SANDHURST Bishop Leslie Tomlinson has apologised to victims and survivors of sexual abuse, following figures indicating the diocese was the second worst in Australia for rates of alleged child sexual abuse in a 60-year period.
The data released from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse related to the period between 1950 and 2010, in which almost 15 per cent of priests who ministered in the Sandhurst Diocese were accused of child sexual offences.
“The evidence of the Royal Commission, along with all we have heard over the past four years, can only be interpreted for what it is - a massive failure on the part of the Catholic Church as an institution in Australia to protect our children from abusers and predators,” the bishop wrote in a statement.
He acknowledged that the Diocese of Sandhurst had its share of perpetrators of sexual abuse, “like every other Diocese in Australia”.
“To have a single priest abuser was one too many and to have a single claim against a Diocese was also one too many,” the bishop wrote.
However, he said the rates of alleged child sexual abuse in the Diocese of Sandhurst needed to be read “in the correct context”.
“Over a 60-year period, the Sandhurst Diocese had a total of 27 claims of abuse, of which 14 were substantiated,” the bishop wrote.
“The report identified 1880 alleged perpetrators across Australia, of which 384 were Diocesan priests.
“The total number of priests from the Sandhurst Diocese alleged to have been perpetrators, using the 14.7 percent figure stated in the report released yesterday by the Royal Commission, is 16.
“This is consistent with data held by the Diocese.
“On these figures, the 16 Sandhurst priests represent 4.1 percent of the total alleged perpetrators Australia-wide.”
The last report of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest in the Sandhurst Diocese was 26 years ago, in 1991.
“As the Bishop of the Diocese of Sandhurst, I have apologised to victims and survivors of sexual abuse on several occasions in the past. I wish to take this opportunity to do so again,” it was written.
“I remain committed to working with victims, survivors and their families into the future.
“As a Diocese and community we will work together to ensure that this betrayal can never occur again.”
It doesn’t matter how long ago abuse occurred, you can seek assistance.Kate Wright, LCCASA
The Diocese has recruited a child safety officer to ensure all proper processes for protection of children are in place and maintained.
Bishop Tomlinson said the position would assist in the meeting the requirements of the Victorian Government’s child safety regulations in schools, parishes and charitable organisations.
“We commit to working with the findings of the Royal Commission to ensure a positive future for our young people and those entrusted to our care,” he wrote.
“I believe that the Diocese is very well served by a dedicated clergy, in who I have the utmost confidence.
“I encourage anyone who has suffered sexual abuse to report it to the police.”
The Sandhurst Diocese covers the area from Kerang to Mount Beauty, and includes the regional centres of Bendigo, Shepparton, Wangaratta and Wodonga.
The diocese was second only to the Diocese of Sale for the proportion of priests alleged to have sexually abused children between 1950 and 2010.
Loddon Campaspe Centre Against Sexual Assault chief executive officer Kate Wright said the figures meant many people and their lives had been affected by what had occurred.
“It is important for people who have been sexually abused in their past or for people who may be currently experiencing abuse to know where they can seek support and counselling,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter how long ago abuse occurred, you can seek assistance.
“It is also really important to know that if you experienced sexual abuse or violence it wasn’t your fault and victims are never to blame.”
Ms Wright said sexual abuse was about power and control and the value placed on one person by someone choosing to use abuse.
Institutional abuse relates to how people have been empowered by their organisation and the structure they work or operate in to feel they can exert this power in a sexual way.
Ms Wright said institutional abuse was also documented in schools and sporting clubs, amongst others.
“Hopefully the recommendations from the Commission will address the underlying causes and address systems within organisations that allowed the abuse to continue,” she said.
Loddon Campaspe Centre Against Sexual Assault provides confidential counselling, support and advocacy to adults and children across the regions.
The centre also works with non-offending family members, and can provide information, answer questions and also refer to other centres against sexual assault across the state.
“All CASA’s across Victoria have processes to prioritise people for support and services that have been affected by institutionalised sexual abuse,” Ms Wright said.
She said people could contact LCCASA during business hours on 5441 0430, or call the state-wide Sexual Assault Crisis Line on 1800 806 292, which also operates after hours.