CANBERRA, Australia — A former tax official has said Australia should revoke the non-profit tax status of the Catholic Church in the country, due to widespread clerical sex abuse, which was detailed in an extensive report released last year.
Former assistant taxation commissioner Terry Hamilton expressed his concern about the charity tax status to the Australian Taxation Office and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), according to the Guardian Australia.
Hamilton argued that the hundreds of cases of clerical sex abuse against minors, as well as failures to report such abuse, constituted crimes that broke the laws of Australia which would disqualify the Catholic Church for the tax exempt status.
For churches to qualify for tax breaks in Australia, they must be established religious institutions that reflect a religious character and do not break Australian laws.
“These institutions attract significant financial benefits particularly through tax exemptions and charity status,” Hamilton said, according to the Guardian Australia.
“The associated crimes in these cases breach the taxation law obligations that must result in a forfeit of tax exemptions and the registration of tax-exempt charities. I notified the prime minister and the treasurer of these breaches, in particular those relating to the Catholic church.”
The ACNC, which is responsible for deciding which entities do and do not qualify for tax exempt statuses, told the Guardian that Hamilton would need to fill out a separate form for each charity with which he had concerns, rather than filing a concern against the Catholic Church as a whole. The ACNC can revoke tax exempt statuses, issue formal warnings, or suspend responsible parties of charities that are found in violation of their standards.
The ACNC told the Guardian that it was unable to comment further on the cases raised by Hamilton due to privacy provisions, but that they were focusing on “ensuring charities have appropriate governance in place to safeguard vulnerable people, particularly children.”
In a wide-ranging report released in December 2017, Australia’s royal commission found serious failings in the protection of children from abuse in the Catholic Church and other major institutions.
Church officials in Australia apologized for the suffering caused and pledged their commitment to ensuring justice, while also noting the impossibility of violating the secrecy of sacramental confession.
The report was the result of an investigation in which the commission reviewed thousands of accounts of child abuse from figures in major institutions. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was established in 2013 to investigate the handling of child sex abuse allegations by religious groups, schools, government organizations, and sporting associations.
Of the institutions examined, the most accusations were brought against the Catholic Church, in which more than 4,000 cases of child abuse reportedly occurred, making up 61.8 percent of all reported child abuse cases from religious entities.
In a previously released portion of the report, the commission found that seven percent of Catholic priests in Australia serving between 1950 and 2009 have been accused of child sex crimes.
There have been multiple calls to revoke the Church’s charity tax status since the release of the grand jury report, including from members of the Australian Sex Party and from Care Leavers Australasia Network.