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Abuse report is critical of RCs

22 November 2013

SHUTTERSTOCK

THE Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into child sexual abuse has recommended significant state legislative changes in its final report, Betrayal of Trust, which was tabled in Parliament last week.

The recommendations include the compulsory reporting of child sexual abuse to police, and creating two new offences: a child-endangerment offence, and a grooming offence. The proposed child-endangerment offence would make it a criminal offence for people in authority knowingly to put a child at risk, or fail to remove a child from that risk. The report does not, however, recommend changes to the law that protects the seal of the confessional.

The report has also recommended that organisations that receive government funding or tax benefits should be incorporated and insured, so that they could be sued by victims. To date, attempts at suing Churches, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, have failed because they are not incorporated. The report also recommends excluding child abuse from the statute of limitations, to make it easier for victims to sue Churches.

The report singled out the RC Church for particular criticism, saying that senior leaders of that Church had "trivialised the problem"; contributed to abuse's not being disclosed before the 1990s; kept the community of Victoria uninformed about abuse; and "en-sured that perpetrators were not held accountable". This had had the "tragic result" that children continued to be abused when this could have been avoided.

The RC Church's past handling of the matter showed that it was an organisation "at high risk of its personnel perpetrating criminal child abuse", the report said. Other Churches shared many of the features that made the RC Church vulnerable, it said, but it did not single out other named Churches for similar criticism.

Georgina Crozier, a member of the Legislative Council and the Parliamentary Secretary for Health, who chairs the inquiry committee, described the RC Church's behaviour as a "betrayal beyond comprehension". Its leaders saw child abuse as a "short-term embarrassment", she said.

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