Australia's Catholic church acknowledges "shame" of child abuse

Tue Nov 13, 2012 1:58am EST
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By James Grubel

CANBERRA (Reuters) - The head of Australia's powerful Catholic Church acknowledged the "shame" of child sex abuse among the clergy and welcomed a sweeping inquiry on Tuesday, but also warned that the extent of the problem within his church had been exaggerated.

On Monday, Prime Minister Julia Gillard ordered a rare Royal Commission, the highest form of investigation in Australia, into how churches, government bodies and other organizations have dealt with possibly thousands of child sex abuse claims.

George Pell, Australia's only cardinal, said the Church would cooperate fully with the new inquiry, which can compel witnesses to give evidence and produce documents, and that he did not believe the Catholic church was the main perpetrator.

"We are not interested in denying the extent of misdoing in the Catholic church. We object to it being exaggerated, we object to it being described as 'the only cab on the rank'," said Pell, who is also Archbishop of Sydney.

"We acknowledge, with shame, the extent of the problem and I want to assure you that we have been serious in attempting to eradicate it and deal with it," he told reporters in Sydney.

Gillard called the inquiry in the face of mounting political pressure after explosive reports that orders within the Catholic Church had covered up abuse claims and hindered police inquires over several decades in New South Wales and Victoria, Australia's two most populous states.

Pell denied the Catholic Church actively covered up any child abuse and said comprehensive procedures introduced in 1992 ensured full cooperation with police and swift action against alleged abusers.

"We will cooperate fully. We have nothing we want to hide," Pell said.   Continued...