Australians 'have lost trust completely' in the Church

ReutersAbuse victim Darren Chalmers holds a placard as he sits outside the venue for Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney, Australia

Australia is in the 'unique' position of being a country where 'people have lost trust completely' in the Church, according to the Jesuit priest Hans Zollner, a founding member of Pope Francis' Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

The Tablet reported the comments originally relayed in The Catholic Leader newspaper, with Zollner, who is also President of the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, telling Church workers in Brisbane that 'there seems to be almost nil trust in what the Church says'.

He added: 'This is not true in other parts of the world. I think you are in a pretty unique situation.'

Zollner said that when it came to safeguarding against sexual abuse, while many countries in Europe and North America had been dealing with it for some years, most countries were still yet to grapple with the issue.

'It has not yet hit the surface of public interest and discussion and news in 75 per cent of countries, if not more,' he said. 'I cannot say where or when it will hit, but it will hit.'

Separately in Queensland, The Tablet also reported that one of the six Royal Commissioners into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Robert Fitzgerald, told the triennial General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia in Maroochydore that it must frame a nationally consistent approach to the protection of children.

Fitzgerald expressed confidence that the Church could regain the trust of the Australian community, though 'not easily, not quickly and not without some pain'.

He also said that legal and other advice given to Church leaders had played a part in the scandal, saying it was 'obvious to all of us today that that advice was wrong then and wrong now. The Church's reputation was not ultimately saved, in fact it was demeaned and diminished, and it could have been avoided had a different approach and different questions and had different values been applied...'

Fitzgerald, who has served as New South Wales President of the St Vincent de Paul Society and as a national committee member of Caritas Australia, told the Synod about how the shadow of the abuse crisis had affected his personal experience of parish life.

'I was recently at my local church and they were calling the children forward for the children's liturgy and I could barely look at the faces of those nine and 10 and 11-year-old children, who had the same aspirations, the same sense of joy, the same sense of hope as those who were abused had and they were the same age,' he said. 'Indeed in the Anglican Church, the average age of the first abuse of a child was when they were 10-and-a-half years old.'

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