This formal response of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) and Catholic Religious Australia (CRA) to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is addressed to those who have suffered from child sexual abuse and those who have suffered with them, to the Catholic community in Australia, to the Australian Government and to the Australian people.
The publication of this document, together with the final report of the Truth Justice and Healing Council (TJHC), marks for the Catholic Church in this country a most significant step in a journey which will continue far into the future. The journey began long before the Royal Commission was established; but the years of the Commission focused powerfully and painfully on the suffering of those abused, on the Church’s failure to address their suffering, the challenge this presents, and what is required if we are to ensure justice and compassion for those who have been abused, and a safer Church for all now and in the years ahead.
The ACBC and CRA are grateful to the Royal Commission for the service it has rendered to both the country and the Catholic Church, and we thank especially the survivors of abuse who showed such courage in coming forward to bear witness to their suffering. To them and their families we offer our sincere and unreserved apology, and we commit anew to doing whatever we can to heal the wounds of abuse and to make the Church a truly safe place for all. We renew to all our expression of profound sorrow that children and young people were abused by clergy, religious and lay workers of the Catholic Church, and that many bishops and religious leaders failed to act to prevent abuse and to report offenders to police.
Since the Royal Commission published its final report in mid-December 2017, the bishops and religious leaders have considered carefully the report’s recommendations and how to respond. In this task, we have been greatly assisted by the final report of the TJHC, itself a complex document which has required careful consideration. A major purpose of the Council’s final report was to assist the bishops and religious leaders in responding to the Royal Commission’s recommendations. That is why we have integrated parts of the Council’s report into this formal response. Here we wish to repeat our thanks to the TJHC for its unique service through the years of the Royal Commission and for its final report which is published in its four volumes with this response.
You will see in this document that the bishops and religious leaders have accepted or accepted in principle or supported 98 per cent of the Royal Commission’s recommendations. The one recommendation we cannot accept is Recommendation 7.4, which refers to the seal of the Sacrament of Penance. This is because it is contrary to our faith and inimical to religious liberty. We are committed to the safeguarding of children and vulnerable people while maintaining the seal. We do not see safeguarding and the seal as mutually exclusive.
A few recommendations have been marked “For further consideration”, and those which mention the Holy See have been marked as “Noted; ACBC has informed the Holy See”. As part of this process, the bishops will provide information on the background of the various recommendations in order to assist the Holy See as it formalises its responses.