Abuse scandal is Australian Church's biggest crisis, says Brisbane archbishop

The Australian Church is experiencing its biggest crisis ever in the form of the sex abuse scandals that hound the congregation, according to the Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, during a meeting with the Vatican on the issue.

(AAP Image / Paul Miller / via REUTERS)Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge departs after giving evidence at the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney, Australia, February 8, 2017. Picture taken February 8, 2017.

Archbishop Coleridge, the vice president of the Australian Bishops' Conference, spoke to The Tablet and said the church in the country had been rocked heavily by the abuse scandal. He said the problem calls for a new approach from the church and revealed that they and the Vatican discussed ways to involve women and lay people in church responsibilities, which will be tackled in the plenary council in 2020.

"It's clear then that the Church here is passing through a time of deep, painful and permanent change – which is why the bishops have decided for a Plenary Council, which was also discussed in our meeting in Rome," Archbishop Coleridge told The Tablet in the interview. "The Plenary Council will have to make bold decisions about the future, taking into account the changed and changing facts on the ground."

In line with this issue, AFP reported that around 50 witnesses are set to testify against Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell in a hearing set for March 5. The top papal adviser is accused of multiple sexual offenses which happened a long time ago.

Pell recently faced the Melbourne Magistrates Court, which scheduled the four-week committal hearing to begin in March. The hearing aims to determine if there is enough evidence against Cardinal Pell for him to be tried for sexual abuse.

A number of former choirboys will be among those who will testify in the hearing. While many details cannot be revealed, Magistrate Belinda Wallington said the memories of people should "be further explored."

Cardinal Pell has not yet made a plea. However, he told his lawyer in July to communicate his intention to plead not guilty.