Appalling, dismal and catastrophic failures

Volume 16 of the Royal Commission’s (RC) final report focuses on religious organisations. It runs to 3 books, longer than any other volume in the report, and contains 58 recommendations. 7382 survivors (48.8% of those who contacted the RC) reported abuse, in 1691 religious institutions. This was more than in connection with any other type of organisation. There were 30 case studies which, amongst other issues, revealed that many religious leaders knew about allegations of abuse but failed to take any action. The failures of religious organisations are considered to be particularly troubling as a result of the significant part religion has played in the lives of many children. Many survivors reported that as a result of the abuse they had suffered a loss of faith as well as a loss of trust.

Most allegations related to abuse within the Roman Catholic Church followed then by the Anglican Church and the Salvation Army. The majority of survivors were male and the average age when abused was 10.3 years. They took on average 23.9 years to disclose the abuse. 52.9% of abusers were people in religious ministry.

The recommendations relate to governance and internal culture as well as underlying theological and scriptural beliefs and practices. Some of the recommendations are specific to individual institutions and some apply across organisations. The report is damning in the history it uncovered of abuse within religious organisations referring to “the catastrophic failures of leadership of the Roman Catholic church”; the “appalling” failure of the leadership of the Salvation Army to respond to disclosure; that the “Jehovah’s Witness organisation had inadequate regard for the risk that the person might reoffend”; the “dismal” responses of the Jewish organisations to the disclosures which had been made with efforts being made to silence survivors and condemn those who would not be silent; the lack of reporting to the police by Anglican clergy with one Bishop acknowledging had he gone to the police “much suffering would have been avoided”.

Consideration is made of contributing factors which are specific to religious organisations. These were noted to include clericalism (the idealisation of the priesthood), hierarchical structures, lack of involvement of lay people and women, compulsory celibacy and vowed chastity, confession, scripture based policies including the “two-witness” rule and the principle of male headship, dispersed and decentralised authority.

The RC has recommended that all institutions implement the 10 Child Safe Standards as well as the many specific recommendations which are made for each institution covering all issues relating to the prevention of abuse and the response where it has occurred. All religious organisations no matter how large or small should now take time to consider these three reports. It can only be assumed that over the next few years the IICSA in its own investigations in to religious organisations will seek details of what attention has been paid to these reports. Ignoring them and failing to consider their application is not a practical option.

jefferson_p_web Written by Paula Jefferson, partner and head of Abuse and Neglect at BLM

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