Soul searching: Australia loses faith as sexual abuse cases pile up

Credit: Reuters Studio
Published on March 13, 2019 - Duration: 02:40s

Soul searching: Australia loses faith as sexual abuse cases pile up

Catholicism remains Australia's largest religious affiliation, but George Pell's home town of Ballarat - like many towns around the country - may be starting to lose its faith.

Ed Giles reports.

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Soul searching: Australia loses faith as sexual abuse cases pile up

Sleepy Ballarat in country Australia was once one of the richest cities in the world.

But now, Ballarat's become famous for a darker reason that's shaking the town to its core.

A gold rush in the 1800s put it on the map, and Irish-Catholic immigrants flocked there.

However the town now appears to be losing its faith, after suffering the scourge of chilld sex abuse in its Catholic churches and schools, revealed by a recent government inquiry.

It's also the home town of Cardinal George Pell who now faces six years in prison as a convicted child sex offender.

He rose from Ballarat to eventually become advisor to Pope Francis and the Vatican's Treasurer.

And his downfall comes as faith in the Catholic church around Australia is in decline.

The country's census showing the number of Australians who identify as Catholic has dropped around 5 percent in the past two decades.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE SURVIVOR, PAUL AUCHETTL SAYING: "They had such a privileged status in our community, they almost set the moral standards for us all and then to discover this sort of insidious behaviour behind the scenes is so damaging" After Pell's verdict was made public last month, Reuters Jonathan Barrett went to Ballarat where some were relieved but others were angry.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) REUTERS AUSTRALIA DEPUTY BUREAU CHIEF, JONATHAN BARRETT, SAYING: "One local came up and said that it's a really good thing that he's been sent away.

Many people described his actions as hypocritical and disgusting.

Another actually looked at St.

Patrick's Cathedral which is behind me and said that they needed to tear this place down.

Ballarat is just a town that's been absolutely ripped apart by abuse.

A government enquiry here a few years back heard evidence of a notorious pedophile ring.

They consisted of priests and Catholic school teachers." One sign of the town's outpuring of emotion, the hundreds of colourful ribbons that local residents have tied to the fence of the town's Cathedral as a sign of support to abuse victims. (SOUNDBITE) (English) REUTERS AUSTRALIA DEPUTY BUREAU CHIEF, JONATHAN BARRETT, SAYING: "This is part of the emotion that the Pell case is drawing out of people in Ballarat, they're reflecting on their own childhoods and starting to think about how the town can recover.

Unfortunately, so many people we spoke to said that they had lost friends and family to suicide, many spoke of friends and family who developed drinking problems, just trying to cope with their childhoods." Pell's lawyers have appealed the conviciton and he maintains his innocence.

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