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Royal Commission into child sex abuse has final sitting

Child sex abuse survivors are demanding justice when the Royal Commission into paedophile priests hands down its findings after five years of harrowing testimonies.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse held a final sitting in Sydney on Thursday to mark the end of a $500 million investigation.

Speaking on the final hearing day, Royal Commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan said the abuse of tens of thousands of children was a national tragedy.

‘There must be changes in the culture, structure and governance practices of many institutions,’ he said.

The inquiry, launched by former prime minister Julia Gillard in 2012, has heard about the most vile abuse committed against children by Catholic Church priests.

The paedophile with yellowing finger nails Father Peter Searson abused kids over 35 years

Father Gerard Risdale was convicted of 79 child sexual abuse and indecent assault offences

Father Gerard Risdale was convicted of 79 child sexual abuse and indecent assault offences

More than 4,000 individual institutions were reported to the Royal Commission as places where abuse occurred.

The perpetrators included Melbourne priest Father Peter Searson, who showed a corpse in a coffin to children, sexually abused children, engaged in animal cruelty and held a knife to a girl’s chest during his 35 years teaching children in South Australia and Victoria.

But the paedophile with yellowing, long fingernails was far from being the only predator.

There was also Father Gerard Risdale, based at Ballarat in western Victoria.

He was convicted of 79 child abuse and indecent assault charges against children for offences committed from the 1960s to the 1980s at St Alipius Primary School, a boys’ boarding school.

Royal commissioners Justice Peter McClellan and Justice Jennifer Coates hold the final sitting of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney

Royal commissioners Justice Peter McClellan and Justice Jennifer Coates hold the final sitting of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull applauds the work of the $500 million Royal Commission

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull applauds the work of the $500 million Royal Commission

Many survivors travelled to the sitting in Sydney to express their gratitude to Justice McClellan and his team for their ‘courageous’ work in exposing abuse in some of the nation’s best known charitable, religious and educational institutions.

Outside the commission, Joan Isaacs, who was one of the first people to give evidence against the Catholic church, praised its work.

‘Not only did we have a voice but we have been heard and believed. Many, for the first time in their lives,’ she told reporters on Thursday.

‘The job of the commission is done, but the journey is not over.’

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull witnesses the final sitting of the five-year inquiry in Sydney

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull witnesses the final sitting of the five-year inquiry in Sydney

Senior federal Labor MP Jenny Macklin hugs child abuse justice campaigner Hetty Johnston

Senior federal Labor MP Jenny Macklin hugs child abuse justice campaigner Hetty Johnston

While survivors were owed justice from the institutions and others, law changes were also needed to keep children safe.

‘These recommendations must be implemented in their entirety and done so as soon as possible,’ she said.

‘To be able to change the future, we have to know the truth of the past.

‘We have to accept it, we have to take responsibility for it, we have to move forward.’

Ray Leary, a child victim of the infamous Dolly Dunn paedophile ring, said the time for tears was over.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten read letters from survivors of child sexual abuse

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten read letters from survivors of child sexual abuse

‘I would like to let everyone know it is your time now, the royal commission is done, if you want to speak, come forward everyone is listening now,’ he told reporters.

‘No more tears for us, we are survivors and we are going to get it out there and we are going to be dealt with.’

Sandra Beaton called on the government to withdraw the part of its planned redress scheme that excluded victims who’d been to prison from receiving compensation.

‘Why did they go to jail in the first place? Because of the treatment that they had as children – it has a big bearing on their adult life.’

Helen Dawson said the commission’s recommendations must be supported by every state and territory.

Child abuse survivor Paul Gray shows his appreciation to the Royal Commission on its last day

Child abuse survivor Paul Gray shows his appreciation to the Royal Commission on its last day

‘We expect Australia’s politicians to step up for bipartisan and unanimous support,’ she said.

Ms Isaacs also paused to remember the victims whose ‘endless torture’ led them to find peace the only way they could, by taking their own lives.

‘The true number of these victims will never be known and this breaks my heart,’ she said.

The royal commission’s final report will be handed to Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove on Friday before being tabled in parliament, and then released to the public.

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