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Abuse spotlight on Australian nuns

BBC News, Wednesday, 28 August, 2002
Fresh allegations of sexual abuse, this time involving a group of nuns, have hit the Catholic Church in Australia.

The Poor Sisters of Nazareth order has admitted paying up to $A75,000 (US $41,400) to women who claimed they were abused in an orphanage.

But Sister Clare Breen, regional superior of the order in Australia and New Zealand, said the payments were not an acknowledgement of guilt.

"It is a way of reaching out to the girls to try to help in the healing process," she told Reuters news agency.

The claims come just a week after the head of the Catholic Church in Australia, Sydney Archbishop George Pell, temporarily stood down from his job while he is investigated over child sex abuse allegations.

Accounts of abuse

The payments relate to a 1999 court action by 17 women cared for as children at Nazareth House orphanage in Brisbane in the 1940s and 1950s.

Some of the women have described their allegations in the Australian magazine The Bulletin.

Lizzie Walsh told the magazine she was raped with a flagstick "to get the devil out of me," and forced to eat her faeces.

Another woman, Bobbie Ford, said she and others were stripped naked, thrown on a bed on their stomachs and hit with straps.

"That was one of the punishments, and we got that every night," she told the magazine.

The women's allegations have yet to be tested in a court of law.

Support group Broken Rites, which campaigns against abuse by the clergy, said complaints of abuse by nuns had risen sharply.

"In the last couple of months we have had at least 20 or so calls from women who were abused as children by nuns," a Broken Rites spokeswoman told Reuters.

"The enormous publicity about sexual abuse within the church has brought people out in the open."

Widespread problem

The Catholic Church in Australia, like its counterpart in the United States, has suffered damaging allegations of sexual abuse by its clergy.

All of Australia's major churches have admitted that their clergy have sexually abused children.

The Catholic Church formally apologised to victims of sexual abuse in April 1996 and has already paid out millions of dollars in compensation.

Last week, the church announced an inquiry into claims that Sydney Archbishop Dr George Pell, the nation's most senior Catholic clergyman, molested a 12-year-old boy as a trainee priest.

Dr Pell has strenuously denied the charges, but offered to stand down for the duration of the inquiry.

The recent revelations have led an Australian Catholic bishop, Pat Power, to urge the church to re-examine the issue of compulsory celibacy.

He also advocated more openness, saying: "I honestly believe that secrecy in the operation of the church is causing great harm."

2002 Aug 28