PM orders inquiry into church child abuse

A royal commission to investigate the responses of religious, state and community groups to acts and allegations of child sexual abuse will be appointed by the end of the year.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced yesterday she would ask Governor-General Quentin Bryce to set up the inquiry, which would have no deadline and could run for years, amid calls for a national response by federal Labor, independent and Greens MPs.

"Any instance of child abuse is a vile and evil thing. Australians know that," Ms Gillard said yesterday.

"Australians know, from the revelations that they've read in recent weeks, that too many children have suffered child abuse but have also seen other adults let them down.

"They've not only had their trust betrayed by the abuser but other adults who could have acted to assist them have failed to do so."

She hoped that the royal commission would help heal victims and ensure that child abuse "never, ever happens again".

Stephen Jones back the call for a Royal Commission into child abuse in the Catholic Church. Picture: ANDREW MEARES

Stephen Jones back the call for a Royal Commission into child abuse in the Catholic Church. Picture: ANDREW MEARES

The broad inquiry will cover religious institutions of all denominations, state institutions, schools, not-for-profit groups such as scouts and sporting clubs, and also look at police responses.

"It's not just the evil of the people who do it, there has been a systemic failure to respond to it and to protect children," Ms Gillard said.

"We need to learn the lessons about how institutions can best respond when there are allegations of sexual abuse of children."

Throsby MP Stephen Jones backed calls for a royal commission.

"My church - the Catholic Church - has been at the centre of the storm," Mr Jones said yesterday.

"I don't believe that they are the only institution in the country that has behaved in this way. Therefore a royal commission should not be confined to the affairs of any one religious institution in any one state," he said in a detailed statement on Facebook.

"A royal commission could be the only way for the truth to be known and to enable the church to truly demonstrate that it has not only purged itself of the past culture of cover-up, but the perpetrators as well."

Meantime the move is likely to win political support, since Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said yesterday any investigation of child abuse should be wide-ranging and not focused on just the Catholic Church.

The church currently faces a special commission in NSW to investigate allegations of abuse by clergy in the Hunter region and a possible cover-up.

A Victorian parliamentary inquiry is already examining sexual abuse by clergy in that state.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and the acting minister for families, Brendan O'Connor, will work with the premiers and chief ministers, victims' groups, religious leaders and community organisations in the next few weeks to establish terms of reference for the commission.

Ms Gillard said she expected the work would be finalised, and the commissioner or commissioners be appointed, by the end of the year.

She spoke with NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell and Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu yesterday to discuss how a national royal commission would fit in with their state-based inquiries.

But she stressed the commission was not targeted at any one church and said the Catholic Church's senior cleric in Australia, Cardinal George Pell, had indicated "he's taking a very co-operative attitude". AAP


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