Imported priests pose risk, church abuse inquiry told

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Thew Age (Australia)

November 10, 2012

The inquiry heard from Jane Vanderstoel, executive officer of the Western Region Centre Against Sexual Assault; Karen Hogan, manager of the Gatehouse Centre at the Royal Children’s Hospital; and Patrick Tidmarsh, a Victoria Police forensic interview adviser. Photo: Pat Scala

”FLY-IN” priests imported to Australia from overseas are an emerging danger, the state inquiry into the churches’ handling of sex abuse heard on Friday.

Victims organisation Broken Rites was aware of at least seven cases in which imported priests had sexually abused people, including one where the priest abused five women, four of them members of his own family, researcher Wayne Chamley said.

”If it’s good enough for Australia to shanghai problem priests and send them off to Samoa or Rome [a reference to actions by the Salesian order], why wouldn’t overseas bishops do it to Australia?” he said.

The Australian Catholic Church has not released the number of clerics imported mostly from India, Nigeria and the Philippines to ease the catastrophic decline in parish priests, but a study last year estimated they made up 20 per cent of Australia’s total of 1500.

In other testimony, Dr Chamley said:

■ Church lawyers tried to ”king hit” victims as hard as possible to demoralise them in negotiations for compensation. ”They wring their hands and speak in humble voices, but in the cut and thrust of mediation it’s boots and all.”

■ The church’s internal system for investigating abuse was a charade that had no legal standing. He said the Melbourne Response’s independent commissioner, Peter O’Callaghan, described himself as operating like a royal commission. ”What act of Parliament set that up?” Dr Chamley said.

■ Letting the church investigate itself was like ”leaving Dracula in charge of the blood bank”.

Dr Chamley condemned the submissions to the inquiry by the Salvation Army and Catholic Church. The former, at eight pages, was ”an insult” to the Parliament and people of Victoria, given the hundreds of child victims of abuse by its officers, and its response to victims was often ”secretive, unco-operative, mean-spirited and legalistic”.

The Catholic submission was notable for what it left out, including two Australian Senate inquiries that showed ”children who ended up in the ‘care’ of the Catholic Church were subjected to widespread sexual abuse, procurement for sexual purposes by other adults, severe and unwarranted physical abuse, criminal assault, prolonged solitary confinement, exploitation and unpaid child labour, slavery, starvation, administration of drugs and provision of alcohol” during most of the past century.

Dr Chamley compared the life of a paedophile priest who was not exposed despite church payouts with that of his victims. The priest would be housed, given medical care, a stipend, and the respect of his family and parishioners, who did not know of his predation.

Of the victims, 91 per cent had mental health problems. ”They live in public housing, wait in queues at emergency departments in public hospitals for days. Their diets are shocking … and they fear as they get older – and they are now in their 60s – some will develop Alzheimer’s and dementia.”

Patrick Tidmarsh, a Victoria Police expert on interviewing victims, told the inquiry the Catholic Church had neither the motivation nor the ability to investigate abuse complaints.

”Where is the motivation for an organisation or person to pursue perpetrators when the consequences to that organisation are so severe? I can’t think of a single case where a priest has not been moved and reoffended, and moved again and reoffended again.”

He said a church investigation could not bring the ”crucial independence” the police had. ”You can call someone independent, but that doesn’t make them so,” he said, in an apparent reference to Mr O’Callaghan.

Committee chairwoman Georgie Crozier said the committee had taken action to obtain documents from the Catholic Church.


1996 Edward Dowlan sentenced to nine years and eight months in jail for indecently assaulting 11 male students under the age of 16 between 1971 and 1982 while at Christian Brothers schools in Ballarat.

2002 St John of God pays more than $3.6 million compensation to sex abuse victims by Brothers in Hospitaller Order in homes in Cheltenham and Lilydale. Police investigate complaints but no charges are laid.

2006 Gerald Ridsdale sentenced to 13 years in jail after pleading guilty to 35 charges, including indecent assault and buggery relating to 10 boys under his care between 1970 and 1987 when he was a Catholic priest.

2010 Case against Father Peter Chalk, who was accused of abusing children in Melbourne in the 1970s, is closed after his death in Japan, where the church sent him to work.

2011 Brother Robert Best sentenced to 14 years and nine months in jail for sexual crimes against 11 boys in Ballarat, Box Hill and Geelong between 1969 and 1988. Most of his victims were aged between eight and 11.

April 2012 Police report reveals at least 40 people who committed suicide were sexually abused by Catholic clergy in Victoria.

April 2012 Premier Ted Baillieu announces parliamentary inquiry into clergy abuse in Victoria.

April 2013 Family and Community Development Committee due to report to Parliament on inquiry.

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