(MintPress) – The Australian government has established a Royal Commission looking into widespread accusations of sexual abuse inside the Catholic Church and other institutions, setting the table for what could be a protracted battle pitting the government and victims against one of the most powerful religious institutions in the world.
Previous settlements in the U.S. have yielded multimillion dollar settlements for victims of abuse. The largest settlement occurred in 2007 when the Los Angeles Archdiocese reached $660 million civil settlement with more than 500 victims of child molestation, the biggest such agreement of its kind in the country.
Like the U.S., thousands of young boys and girls in Australia have come forth in recent years claiming members of clergy abused them sexually.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the formation of the Royal Commission in November, vetting qualified candidates to investigate what could be widespread sexual abuse against children.
New South Wales Supreme Court judge Peter McClellan was appointed to head the royal inquiry. Five other high-level candidates with backgrounds in law will join McClellan in the search.
Unlike other sexual abuse inquiries, there is no time limit for investigations. However, the five investigators have been assigned for a three-year stint to lead the Commission.
“Child sexual abuse is a hideous, shocking and vile crime. It is clear from what is already in the public domain that too many children were the subject of child sexual abuse in institutions,” said Prime Minister Gillard in a public statement.
While there are other serious problems to grapple with, the prime minister decided to focus the present search to only include instances of child sexual abuse in institutional settings. Those instances of sexual abuse in the home, or other non-institutional settings, will not be included.
This, critics charge, will hinder comprehensive investigations into all forms of sexual abuse. Additionally, Aboriginal groups have complained that the inquiry leaves marginalized children from racial and ethnic minorities on the fringes of the study.
Troubling, too, is the fact that priests can continue to lead congregations even after accusations come forth about sex crimes. This allows priests to receive salaries even during ongoing investigations.
In the U.S., investigations have not been lead by the government, but by victims themselves, coming forward after years in silence to file lawsuits. The U.S. has grappled with the largest number of sexual abuse cases, an indication that any action against the Catholic Church in Australia could yield a large number of victims.
Since 1950, the Catholic Church has paid more than $2 billion in settlements to more than 3,000 victims of sexual abuse in the U.S.