Royal commission: archbishop says response by church ‘criminal negligence’

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher
Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher

The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney says the response by church leaders to child sexual abuse allegations was on par with “criminal negligence".

 Archbishop Anthony Fisher was one of five of Australia's Catholic archbishops who fronted the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in the final days of the public hearing in Sydney on Thursday.

"I think you might want to use stronger words (than failure) in some cases, that it was a kind of criminal negligence to deal with some of the problems that were staring us in the face," he told the inquiry. 

"In other cases, I think there were people that were just like rabbits in the headlights, they just had no idea what to do, and their performance was appalling."

Archbishop Fisher said the Catholic community as a whole “hangs its head in shame”.

“No excuses, no cover-ups, no paedophiles ever again near our schools,” he said.  

Archbishop Fisher said ignorance of the damage caused by sexual abuse and a “lack of empathy” were factors in the church’s failure to respond.

“There was a lack of empathy, too, often,” he said. 

“It is not just that they didn't understand intellectually, they didn't feel the pain that was being caused and the long-term pain. 

“Part of both of those was a self-protectiveness on the part of the institution, you didn't want scandal, you didn't want causes for people to think less of the clergy.”

Archbishop of Perth Timothy Costelloe told the inquiry there had been a “catastrophic failure in leadership” in regards to sexual child abuse.

Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge said structures within the church had also failed. 

“Structures are only as good as the people you put in them, and I'm afraid many of the structures did struggle, and even fail, because the people who were in those structures seemed unable to do what the structure itself require,” he said.

The latest hearings began two weeks ago with Royal Commission data showing a total of 1880 perpetrators had been identified as alleged abusers since 1950, amid complaints by 4444 victims made to the Church between 1980 and February 2015.

Tomorrow is the final day of the hearing.