An inquiry into child sex abuse in Australia says the Catholic Church should end mandatory celibacy among clergy.
After a five-year investigation, the Royal Commission into Institution Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found there were “catastrophic failures of leadership” in the church, stretching “over many decades”.
More than 8,000 survivors of abuse testified to the royal commission – the country’s highest form of inquiry – and of those abused in religious institutions, 62% were Catholics.
Following a wide-ranging investigation which started in 2012, its final report makes a total of 189 recommendations.
One of these is for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to call on the Vatican to consider introducing voluntary celibacy for members of the clergy.
The report also asks for more clarity on whether the seal of secrecy in confession covers information that a child has been sexually abused, and whether absolution of a perpetrator should be withdrawn until they confess to the police.
The call for clarity comes after Catholic clerics who testified to the royal commission gave conflicting opinions about what, if anything, a priest could reveal about what was said about child abuse in a confessional.
The report recommends that failing to report child abuse should be a criminal offence, and clerics should not be exempt from prosecution.
Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’s former finance minister, gave evidence via video link from the Vatican about his time as a priest and bishop in Australia.
Pell is the most senior Catholic official to face charges of historical sex crimes and has vowed to fight against them.
The church was criticised for its response to complaints and concerns about clerics, with the commission saying it was “remarkably and disturbingly familiar”.
Archbishop Denis Hart, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said the report “would have a significant impact on the way the Catholic Church and others operate in Australia”.
He said the bishops would raise the celibacy and confession recommendations with the Vatican and apologised for the church failing children in the past.
But he hinted there was unlikely to be any changes when it comes to confession, saying: “The seal of the confessional, or the relationship with God that’s carried through the priest and with the person, is inviolable.
“It can’t be broken.”