The evidence is clear (thanks to the extensive work and research of the Australian Royal Commission) that Jehovah’s Witnesses have not only failed to protect the children in their midst – but have also shrugged their responsibilities and resisted any efforts to make needed changes in their policies.
ABC News (Australia) reports “…That every major Australian church has been cautioned to better protect children or risk illegitimacy…” – and that includes Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In a speech to the National Council of Churches, Justice Peter McClellan detailed the exhaustive work of Australia’s largest royal commission. During its hearings, the Commission examined 1.2 million documents and heard the testimony of over 1,200 witnesses. McClellan urged religious leaders to act on his recommendations or face the consequences.
In a recorded video, McClellan described the problems at hand.
“What we can be certain of is that any institution which does not acknowledge past wrongs and the need for change will lose the confidence of Australians. The community will not accept the legitimacy of any institution which does not give priority to the safety and well-being of the children for which it has responsibility.”
Justice McClellan detailed the exhaustive work of Australia’s largest royal commission, which has examined 1.2 million documents and heard evidence from more than 1,200 witnesses over 440 sitting days.
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The Work of the Royal Commission
A Royal Commission is the highest form of public inquiry used by the Australian Government to investigate matters of great national importance. Royal commissions draw on public input and can take place over several months or years. They are given wide-ranging powers to cross-examine, obtain evidence, and protect witnesses.
FACT: According to the quoted article, 59% of abuse cases reported to the Royal Commission involve churches and other religious institutions.
FACT: Justice McClellan reported that the commission had referred 2,025 cases to police and other authorities. Only 127 have been acted upon.
The Problem is Overwhelming
“The volume of referrals is so great it will take some time before all the matters are processed and prosecutions commenced.” McClellan detailed the necessity for a national redress scheme, outlining the Australian Government’s preferred “opt-in” system for payment to survivors.
“The commissioners understand that many churches and religious groups have indicated that they are positively disposed to the Commonwealth’s scheme,” Justice McClellan said. “This is very pleasing to hear.”
Over the past two years, other major issues were considered during the Commission hearings:
- The Royal Commission released dozens of public issues papers and recommendations.
- Mandatory national reporting laws still being considered
Justice McClellan stressed to the National Council of Churches the need for reporting abuse. He explained his view of the problem and the solutions:
“Failure to report abuse to the authorities may leave a child, or perhaps a number of children, exposed to abuse. Reporting offences may be particularly important in an institutional context. Institutions may be conflicted. Imposing criminal liability for failure to report is likely to encourage reporting despite the damage this may inflict on the institution’s reputation.”
“The royal commission is considering whether it should recommend that other states and territories follow the lead of New South Wales and Victoria, and if so, what might be the appropriate terms of that offence.”
NSW and Victoria already have laws against concealing child sex crimes.
Although initially uncertain, Justice McClellan is now convinced the royal commission will make Australian children safer. “I am often asked by people whether I believe that much will change as a result of the royal commission,” he told church leaders. “Although in the early days of the royal commission the question could not be answered, I am now able to confidently give a positive answer. Although there may be some people in some institutions who resent the intrusion by the royal commission into their institution, the overwhelming response is positive.”
The commission is moving towards completing its work in December, and Justice McClellan said he wanted to ensure all institutions remained included in the conversation. McClellan looked back on the Commissions’ work and also toward what must happen in the future:
“I have previously said that the royal commission’s work has changed the conversation about child sexual abuse in Australia. Institutions must make the changes necessary to ensure, as far as may be possible, children are not abused in the future.”