ALLOWING Catholic priests and other clergy to marry could reduce some instances of child sexual abuse, an inquiry heard yesterday.
Former priest and RMIT University academic, Des Cahill, told the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious organisations that crimes had been recorded in a number of denominations but that the culture of the Catholic Church required “a circuit breaker.”
“Celibacy should be maintained but there should also be scope for diversity including married clergy,” he said.
“To introduce this (would) require major changes, not least of which is the financial implications.”
Professor Cahill said a majority of Catholics in Australia supported a married clergy, but that Church law remained too restrictive, despite married Anglican priests being ordained as Catholics in recent years.
He called on the Victorian Government to require the handling of abuse allegations to be independent of religious organisations and for transparency to be introduced into financial arrangements of churches.
The inquiry was established by the Baillieu Government after an internal Victoria Police report linked about 40 suicides in the Ballarat region to sexual abuse by Catholic priests and brothers dating back to the 1970s.
Professor Cahill served as a priest in the Archdiocese of Melbourne in the 1970s and said he had made a detailed study of graduates from the Corpus Christi College Seminary between 1940 and 1972.
He estimated that one in 20 priests ordained from the college had abused children in their care.
He said the analysis was consistent with the results of a study of more than 100,000 priests in the United States, which found that as many as 4300 had gone on to commit child abuse.
“One in 20 is a minimum. It might be one in 15, perhaps not as high as one in 10,” Professor Cahill said.
Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart and Catholic leaders have stated that 600 cases of child abuse by clergy have been upheld by a review.
Victorian Department of Human services secretary Gill Callister told the second day of public hearings that DHS staff members had reported instances of abuse to police even when the alleged victim did not want to make a report.
In contrast to Catholic Church officials in Victoria, Ms Callister said the department believed it was important that instances of abuse were recorded. Some victims, when approached by police, later made official reports.
She said by not observing the child’s wishes in every instance, better outcomes for other children could be achieved.
Last week, Victoria Police deputy commissioner Graham Ashton said Catholic officials had not reported a single instance of abuse in more than 50 years, often on the grounds that the victim did not want an official report.
Members of the committee asked Ms Callister for departmental advice on a possible extension of mandatory reporting laws to include ministers of religion.
The inquiry will resume public hearings on November 9.