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The Sexual Abuse Crisis

In 2013, The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse discovered that the Australian Catholic Church is complicit when it comes to sexual abuse of children especially its failure to deal with such issues when reported. Four thousand four hundred and forty-five claimants alleged that they were abused in a catholic setting and 7 per cent of Catholic priests were recorded as alleged offenders. The high rate of sexual abuse of children was constant between the 1950s and 1980s.

Sexual Abuse of Children by Brothers and Priests

Extensive records of the abuse are available on the Broken Rites website; this was the organisation responsible for exposing this serious issue in the 1990s. The website contains records about individual offenders.

Before the 1950s, only a few abuse cases were recorded.

These include some related to the Mary MacKillop nuns around 1870. There was also the systemic abuse of the 1930s and 40s at Christain Brothers agricultural school for migrant boys, Bindoon and Tardun in Western Australia. In 1920, a Christian brother, Fredrick Phillip Carmody was convicted of abusing boys at Clontarf Orphanage; Western Australian bands were given a nine years’ jail time.

Only a few abusers have confessed about their actions but going by evidence given to the Royal Commission of Gerald Ridsdale; he is probably Australia’s worst pedophile priest.


Until the 90s, cases of abuse were not covered up by the church. This was more or less a universal practice. Abusers who were mostly brothers and priests were not expelled or reported to the police. They were usually admonished in private and at worst transferred to a new station. None of the church authorities complicit in this cover-up has given any reason for such and the role of legal advisers, police, and psychiatrists in these cover-ups is yet to be understood.

Causes of abuse

With the high number of abusive priests, several reasons have been given for such occurrence. This includes the view that it is due to the poor selection process for the seminarians who were chosen at a young age; others believe it is the seminary training that is poor. There are also opinions that it is the mandatory celibacy and some blame it on clericalism. The truth is that all these views are just speculative, and no one can really say this is the actual cause yet.

Memoirs of the clerical and isolated culture of most seminaries which lead to poor psychological development may also play a role in the abuse. Coupled with this is the trust that most people place on the clergy, which is helped by how cases have been covered up in the past. This trust allows abusers to continue the abuse and unfettered access to the victims. This is very true of cases where the abuse happens in residential care institutions for the deprived and disabled boys.

© 2020 ACSWC