The Australian Times (London, UK)
02 April 2013
By Paul Bleakley
Catholic Cardinal George Pell will appear before a Victorian inquiry into child sexual abuse within weeks, at a time when the church has proposed sweeping changes to its handling of complaints of abuse against members of the Australian clergy.
CATHOLIC Cardinal George Pell will appear before a Victorian inquiry into child sexual abuse within weeks, at a time when the church has proposed sweeping changes to its handling of complaints of abuse against members of the clergy.
Pell was a driving force behind the introduction of a controversial process for dealing with complaints of abuse in Victoria while serving as Archbishop of Melbourne during the 1990s. This practice involved the Catholic Church investigating alleged abuse in-house and encouraging victims to avoid going to the police with their claims.
It is expected that current Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart and a range of other church officials will give evidence to the inquiry. Spokesman for the Catholic Church Shane Mackinlay said that the Victorian inquiry had been given “unfettered” access to files detailing over 600 allegations of abuse that had been investigated by the Victorian wing of the church since Pell’s complaints process was introduced.
Mackinlay said: “The committee has indicated some interest in Cardinal Pell attending and he’s certainly willing to co-operate with that.”
The Catholic Church’s proposed reforms to its complaints handling procedure will include a petition to amend the Crimes Act to allow priests to report allegations of abuse to police without identifying the victims or the individual making the complaint. The proposed changes to church reporting procedure would continue to protect complaints made during confession from being passed on to law enforcement agencies.
Cardinal Pell publically rejected claims made at the Victorian inquiry earlier this week that he had been present in 1969 when a child had accused another priest of rape. Pell said that Melbourne lawyer Vivian Waller’s claims were “seriously defamatory” and could be seen as professional misconduct.
Waller told the inquiry last October that Pell had refused to accept the 1969 complaint against a fellow priest in Ballarat, however had heard the boy relate the allegation of rape to another member of the clergy. Pell’s media director Katrina Lee said that Pell was not in Australia when the alleged offence occurred and did not go to Ballarat until 1971.
Lee said: “It is of some concern that Dr Waller made these false allegations against Cardinal Pell and then failed to retract them when it became apparent to her that they could not have been true. False accusations such as this are not only seriously defamatory but can (in certain circumstances) amount to a contempt of Parliament and professional misconduct. At the very least, the inquiry, the media and the public has been seriously misled.”
A range of experts have told the Victorian inquiry that an estimated one in fifteen Melbourne priests has committed an child abuse offence at one point in their career and that Catholic priests offend at a rate six times higher than the clergy of other denominations combined. The Victorian inquiry is a precursor to the upcoming Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which will be presided over by Justice Peter McClellan AM over the next year.
Church leaders hit back at clergy abuse inquiry claims
The Age (Victoria, Australia)
Australia’s two most senior Catholic prelates, Cardinal George Pell and Archbishop Denis Hart, have repudiated as inaccurate allegations against them at Victoria’s clergy sex abuse inquiry.
Melbourne Archbishop Hart denied testimony by Victorian Police Commissioner Ken Lay to the parliamentary inquiry that the church has hindered and obstructed police, and challenges police about why they have not acted already if they have evidence of such behaviour.
Cardinal Pell again rejected claims by Melbourne lawyer Vivian Waller that he was present in 1969 when a child described being raped to another priest, and attacked the claims as ”seriously defamatory” and possibly a contempt of Parliament and professional misconduct.
Their responses were posted on Thursday on the inquiry website, on a new section called ”right of reply”. Archbishop Hart first wrote on October 17 and Cardinal Pell’s statement is dated January 15.
Senior church figures have been furious at the stream of negative headlines as the inquiry unfolded, with the church not due to give evidence until the end, and have wanted to make an earlier rebuttal.
Besides the police and victims’ groups, an array of experts have savaged the church’s response to clergy sex abuse, including claims such as that one in 15 Melbourne priests is a child abuser, that Catholic priests offend at six times the rate of all other churches put together, and that the church’s protocols are designed to protect the church rather than help victims.
The police submission, which recommended criminalising some of the church’s alleged actions to hinder investigations, said the church had dissuaded victims from reporting crimes to police, alerted suspects about allegations, moved or protected suspects and never reported a single case to police.
Archbishop Hart’s five-page rebuttal says the church consistently co-operates with police, encourages and helps victims report abuse to police and has made constructive proposals. But he says the church is obliged to respect victims who do not want to go to the police – ”it would be unconscionable to compel them to make a report to police against their will”.
He says: ”If Victoria Police has evidence that the church of today deliberately conceals evidence or impedes investigations, or conceals or facilitates child sexual assault, of course this should be investigated and I am puzzled why this has not already been done under existing laws.” Archbishop Hart’s statement says the police submission raises serious matters not previously raised with the church or its independent commissioner, Peter O’Callaghan, QC. It says 14 priests in Melbourne have criminal convictions for child abuse, of whom eight have been defrocked and four are dead.
On the same day that police gave their evidence last October, lawyer Vivian Waller told the inquiry that Cardinal Pell refused to listen to a boy who was raped in Ballarat in 1969 soon after the event, and that he was in the room when the victim told another priest what happened.
Cardinal Pell immediately denied the claim, saying he was not in Australia when the boy was raped and did not go to Ballarat until 1971. Ms Waller riposted that although the rape was in 1969 she did not say when the victim tried to tell him, and Cardinal Pell went to court in November to get the transcript of the trial of the rapist, Brother Robert Best.
The statement posted on Thursday by Cardinal Pell’s media director, Katrina Lee, says the court transcript shows the victim did try to complain in 1969, when Cardinal Pell was overseas.
”It is of some concern that Dr Waller made these false allegations against Cardinal Pell and then failed to retract them when it became apparent to her that they could not have been true,” Ms Lee says. ”False accusations such as this are not only seriously defamatory but can (in certain circumstances) amount to a contempt of Parliament and professional misconduct. At the very least, the inquiry, the media and the public has been seriously misled.”
Dr Waller said she would respond to the inquiry after talking to her client. ”If the archdiocese of Sydney believe I have engaged in professional misconduct I invite them to bring a formal complaint,” she said.
Victorian sex abuse inquiry granted extension
February 15, 2013 11:24AM
by: Stuart Rintoul
VICTORIA’S sex abuse inquiry has been extended to September, despite the looming federal royal commission, with inquiry head Georgie Crozier saying the probe is making “significant progress”.
In a statement today, Ms Crozier said the inquiry had yet to hear – in public sessions – from representatives from several organisations.
“We will do so over the coming months and after further investigations are completed,” she said.
“I have always said that our committee was focused on conducting a thorough inquiry, not a hasty one, and I’m pleased to announce that our request to extend our reporting deadline to September 30 has been granted.”
The Victorian inquiry was due to report in April. It had so far heard from more than 60 witnesses at public hearings and had received 370 submissions.
“Our research, investigations and information gathering continues behind the scenes and the parallel processes we have set up also continue to operate,” Ms Crozier said.
“Victoria Police’s Taskforce Sano, set up during the course of this inquiry, made several arrests last week.”
Ms Crozier indicated recently that the inquiry’s recommendations could include changes to the law enabling the church to be sued, mandatory reporting of suspected abuse, and extending the statute of limitations for child abuse.
The inquiry, sitting in regional Geelong, also today heard from the first practising priest to address it, Father Kevin Dillon, who has been sharply critical of the church’s handling of abuse cases.
Father Dillon told the inquiry there had been a “denial culture” in the Catholic Church, which had betrayed the institution as well as victims.
He said the church’s “riding instructions” had been to protect the material assets of the church, and, ironically, its “good name” rather than victims.
He said the church’s internal investigative procedures, the Melbourne Response and Towards Healing, had “lost all credibility with victims” and was now “beyond repair” and should be replaced with new independent structures.