(dpa/NAN) Six Australian archbishops will be questioned by the country’s powerful royal commission as part of an investigation into widespread sexual abuse of children in Catholic churches and institutions, the commission announced on Friday.
The public hearing will begin in Sydney on Monday as part of the four-year-long inquiry into the handling of abuse cases, some as old as 70 years.
The hearing seeks to find out what churches are doing now to protect children.
Six of Australia’s seven archbishops will appear in the three-week-long hearing.
One of them has already been charged with concealing information about child sexual abuse by a paedophile priest in 1971.
He has pleaded not guilty.
Bishops and leaders of other church orders, like Christian Brothers, Jesuits, as well as education officials and experts, will also give evidence at the hearing.
The commission will also release statistics on child sexual abuse by the clergy, the first such data to be released, including details of the complaints, and how or if they were dealt with.
Some of the Catholic leaders are so wary about the fallout they have issued messages warning parishioners about the inquiry.
Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge, one of those being questioned, said in a video message to be played in more than 200 diocese on Saturday that there would be “grim moments and some shocks.”
“We have to shift the culture and that’s a far more difficult thing to do,” he said.
“It will reveal a horrific picture of the extent of the claims of abuse by priests and brothers whose responsibility was to protect and care for children,” Francis Sullivan, the chief executive of the Truth Justice and Healing Council, said in an email statement.
“It is absolutely important this information is made public.
“It is part of being transparent and ensuring the complete story is told.”