Australian panel on child abuse opens

AFP-JIJI

An Australian inquiry into church and institutional child abuse began public hearings Monday, with warnings that widespread and “shocking” allegations would be heard against places of worship, orphanages, community groups and schools.

Justice Peter McClellan opened the hearings in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, announced by the government last November, saying that thousands of people have so far come forward.

“It is now well known that the sexual abuse of children has been widespread in the Australian community. However, the full range of institutions in which it has occurred is not generally understood,” McClellan said in an address. “Many of the stories we are hearing will shock many people.”

The inquiry was established by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard in response to a series of scandals involving pedophile priests, though she insisted the probe would be much broader than the Catholic Church.

The commission formally began sitting in April and has since been taking confidential briefings from victims. Monday marked the first public hearings of evidence.