads in shame' - Royal Commission survey reveals extent of Catholic priest abuse

The Archdiocese of Sydney holds a Mass of Thanksgiving for his Eminence George Cardinal Pell AC. Sydney, (AAP Image/Jane Dempster) NO ARCHIVING Source: AAP

The level of abuse in the Australian Catholic Church has been exposed by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

One in 14 Australian Catholic priests who worked between 1950 and 2010 among 75 Catholic Church bodies surveyed by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse were alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse.

The explosive finding was released as part of the Royal Commission's final public hearing into the Catholic Church which is taking place today in Sydney.

According to research by the Commission, between January 1980 and February 2015, 4444 people alleged incidents of child sexual abuse were made to 93 Catholic Church authorities around Australia, relating to more than 1000 separate institutions.

Where the gender of the person making the claim was provided, 78 per cent were male. The figure rises to 97 per cent in cases of claims of child sexual abuse received by religious orders with only religious brother members.

On average, men who made claims were aged 11.6 years when the alleged abuse occurred. For women, the average age was 10.5 years old.

The average time between the alleged abuse and the date a claim was made was 33 years.

The Commission found 1880 alleged perpetrators were identified in claims, along with over 500 unknown people.

Of the 1880 alleged perpetrators:

  • 597 (32 per cent) were religious brothers,
  • 572 (30 per cent) were priests,
  • 543 (29 per cent) were lay people, and
  • 96 (5 per cent) were religious sisters.

Of all alleged perpetrators, 90 per cent were male and 10 per cent were female.

The information follows a survey from the Royal Commission of 75 Catholic Church authorities. Ten Catholic religious orders with religious brother or sister members provided the same information about their members.

Of priests from the 75 authorities surveyed, 7.9 per cent of diocesan priests were alleged perpetrators and 5.7 per cent of religious priests were alleged perpetrators.

"These numbers are shocking. They are tragic and they are indefensible," chief executive of the Church's Truth Justice and Healing Council Francis Sullivan said in a statement to 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."