The Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse handed down its final report on Friday, delivering 189 recommendations, many of which were aimed at the Catholic Church.
About 14.5 per cent of sexual abuse cases reviewed by the Commission were found to have occurred during “religious activities”, with over 40 per cent occurring in out-of-home care, and almost 32 per cent at schools.
In their report, the Royal Commission recommended the Church take on board a series of recommendations including making celibacy voluntary for priests.
The report said the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should take the proposal to the Vatican and push for the change.
It’s not the first time the Church has been confronted with the suggestion.
In November, Pope Francis, who is regarded as one of the most progressive Popes in recent history, suggested he was considering the idea after a high-ranking Bishop in Brazil asked for priests in his region to be allowed to serve while having intimate relations.
In May this year, Pope Francis was interviewed by German newspaper Die Zeit, where he called the lack of priests an “enormous problem” and said the church needed to “consider if ‘viri probati’ could be a possibility,”
Viri probati is a term that describes ‘tested men’ or married men with an exemplary record of faith and virtue.
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After enjoying a steady rise in the number of Australians identifying as Catholic throughout the 20th century, the Church is now facing a mass exodus, with the 2016 Census showing just 22.6 per cent of Australians consider themselves Catholic, down from 25.3 per cent in the previous Census.
The Catholic faith has taken a battering in recent years with reports of rampant abuse in Churches around the world, much of it taking place in the 1960s and 1970s.
A 2001-2002 investigation by the Boston Globe uncovered a sickening cover-up by the city’s archdiocese, with 271 clergy eventually identified as abusers. Almost 2000 people have come forward with stories of abuse at the hands of the Boston Church.
Dozens of priests in Ireland have also been accused of horrific instances of child sexual abuse, while one in four was found to have turned a blind eye on abuse from 1975 to 2004, reports the BBC.
In Australia, 1,200 witnesses told the Royal Commission harrowing stories of abuse and identified 4000 institutions implicit in the crimes.
The Commission hopes allowing priests to be in open relationships would help prevent assault cases on children around the country in future.