CANBERRA — The chief executive of the Australian Catholic Church’s newly-formed Truth, Justice and Healing Council Francis Sullivan responded on January 11 to the terms of reference for the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse announced by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard the same day.
“We welcome the appointment of the six commissioners named by the Prime Minister today: Chief Commissioner Justice Peter McClellan; former Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson; Justice Jennifer Coate; Productivity Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald; Professor Helen Milroy; and former WA Senator Andrew Murray,” Mr Sullivan said.
“Once again, we commit to fully cooperate and engage with the Royal Commission and its deliberations,” he said.
“At its heart, the Royal Commission needs to let the full truth come out and ensure that the dignity of those who have been damaged by these atrocities is preserved, that they are supported, and not subject to a retraumatising of their experiences.”
“It is essential that the Commission’s process contribute to the healing of the victims, and that institutions develop best-practice processes to address child sexual abuse.”
“The Church stands ready and willing to assist.”
“Apart from participating fully in the Royal Commission, the Church will embark on its own processes of atonement and healing to bring light, hope and compassion to this very dark episode”, he said.
The Age newspaper reported that all commissioners will be appointed for three years and will provide an interim report within 18 months.
The terms of reference put an end date on the royal commission of December 31, 2015, but that could be extended.
The royal commission, first announced last November, will focus on ”systemic failures and issues” in the response of organisations and institutions to the sexual abuse of children.
The Commissioners will be able to look at any private, public or non-government organisation that is or was in the past, involved with children. This includes government agencies schools, sporting clubs, orphanages, foster care, and religious organisations.
The commission will have ”far-reaching powers”, The Age reported, that could enable them to override confidentiality agreements previously made regarding settlements, or to issue immunity from prosecution.
While royal commissions do not have the power to prosecute individuals, The Age report added, the Australian Government will ensure allegations of sexual abuse raised by the commission can be investigated and, if proven, prosecuted.
The newspaper understands the terms of reference will require commissioners to establish a process for the referral of cases to the police.
The terms will also give commissioners the power to set up a special ’’investigative unit’’, which will work closely with police to investigate and prosecute past abuses.
The Age report stated the inquiry into institutional responses to abuse will not only look at perpetrators. It will also cover those who were ’’complicit’’ – for example by moving on alleged offenders – or those who, by ’’averting their eyes’’, committed acts of omission.
It will also examine police responses.

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