FOR the first time, a Catholic spokesman has acknowledged that the church in Australia covered up sex abuse, according to a reform group of Catholics.
The group praised Francis Sullivan, CEO of the yet-to-be-formed Catholic Truth, Justice and Healing Commission, for admitting to the media this week that he was personally scandalised and disillusioned by the church's history of cover-ups.
Peter Johnstone, chairman of Catholics for Renewal, said on Friday the church had previously acknowledged that it had mishandled abuse cases, but not cover-ups. He welcomed this week's announcement of the lay-led Catholic council to advise the bishops about sex abuse and co-ordinate the church's response to the forthcoming royal commission.
Mr Sullivan, who called himself a committed Catholic, said on Friday he shared the perception cover-ups were widespread in the church. ''Like ordinary Catholics, I feel very disillusioned at how this whole thing has been portrayed, and the scandal involves cover-ups.''
He said he was happy if people were optimistic about the new council.
''I'm not into spin. I'm absolutely committed to projecting the heart of the church, which is pastoral, spiritual, compassionate and embracing.''
Mr Johnstone, a former director-general of Community Services for Victoria, also described his group as committed Catholics, who wanted reform at the top. In October 2011 it sponsored an open letter to the Pope, signed by more than 8000 Australian Catholics, about the ''manifestly inadequate'' church response to clergy sexual abuse.
''The church's decision-making is too remote from the people. The church is very centralised on matters of importance, and the record shows that local bishops were acting under clear instructions in only reporting such matters to Rome and hiding them from civil authorities.''