Australia under pressure to probe church sex abuse

Sydney:  Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was on Monday under growing pressure to establish a national inquiry into paedophile priests in the Catholic Church, following allegations abuse was hushed up.

An inquiry was announced last week to investigate claims by a senior policeman that the Church in Hunter Valley in New South Wales destroyed evidence and silenced inquiries, but calls are growing for an Australia-wide probe.

"I think the federal government needs to have a look at this and we need to take a national overview on these issues," government backbencher Doug Cameron told ABC television, describing the allegations as a "stain on our society".

Independent lawmaker Tony Windsor also urged Gillard to establish a royal commission, or national inquiry, saying the idea of an investigation limited to the Hunter Valley was "pathetic".

"It needs to be national... (anyone) can see that," he told the ABC.

Cardinal George Pell, Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, said he supported the Hunter Valley inquiry which he said had "enormous powers, very similar to those of a royal commission".

He added that the church had worked hard to stamp out abuse.

"Much of the public discussion is about how the church dealt with cases 20 or so years ago," Pell said in a statement released Sunday.

"Critics talk as though earlier inadequacies are still prevalent."

It was unjust and inappropriate for anyone to suggest crimes were being -- or had been -- committed, without producing evidence, he added.

Pell was speaking after allegations by a senior police investigator that the Church had covered up sexual abuse of children in the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, to protect paedophiles and its own reputation.

"I can testify from my own experience that the church covers up, silences victims, hinders police investigations, alerts offenders, destroys evidence and moves priests to protect the good name of the church," Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox said.

Gillard has said she will review the latest information and then make a decision but her Trade Minister Craig Emerson made clear the government was appalled at the reports.

"Whether it is within or outside of the Catholic Church, child abuse is just completely unconscionable and terrifying for the children and leaves enduring scars, usually for the rest of their lives," he said.


Story First Published: November 12, 2012 09:16 IST

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