More than one in every nine Catholic priests in Wollongong were alleged child molesters between 1950 and 2010, the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse heard on Monday.
In the opening address of the Commission’s 50th public hearing, where dozens of senior church members are scheduled to appear over the next three weeks, the Diocese of Wollongong was listed as one of the five areas with the highest proportion of priests who were alleged child sex abusers.
11.7% of priests from the Diocese of Wollongong were alleged perpetrators- Counsel assisting the royal commission Gail Furness
“[Overall] 11.7 per cent of priests from the Diocese of Wollongong were alleged perpetrators,” counsel assisting the royal commission Gail Furness, SC, said in her opening address.
According to a detailed breakdown of the data, Wollongong’s history of abuse began in the 1960s, when 11.2 per cent of priests were alleged to be perpetrators.
By the 1980s, 14.1 per cent of priests in Wollongong diocese were the subject of a child abuse allegations, while in the 1990s it dropped back to 11.3 per cent.
In the 2000s it was lower (but still comparably high) at 9.2 per cent.
Ms Furness said the research examined 75 Catholic authorities over a 60-year period, and found that seven per cent of priests across Australia were alleged perpetrators.
The dioceses of Lismore, Port Pirie, Sandhurst and Sale were also highlighted as areas with a high proportion of alleged abusers.
Ms Furness also highlighted that five religious orders with only religious brother members had the highest overall proportion of alleged perpetrators.
The data found 40.4 per cent of St John of God Brothers were alleged perpetrators and 22 per cent of Christian Brothers (the brotherhood which ministered at Edmund Rice) were alleged perpetrators.
Whitlam MP Stephen Jones, who attended Edmund Rice and has previously spoken out about the culture of abuse at the school, said the statistics about Wollongong were “chilling”.
“I am surprised, because you hear lots of stories or you knew stuff growing up in this community, but to see it represented in statistics, it’s chilling,” he said.
“In the past, you’ve known that there was a series of perpetrators, or maybe a pattern at a certain school or diocese, but when you can see one in ten priests in Wollongong over a period of time were involved in child sexual abuse over many decades, it’s just absolutely extraordinary.”
He said the release of the data “vindicates the decision of the Gillard government to set the commission into child sexual abuse up” and said the church must outline how it planned to deal with the “legacy of decades of abuse and cover up”.
“There were hundreds of perpetrators, thousands of victims around the country who are still dealing with what happened to them as kids, and it’s not enough for them to say this is all in the past,” Mr Jones said.
The CEO of the church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council Francis Sullivan on Monday told the commission the data “undermines the image and credibility of the priesthood”.
“The data tells us that over the six decades from 1950 to 2010 some 1265 Catholic priests and religious [practitioners] were the subject of a child sexual abuse claim,” he said.
“These numbers are shocking, they are tragic and they are indefensible.
“And each entry in this data, for the most part represents a child who suffered at the hands of someone who should have cared for and protected them.
“The data provides, as best it can, a public accounting of what has occurred; a public record of the number of people coming forward to say they were abused.
“We recognise that many have not come forward and never will.
“As Catholics we hang our heads in shame.”