A prominent child protection group on Monday called on the government to investigate child sex abuse by Australian Catholic priests after the church’s most senior cleric reportedly described it as less of a crime than abortion.
Sydney Archbishop George Pell made the comments to 500 young Roman Catholic delegates at the World Youth Day forum in Toronto, Canada’s national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, reported over the weekend.
The paper said Pell had been asked what Catholics should say when someone asked them about the sex scandal currently afflicting the church in the United States and some other countries.
Pell told his audience that abortion was a worse moral scandal than the sexual abuse of young people by priests “because it’s (abortion) always a destruction of human life,” the newspaper reported.
Pell said he wasn’t trying to minimize the abuse, but that the issue had received a lot of attention to the detriment of other matters, the paper said.
The archbishop’s office in Sydney refused to comment on the report Monday, saying it would wait until Pell returned at the end of the week.
But child protection advocate Hetty Johnston said the comments were outrageous, and a major government-backed investigation, known as a royal commission, must be held to expose the extent of child sex abuse in Australia’s Catholic Church.
“According to the view of George Pell, and in effect the Catholic Church, it’s not OK to harm a child in the womb but it’s not so bad if you harm a child outside it,” said Johnston, who heads Bravehearts, a network of organizations that supports victims of child sexual abuse.
Pell came under fire earlier this year after he admitted on a current affairs program that he offered a family thousands of Australian dollars (U.S. dlrs) in exchange for a promise not to sue over claims that their two daughters were sexually abused for six years by a priest.
He later denied that the money was intended to buy the family’s silence, and rejected calls from child-abuse victim advocates for his resignation.