(Photo: Reuters/Tim Wimborne)
George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney and Australia's leading Roman Catholic official, has said the Church will cooperate with the government's plan to investigate child sex abuse cases, but maintains that the problem is not exclusive to the church nor as widespread as the media makes it seem.
"Sexual abuse is not confined to the Catholic Church. Tragically, it occurs in families, churches, community groups, schools and other organizations," a joint statement by Australia's leading archbishops said.
"While there were significant problems concerning some dioceses and some religious orders, talk of a systemic problem of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is ill-founded and inconsistent with the facts," the statement added.
Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, who is leading the investigation into multiple allegations of child sex abuse, has said the scandal has been building up against the Roman Catholic Church for "decades."
"The church covers up, silences victims, hinders police investigations, alerts offenders, destroys evidence and moves priests to protect the good name of the church," Inspector Fox said.
Pell has responded by saying that although he supports efforts for the truth to be uncovered, he remains confident that the Catholic Church has dealt with such cases in an adequate manner.
"Ongoing and at times one-sided media coverage has deepened this uncertainty. This is one of the reasons for my support for this royal commission," Cardinal Pell said, noting that the church had "taken decisive steps in the past 20 years to make child safety a priority and to help the victims of abuse."
The commission overseeing the child abuse investigation was also backed by Danielle Cronin, who chairs the parent committee of the National Catholic Education Commission.
"As parents and representatives of parent associations, we have a very strong interest in the protection of children anywhere and at any time," Cronin said. "These matters, and these particular matters, need to be resolved urgently, but in relation to the royal commission we have no further comment at this point until we have more information."
Australian Education Union Federal President Angelo Gavrielatos described child sexual abuse as "abhorrent," and said that anyone who is deemed guilty of such a crime needs to be punished to the maximum extent of the law.
"All students, and their parents or carers, have the right to expect that schools will be safe places," added Andrew Barr, national chairman of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia.
"AHISA has a history of campaigning on pastoral care issues such as onscreen violence and violence in computer games, and more recently on cyber bullying. We will be looking for ways to co-operate with and assist the commission."