Most major religions are guilty of "blatant hypocrisy" for covering up sex abuse while preaching "right from wrong", a government-ordered inquiry has concluded.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) examined child protection in 38 religious organisations and settings in England and Wales.
They included Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists, Methodists, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism and nonconformist Christian denominations.
The report highlighted "the blatant hypocrisy and moral failing of religions purporting to teach right from wrong and yet failing to prevent or respond to child sexual abuse". It said the organisations had "significant or even dominant influence on the lives of millions of children".
"What marks religious organisations out from other institutions is the explicit purpose they have in teaching right from wrong; the moral turpitude of any failing by them in the prevention of, or response to, child sexual abuse is therefore heightened," it said.
"Freedom of religion and belief can never justify or excuse the ill‐treatment of a child, or a failure to take adequate steps to protect them from harm."
‘Shocking failures to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse’
The inquiry found that, between early 2015 and January last year, of all known institutions where abuse had taken place, 11 per cent (443 instances) of abuse was committed within a religious organisation or setting. Ten per cent of suspects (726 people) were employed by or somehow linked to a religious organisation or setting.
Prof Alexis Jay, chairman of the inquiry, said: "Religious organisations are defined by their moral purpose of teaching right from wrong and protection of the innocent and the vulnerable.
"However, when we heard about shocking failures to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse across almost all major religions, it became clear many are operating in direct conflict with this mission.
"Blaming the victims, fears of reputational damage and discouraging external reporting are some of the barriers victims and survivors face, as well as clear indicators of religious organisations prioritising their own reputations above all else. For many, these barriers have been too difficult to overcome."
Prof Jay said the report's authors had "seen some examples of good practice", adding: "It is our hope that, with the recommendations from this report, all religious organisations across England and Wales will improve what they do to fulfil their moral responsibility to protect children from sexual abuse."
Richard Scorer, a specialist abuse lawyer at Slater & Gordon who acts for seven victim and survivor groups in the inquiry, including those representing Jewish, South Asian and Jehovahs Witnesses abuse survivors, said: "It is clear from the report that too many religious organisations continue to prioritise the protection, reputation and authority of religious leaders above the rights of children."