The Australian Catholic bishops confirmed Wednesday that they will participate in a national compensation program for survivors of child sexual abuse, pending the program’s approval by the legislature.
The first non-governmental institution to join, the Australian Church’s participation was established May 30 in a joint statement from Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian bishops’ conference, and Sister Ruth Durick, OSU, president of Catholic Religious Australia.
The bishops support the scheme and are “keen to participate in it,” Archbishop Coleridge said, citing its formation under the recommendation of the Royal Commission and its administration by the Commonwealth.
“Survivors deserve justice and healing and many have bravely come forward to tell their stories.”
Durick added that they recognize monetary restitution is not enough to take away survivors’ pain, but they hope it will provide “practical assistance on the journey towards recovery from abuse.”
She also stressed the commitment “to providing redress to survivors who were abused within the Catholic Church.”
The redress program will begin July 1 if passed in the Australian Senate, according to federal Social Services Minister Dan Tehan, who is overseeing the scheme.
According to Australia’s ABC News, Tehan described the Church’s participation as “incredibly significant,” hoping that it would encourage other non-governmental institutions to also join the program.
The Australian bishops’ announcement shows the Catholic Church is “prepared to take responsibility and it shows they want to offer redress to those survivors,” he said.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney said that in joining the redress scheme, the Church expects “to be paying out for survivors for many years to come” and the bishops “stand ready to do that. We are going to back that [with] our insurance and our assets,” reports ABC News.
“We are determined to bring justice and full redress, healing if we can, to the victims of this terrible crime.”
Australia’s sexual abuse crisis has been one of the most infamous in the Church. A report from the Australian Royal Commission released Dec. 15, 2017, found serious failings in the protection of children from abuse in the Catholic Church and other major secular and religious institutions.
During the commission’s investigation, some of the country’s clergy responded, including Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne and Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, who both expressed sorrow and regret for the Church’s failure in this area.
“Deeply mindful of the hurt and pain caused by abuse, I once again offer my apology on behalf of the Catholic Church,” Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, then-president of the Australian bishops’ Conference, said in a Feb. 5 letter to the faithful of Australia.
“I am sorry for the damage that has been done to the lives of victims of sexual abuse. As Pope Francis said recently, ‘it is a sin that shames us.’”
Australian Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, is currently on a leave of absence from his Vatican position as he faces charges of “historic sexual offenses” in Australia.