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Broken Trust

Photo: http://www.stephenjones.org.au/opinion/a-royal-commission-into-child-abuse-and-systemic-cover-up/

On 12 November the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, announced that there would be a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, encompassing public and private organisations and institutions [1], including state care, residential homes, and religious organisations.

The news was met with elation and wary hope from victims, many of whom have waited for most of their lifetime to have their stories heard. Scouts Australia and Australia’s most senior Anglican Bishop released statements strongly supporting the Commission and condemning the abuse of children. [2] [3]

The organisation that was the major impetus for establishing the Commission was less welcoming about the announcement. Cardinal George Pell, the head of the Catholic Church in Australia, claimed the accusations against the Church were ‘exaggerated and historic’ [4] and part of a broader smear campaign.

The Commission comes after many years of campaigning by groups such as Broken Rites, which is Australia’s primary support group for victims of church-related sexual abuse. [5]  One organisation that Broken Rites has targeted for many years is St John of God, which has managed a home for intellectually disabled men and boys since the 1950s. 200 former residents of the home have asked for compensation, and it is estimated that of the 40 to 50 brothers working at the homes, 75% are alleged to have been abusers. [6]  The head of St John of God in Australia has admitted that crimes committed by the order are ‘indefensible’. [7]

It is estimated that there may be thousands of victims who will want to give evidence against various public and private organisations and institutions as part of the Commission, and from victims who have campaigned for years and lived with the mental and physical scars there is a general feeling of relief. It is to be hoped that the years of suffering and raising voices that are only now being heard, will result in justice for both the victims and those who broke what should be a 'sacred' trust.

[1] http://www.lawcouncil.asn.au/shadomx/apps/fms/fmsdownload.cfm?file_uuid=4A42BEE5-1999-B243-6E69-71C40DA6A8E4&siteName=lca
[2] http://www.scouts.com.au/main.asp?iMenuID=24777233
[3] http://ncronline.org/news/accountability/australian-commission-investigate-abuse-sydney-cardinal-provokes-backlash-citing
[4] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-11-13/abuse-victims-sceptical-of-pell-royal-commission-response/4370006
[5] http://brokenrites.alphalink.com.au/
[6] http://www.smh.com.au/national/75-of-st-john-brothers-accused-20121111-296st.html
[7] http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2012/s3649351.htm