Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will issue a formal apology to child sexual abuse victims, as part of the government’s response to a sweeping five-year inquiry in institutional child abuse.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released its final report last December, describing a “serious failure” by Australia’s institutions to protect child victims and listing 409 recommendations.
The landmark report estimated that tens of thousands of children had been abused in Australian churches, youth groups, care homes and schools, in what the commission described as a “national tragedy.”
The report comes amid worldwide calls for institutional change, most notably from Pope Francis who has said he felt “ashamed” of the Catholic Church’s failure to listen to victims of child sex abuse.
Recommendations from the Royal Commission
Speaking before Parliament on Wednesday, Turnbull seemed to echo the Pope’s sentiment as he praised survivors for speaking out and promised them redress.
“For many of you, the royal commission was the first chance you had to be heard, to be have your pain acknowledged and most importantly to be believed,” he said.
“You were believed and the wrongdoers have been brought to account. Your courage has helped expose the scale of institutional child sexual abuse in our country.”
Turnbull said that the government would accept or accept in principle 104 of the 122 recommendations that fell under the commonwealth’s jurisdiction, while the remaining 18 underwent further consideration. “The Australian Government has not rejected any of the Royal Commission’s recommendations,” Turnbull said in a statement.
Turnbull said he would deliver a national apology on October 22 to the victims of child sexual abuse, timed to coincide with National Children’s Week. Other measures include appointing an Assistant Minister for Children and Families and implementing a Commonwealth Child Safe Framework.
The most significant move is the establishment of a National Redress Scheme, one of the Royal Commission’s key recommendations, which will begin on July 1 and run for 10 years. Other outside institutions have also joined the Scheme, including the Catholic Church, Anglican Church, Uniting Church, Salvation Army, YMCA and Scouts.
In following with the Royal Commission’s recommendations, the government will make yearly progress reports for the next five years, and conduct a review after 10 years.
“It’s a very, very positive step,” said Cathy Kezelman, the president of Blue Knot Foundation, which helps adult survivors with childhood trauma. However, she noted that “there are a lot of aspects to recovery.”
“The prime minister made these statements and they’re fantastic, but we need to see them happen,” she said. “The proof is in the implementation and in the ongoing scrutiny to ensure that things really do change and that the children really are safe.”
In May Australian Archbishop Philip Wilson became the highest ranking Catholic official to be convicted of covering up child abuse. He was removed from his post as Archbishop of Adelaide earlier this month. He’s due to be sentenced on June 19 and faces up to two years in prison.
Cardinal George Pell, the most senior member of the Catholic church to ever face sex assault charges, is due to face trial in Melbourne soon on multiple counts of historical abuse. Pell is on leave from his role as Vatican treasurer while he contests the claims. He vigorously denies all charges.
Allegations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church stretch across multiple countries with large Catholic populations, including Austria, Brazil, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and perhaps most famously, the United States, where children accused more than 4,000 priests of sexual abuse between 1950 and 2002, according to a report compiled by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
CNN’s Jennifer Hauser contributed to this report.