Victims of pedophile Australian Catholic priests and their families welcomed an inquiry into child sex abuse called after allegations of cover-ups by the clergy, but urged it to report back quickly.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard ordered a royal commission yesterday, ending more than a decade of growing pressure to investigate allegations of pedophilia within religious organizations, schools and state care.
The announcement came as a Catholic brother and a former teacher at a Catholic school, both aged in their late 50s, were arrested by New South Wales police and charged with abuse of children dating back to the late 1980s.
Victims’ groups and their families hailed the inquiry, which follows allegations from a senior New South Wales police investigator that the Catholic Church in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney had hushed up abuse.
“We’re elated that it’s happened. We now need to see good, solid results coming out of it,’’ said Anthony Foster, whose two daughters were raped by their Catholic parish priest for years from when they were young children.
“It’s really, really important now that it moves forward very quickly, that it’s well-resourced, that we don’t see it dragging on forever,’’ he told state broadcaster ABC.
Foster, who with his wife Chrissie has been a long-term campaigner for a royal commission, said he hoped the inquiry was completed within two years.
The Fosters’ eldest daughter Emma committed suicide and her sister Katie began drinking and was hit by a car, leaving her physically and mentally disabled and requiring 24-hour care.
Foster said when he first confronted the church, in the mid-1990s, he was handled dismissively and his children accused of making up stories.
Australia’s most senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, has also welcomed the royal commission, saying the Church would cooperate fully.
“Public opinion remains unconvinced that the Catholic Church has dealt adequately with sexual abuse,” he said in a statement. “I believe the air should be cleared and the truth uncovered.’’
Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, the senior police officer who last week made public his views that the Catholic Church had silenced inquiries, also welcomed the commission and said it should result in law reform.
One area of focus should be what needed to be done when priests confessed to sex crimes to other priests under the protection of the confessional, he said.
Fox added that since he had made his views public he had received a lot of support but said there had also been an “uglier side’’.
“I don’t want to go into it too deeply, but this is the end of my policing career,” he told the ABC.