The Sydney Morning Herald
Two Catholic orders have denied colluding to protect pedophile members of the clergy, but say they accept some responsibility for the crimes committed.
One in four St John of God brothers and 14 priests of the Salesian order have been the subject of child abuse complaints in Victoria, a state parliamentary inquiry heard on Monday.
More than 100 abuse cases have been upheld in the Catholic Church’s Ballarat diocese alone since 1975. More than 60 per cent of them involved one offender, the defrocked priest Gerald Ridsdale – who has been convicted.
The bishop now in charge of Ballarat has admitted a predecessor made a “terrible mistake” in letting Ridsdale – one of Australia’s worst pedophiles – remain in the ministry after being alerted to a complaint as long ago as 1975.
“From my reading of the accounts it wasn’t wilful blindness. It was a tragic mistake on his part,” Bishop Paul Bird said.
St John of God and the Salesians both say they are yet to conduct overall investigations into sexual abuse in their orders, but they deny any cover-up.
Rosanna Harris, chair of provinces professional standards committee at St John of God, denied the organisation had been targeted by pedophiles.
“There is no suggestion there were rings of pedophiles or there was collusion between brothers,” she told the inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations.
Salesians provincial Father Greg Chambers said he had been made aware of possible communication between as many as three offenders, but didn’t believe there had been any collusion.
“There may have been some communication between those individuals,” he said.
He denied any conspiracy.
“I wouldn’t call it that,” he said.
St John of God provincial Brother Tim Graham said he didn’t think it was possible there had been a cover-up.
He said the organisation had been stripped to the bone by media investigations and had also provided every bit of information it had to the inquiry.
Asked if the order had created, harboured or colluded with pedophiles, Brother Graham said, “I don’t accept that.”
Complaints were made against 15 of a total of about 60 Victorian St John of God brothers, a figure Ms Harris and Brother Graham conceded was extraordinarily high.
“Very vulnerable children in our care were damaged and for that we have apologised and we continue to do so,” Mr Harris said.
“We are horrified.”
Ms Harris said the brothers who offended had operated independently.
“So far we have found that there have been various offenders working independently over a number of years,” Ms Harris said.
“As to the reasons why, we haven’t explored that yet.”
The inquiry was told that 49 complaints had been made against 14 priests of the Salesian order.
The order had paid out more than $2.06 million in compensation over 37 of those complaints.
Fr Chambers said the order had to accept that it had failed to properly vet, train and supervise its members.
“Our religious society must have some responsibility for the failures,” he said.
Would-be priests were now made aware of their responsibilities and were psychologically tested, Fr Chambers said.
Five Salesian priests have been convicted of criminal offences, but no St John of God brothers have been charged, despite police investigations.
Other Catholic organisations will give evidence to the inquiry this week.
Catholic Church ‘facilitated’ abuse
The Age (Victoria, Australia)
The Catholic Church in Ballarat ”effectively facilitated” child sexual abuse by leaving known paedophiles in ministry and was ”unChristlike”, former Ballarat Bishop Peter Connors conceded on Monday.
His predecessor, Bishop Ronald Mulkearns, made ”terrible errors” and showed ”great naivety” in moving paedophiles Gerald Ridsdale and Paul David Ryan from parish to parish despite knowing they were child abusers, Bishop Connors told the Victorian inquiry into how the churches handled child sexual abuse.
”I can’t see how a bishop could possibly do the things Bishop Mulkearns did today,” Bishop Connors said.
It was the first day that Catholic leaders had given evidence, marked by heightened tension in the gallery and, for the first time, the presence of an armed security officer.
Deputy chairman Frank McGuire told Bishop Connors: ”What we have on record is a systemic failure. The motive was money, then the destruction of documents, all designed to prevent scandal. Hasn’t this created the biggest scandal, cost people their lives and shredded the reputation of the Catholic Church? At what level should the church take responsibility?”
Bishop Connors, who led the diocese from 1997 until last year, replied: ”Bishops have taken responsibility for mistakes of the past.”
Chairwoman Georgie Crozier asked why Bishop Mulkearns had not appeared at the inquiry. Present Ballarat Bishop Paul Bird said that Bishop Mulkearns’ memory and focus had declined, and his ”best contribution” was through the documents he had provided.
Ms Crozier asked whether the bishop was still regularly leading Mass. Told yes, the committee required that Bishop Mulkearns appear at a future date.
Committee member David O’Brien put a series of questions to Bishop Connors. Was there awareness of Ryan’s sexual problems from early on? ”Yes.”
Was there persistent conduct in not warning parishioners? ”I can’t comment.”
Was there a persistent determination to retain him despite the high risk? ”Yes.”
Was there a persistent disregard for victims? ”Yes.”
There hasn’t been any investigation or explanation of how a priest like Ryan could be shifted around? ”No.”
The church has effectively facilitated child sex offences by leaving known offenders in place? Bishop Connors: ”I agree with that.”
Very unChristlike, isn’t it? ”Absolutely.”
He conceded that even now Father Ryan had not been defrocked, and the church did not know where he was. His licence to officiate as a priest had been withdrawn.
Committee member Andrea Coote said Ballarat, where a paedophile ring flourished at St Alipius school and some 40 victims have since killed themselves, was the worst case in Victoria.
She asked about a 1992 document by Australian bishops, noted as a precursor to the Towards Healing protocol for abuse victims, that made it clear the top priority was avoiding scandal, followed by protecting the priest, that no admission of liability or guilt should be made, and treated victims as secondary. ”If this is a precursor of Towards Healing, what has changed?”
Bishop Bird replied that the emphasis was now on victims, and Bishop Connors added: ”We were listening to insurers and lawyers, who said ‘admit nothing’.”
Bishop Bird said the diocese had accepted 107 of 116 claims of child abuse, of which 67 were by Ridsdale.
Bishop Connors said Catholic Church Insurance told the diocese in 1975 it would no longer cover compensation payments for Ridsdale, later jailed for child sexual offences, because he had abused so many victims. But Bishop Mulkearns, in charge from 1971 to 1997, took no action until 1988, in which time Ridsdale abused many more victims.
Two religious orders also gave evidence on Monday, the Hospitallers of St John of God and the Salesians of Don Bosco.
Catholic order had ‘pedophile ring’ in Vic
The Sydney Morning Herald
09 November 2012
A pedophile ring within a Catholic religious order in Victoria subjected boys as young as seven to pack rapes and severe beatings and covered up two killings, a victims’ advocate claims.
Wayne Chamley, a researcher with victims’ group Broken Rites, alleges The Hospitaller Order of St John of God, which operated two institutions in Victoria from 1952 to 1986, harboured up to 15 pedophiles who subjected orphans, state wards and intellectually disabled boys to sexual and physical abuse.
Two boys may have died as a result of severe beatings, and one of them had been thrown down a staircase, according to witness statements by former inmates received by Broken Rites.
Dr Chamley told a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into clergy sex abuse on Friday that two boys who had been subjected to continual sexual and physical abuse were incarcerated in a mental asylum after they managed to escape the home.
He said orphans and boys who did not receive visitors were separated from boys who were visited by family.
“They speak about being given a red medicine that made them drowsy. Pack rapes took place and boys who resisted or attempted to fight off their attackers were beaten mercilessly,” Dr Chamley told the inquiry in his submission.
“These were boys of seven to 15 years, up against adult males.
“This is a story about widespread sexual abuse, severe and unwarranted physical abuse, exploitation and unpaid child labour, starvation of boys, drugging of boys, provision of alcohol to juveniles and situations where intoxicated brothers were in charge of boys.”
He said St John of God operated a not-for-profit company which was currently providing accommodation and respite services for the Victorian government, from which it received public funding.
“How can the Victorian government, through the Department of Human Services, be putting up services contracts to an organisation like St John of God, given their record? I suspect there’s something going on,” Dr Chamley told the inquiry.
He slammed the Salvation Army and Catholic Church, labelling their submissions to the inquiry “safe and convenient” and insulting.
He said it was unbelievable that compensation schemes such as the Melbourne Response, a process adopted by the Catholic Church in which victims of clergy abuse can seek compensation from the church rather than go to police, were allowed.
“I can’t believe that it’s even allowed to operate,” said Dr Chamley.
“Under what legal authority can clergymen set up a quasi-legal star chamber of their own?”
Dr Chamley said he had been in mediation sessions where the church’s lawyer, Peter O’Callaghan QC, told victims he had the power of a royal commissioner.
“That is his mindset, that he has the powers of a royal commissioner, and these victims believe that.”
He said the plan of attack by church lawyers during mediation sessions was to “king-hit the victim and soften him up”.
The Family and Community Development Committee are inquiring into child sex abuse within religious and non-government organisations.
On Friday, NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell announced a special commission of inquiry to probe allegations by a senior police investigator into child sex abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy in the NSW Hunter region.