The Vatican has said the devastating report by Australia’s Royal Commission into institutional sex abuse is “thorough” and deserves to be “studied seriously”.
In its first comments on the inquiry released on Friday, the Vatican said it was committed to helping Australian victims of paedophile priests find healing and justice.
The Royal Commission recommended the Catholic Church lift its demand of clerical celibacy and that priests be prosecuted for failing to report abuse they learn of in the confessional.
The Vatican did not comment on those recommendations.
Church officials have previously rejected any link between celibacy and abuse, and reaffirmed the sanctity of the confessional.
The investigation, which covered abuse in state and religious institutions, concluded there were “catastrophic failures of leadership of Catholic Church authorities over many decades”.
The report heard the testimonies of more than 8,000 survivors of child sex abuse. Of those who were abused in religious institution, 62% were Catholics.
“We have concluded that there were catastrophic failures of leadership of Catholic Church authorities over many decades,” the report said.
Recommendations include that the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference request that the Vatican consider introducing voluntary celibacy for clergy.
The bishops’ body should also request clarity on whether information received in the confessional that a child has been sexually abused is covered by the seal of secrecy and whether absolution of a perpetrator should be withdrawn until the perpetrator confesses to police.
Catholic clerics who testified to the royal commission gave varying opinions about what if anything a priest could divulge about what was said in a confessional about child abuse.
The commission’s recommendations, which with interim reports total 409, include making failure to report child abuse a criminal offence. Clerics would not be exempt from being charged.
Pope Francis’s former finance minister, Cardinal George Pell, testified in a video link from the Vatican in 2016 about his time as a priest and bishop in Australia. Pell this year became the most senior Catholic official to face sex offence charges.
Pell has vowed to fight the charges of sexual assault offenses.
The commission found that the church’s responses to complaints and concerns about clerics in Australia were “remarkably and disturbingly similar”.
President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Denis Hart, said the commission “would have significant impact on the way the Catholic Church and others operate in Australia”.
He said the bishops would put to the Vatican the recommendations on celibacy and the confession.
“The seal of the confessional, or the relationship with God that’s carried through the priest and with the person, is inviolable. It can’t be broken,” he told reporters.
He apologised for the church failing children in the past.
Catholicism is the largest denomination in majority-Christian Australia.