The Vatican should make celibacy voluntary for priests as the mandatory requirement contributes to child abuse, a report submitted to the Australian government said on Friday. The report also recommended introducing a law that forces priests to report child abuse that they are told about in the confessional.
Over 60% of the victims of child abuse in religious institutions were molested in a Catholic organisation, the report said, making over 189 new recommendations for the government and organisations to keep children safe. Twenty of the recommendations include the Church’s involvement.
The 17-volume document, prepared after five years of investigation, is the final report. Three other reports were submitted in the past that had made shocking findings and over 200 recommendations. It was prepared by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the report had “exposed a national tragedy”, Reuters reported. Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said he was “appalled by the sinful and criminal activity of some clergy, religious and lay church-workers [and] ashamed of the failure to respond by some church leaders”.
Turnbull said his government would consider the recommendations over the coming year.
The inquiry covered religious, government, educational and professional organisations. “We now know that countless thousands of children have been sexually abused in many institutions in Australia,” the report said. “In many institutions, multiple abusers have sexually abused children.”
The report detailed accounts alleging cover-ups of abuse in the Australian Catholic Church, including allegations that suspected priests were moved between parishes to avoid detection of their crime.
The investigation found “multiple and persistent failings of institutions to keep children safe, the cultures of secrecy and cover-up, and the devastating affects child sexual abuse can have on an individual’s life”, the commission said.
Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart said a law to make priests report child abuse people confess to would undermine a central tenet of Catholicism. “I would feel terribly conflicted, and I would try even harder to get that person outside confessional, but I cannot break the seal,” Hart said. “...as part of my identity as a priest, I have to observe the seal of the confession.”