THE Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has called on the Anglican Church of Australia to adopt consistent national standards for the selection, screening, and training of clergy, as well as uniform mandatory national rules on professional standards.
The commission concluded its five-year inquiry by releasing its 17-volume final report last week (News, 15 December). It has also called for uniform episcopal standards to govern current and former bishops.
Because of its federal constitution, the 23 Australian dioceses have varying standards in these and other areas, a situation that the commission has consistently challenged. The General Synod, however, meeting last September, passed a comprehensive set of canons designed for implementation by diocesan synods to provide uniformity.
The commission heard four times as many allegations of abuse against Roman Catholic clergy and institutions than any other religious institution it examined: it was accused by 62 per cent of survivors interviewed. Almost 15 per cent of survivors alleged abuse from within the Anglican Church.
The RC Church in Australia should ask the Vatican for permission to introduce voluntary celibacy for the clergy, the commission said. It found that compulsory celibacy had contributed to the high level of sexual abuse. It also recommended that Australian laws be changed to require clergy to report abuse disclosed in the confessional.
A new offence in law should be created for failing to report abuse to the police, the commission said; and this should cover all those in religious ministry and involved in institutions for children.
While RC archbishops in Australia have expressed a willingness to ask the Vatican for a change to the celibacy discipline, they have adamantly refused any change to the seal of the confessional.
The Anglican Primate, Dr Philip Freier, Archbishop of Melbourne, said that the case studies involving sections of the Anglican Church had been “shocking and distressing”, and had confronted the Church with its failures. “The work of making the Church a safe place is never finished,” he said. He committed the Church to improving “our systems, protocols, and procedures”.