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'Self-serving' culture in Catholic Church

AAP logoAAP 1/12/2016 By Rebekah Ison

A Catholic council executive has blamed a "self-serving" culture "that lost sight of its ethos" for the church prioritising its interests over child sexual abuse victims.

Truth Justice and Healing Council chief executive Francis Sullivan on Thursday lambasted a "clericalist culture" characterised by "power, privilege" and self-promotion, during evidence at the Royal Commission into Instiutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

"A culture that has lost sight of its ethos and, in a sense, lost the capacity for self-reflection," he said during a hearing into criminal justice issues in Sydney.

"That can be any institution but ... the Catholic Church's history here is so shameful and confronting, it's not up to us to lecture everybody."

In submissions to the royal commission, the TJHC says obligations to report child sexual abuse should not extend to disclosures made in the confession box.

Mr Sullivan said the royal commission had not heard of perpetrators admitting to offending during confession and that, if they did, going to authorities would likely be part of their forgiveness process.

"The whole point of a person going to something like confession ... means they are so sorry they want to be forgiven," he said.

"If they're that sorry, they will do what it takes to be forgiven."

Royal commission chair Peter McClellan opened the hearing on Monday by acknowledging the justice system's response to child sexual abuse to date had been clearly inadequate.

Mr Sullivan said his council supports the nationwide roll out of legislation requiring a person to report a belief of child sexual abuse to police unless there's a "reasonable excuse" for not doing so.

He said there should be an obligation to report where it is known an alleged offender is still alive, even if the the victim is over 16 and requests no one else to be told.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance has submitted the reporting obligation should relate to all citizens, with broad discretion allowed when considering whether a victim, who may have taken decades to report abuse, should be prosecuted.

ALA barrister Dr Andrew Morrison SC said the obligation to report should exist regardless of victims' wishes.

"Whilst it is stressful and traumatic for victims, the damage done to other potential victims is far more serious," he said.

The hearing is expected to continue on Friday.

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