The abuse of hundreds of children at the hands of pedophile priests in and around Ballarat has been described as a “catastrophic institutional failure” of the Church, the Herald Sun reports.
Two years after it first started its probe of the Ballarat Diocese, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse handed down its much anticipated final report yesterday.
It came a day after the release of a scathing report into the Melbourne Archdiocese and its handling of sexual abuse complaints.
The commission was scathing of the late Ballarat Bishop Robert Mulkearns for orchestrating a widespread cover-up of abuse during his reign between 1971 and 1997.
It found on no occasion did the Bishop or any other member of the clergy report allegations or complaints of child sexual abuse to the police or other authority.
“The welfare of children was not the primary concern of senior members of the Diocese when responding to complaints and allegations of child sexual abuse,” the commission said.
“There is no doubt it should have been”.
It found the most likely explanation for the conduct of Bishop Mulkearns and other senior clergy was to minimise the risk of scandal and protect the reputation of the Church.
“This case study exposed a catastrophic failure in the leadership of the Diocese and ultimately in the structure and culture of the Church over decades,” the report found.
“That failure led to the suffering and often irreparable harm to children, their families and the wider community.
“That harm could have been avoided if the Church had acted in the interests of children rather than in its own interests.”
Current Ballarat Bishop Paul Bird said the mishandling of complaints against priests and church personnel and a lack of response to such complaints led to unnecessary suffering for many victims.
“Where the failures of my predecessors allowed abuse to occur, I offer my heartfelt apology,” he said.
In its report the commission said a survey indicated 196 people had made a claim of child sexual abuse against priests and religious in the Ballarat Diocese, 56 of those Christian Brothers.
Commissioners found there “was a complete failure by the Christian Brothers to protect the most vulnerable children in their care”.
In a statement yesterday, the Christian Brothers reiterated its apology to "all those who suffered abuse at any of our facilities and for the hurt and pain they have endured".
Statement from the Christian Brothers Oceania Province (Christian Brothers Oceania)
Vindication for Ballarat survivors after report released (The Courier)
Ballarat Catholic diocese catastrophic, abuse royal commission finds (The Australian)