Senior religious leaders told to abandon culture of secrecy

A "SEARING and decisive moment in the history of the Australian Catholic Church" uncovered decades of child sex abuse allegations and prompted an apology to victims across the country as the royal commission returned to Sydney today.

The commission is looking at Church's response to victims of child sex abuse through its counselling program Towards Healing, which was offered across northern NSW and south-east Queensland from the mid 90s.

Monday's hearing was marked with tears, angry outbursts, disturbing revelations about a Brisbane priest who had fathered the child of one of his young victims and a controversial opening statement made by the man representing the Church, Peter Grey.

His seemingly tasteless introductory biblical scripture containing the words "let the little children come to me" prompted several witnesses to let out audible groans and walk out of the room but was followed by some long-awaited admissions on behalf of the Church and a warning to senior religious leaders to abandon the culture of secrecy.

Describing the hearing as the Church's "day of reckoning", Mr Grey said the "sacred place of children" was central to the Catholic faith and the Church came before the commission "acutely aware of its failures in this fundamental part of its mission".

He also said the fact that those in positions of authority had concealed what they knew, moved perpetrators to other places - thereby enabling them to reoffend - or had failed to report matters to police was "indefensible".

"For all these things the Church is deeply sorry - it humbly asks for your forgiveness," he said

"(We) commit ourselves to endeavour to repair the wrongs of the last, to listen to and to hear victims, to put their needs first and to do everything we can to ensure a safer future for our children".

The apology was noted by the commission but quickly overshadowed by the evidence of child sex-abuse victim Joan Isaacs who spoke about the torment she suffered at the hands of the now convicted Father Francis "Frank" Derriman - a former Brisbane Diocese priest who went on to father the child of a 17-year-old victim.

The 60-year-old fought tears as she described how Derriman had set up a "cult-like group" of victims and had told her he was suffering from a fatal lung condition and needed to have sex with her before he died.

She said as far as she knew, Derriman was still alive.

When she heard the Church had adopted the Towards Healing program in the 90s, Ms Isaacs became one of the first to take part.

She told the commission the process had been as traumatic as the abuse itself, had "silenced her" - the agreement required her not to speak further about Derriman - and had ended with a payout which after legal costs had been covered, left her with enough to buy $5000 worth of Coles-Myer shares and a sewing machine.

The commission heard Ms Isaacs was one of 1700 people who had made allegations of child sex abuse, within the Catholic Church, through the Towards Healing Program, which has already paid out more than $40 million in compensation.

She is expected to return to the stand on Tuesday followed by senior members of the Lismore and Brisbane Diocese.

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