Australia PM will make national apology to sex abuse victims

SYDNEY — Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will deliver a national apology to child sex abuse victims as part of the government's response to a long-running inquiry that heard allegations against government and private institutions and prominent individuals in five years of hearings.

The apology, to be delivered on Oct. 22 after public consultations, was announced Wednesday as Turnbull outlined his government's formal reaction to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Its inquiry ended in December after taking evidence from leaders such as Vatican Cardinal George Pell, who is charged with committing historical sex abuses himself and was accused of failing to protect children.

Turnbull's government will adopt 104 of the 122 recommendations the royal commission made to it, including establishing a national office for child safety and joining a redress payments program. The 18 other recommendations remain under consideration.

"It's been harrowing work," Turnbull told a news conference in Canberra. "Now that we've uncovered the shocking truth, we must do everything in our power to honor the bravery of the thousands of people who came forward."

The royal commission, Australia's highest form of investigation, heard more than 8,000 harrowing personal stories alleging sexual abuse. Taking evidence at 57 public hearings across the country, it heard of alleged abuse in various institutions including schools, sport and hobby groups, and religious organizations.

Pell, Australia's most senior Catholic official, gave evidence to the inquiry on three separate occasions. A counsel to the royal commission said in final submissions that Pell and other Catholic officials had failed to exercise proper care for children in Victoria state by not acting on information about alleged sexual abuse by priests — an allegation Pell strenuously denied.

As a result of a separate Victorian police investigation, Pell is to face trial on charges of sexual abuse. Pope Francis' finance adviser, Pell is the most senior Vatican official to be charged in the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis. Pell has pleaded not guilty to the charges, the details and number of which have not been made public.

Turnbull said on Wednesday the national office for child safety would come into effect July 1, as would a national redress program involving the federal and state governments to provide payments to victims.

Federal Social Services Minister Dan Tehan said the maximum possible payment to each victim would be $150,000 Australian dollars (US$113,000), lower than recommended, though the average payment would be higher than the royal commission had recommended.

Turnbull said the commission had revealed shocking abuse of children. "It revealed that for too long the reporting of this abuse was met with indifference and denial by the very adults and institutions who were supposed to protect them," Turnbull said.

The royal commission also made a number of recommendations directed toward the Vatican, including that any child abuse disclosed during Catholic confession should be reported to police. It also recommended that the Australian Catholic Church should seek permission from the Vatican to introduce voluntary celibacy for the clergy.

Australia is now seeking to harmonize laws across its states and territories to act on the royal commission's recommendations. Already, the state of South Australia has said that from October, church confessions will no longer be exempt from laws concerning the mandatory reporting of child sex abuse.

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