“O’Callaghan QC tells Royal Commission he doesn’t report priest abuse claims to police” & related articles

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ABC News (Australia)

Updated 19 Aug 2014, 7:16pmTue 19 Aug 2014, 7:16pm

The QC who investigates abuse complaints against priests for the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne has told the child sex abuse Royal Commission he has never reported allegations to police unless he has been helping a victim do so. Peter O’Callaghan told the commission he is completely independent of the church and has always treated complainants fairly and courteously.

Samantha Donovan


Child sex abuse royal commission: Melbourne Response investigator ‘encouraged’ victims to see police

ABS News Austrlalia

Updated 19 Aug 2014, 4:42pmTue 19 Aug 2014, 4:42pm

By Helen Vines

The head of the Catholic Church’s response to sexual abuse allegations encouraged victims to go to the police, the child abuse royal commission has heard.

Peter O’Callaghan, QC, has been the independent commissioner for the abuse complaint handling process, known as the Melbourne Response, since it was set up in 1996 by then Melbourne Archbishop George Pell.

Mr O’Callaghan has come in for criticism during the current proceedings, with two witnesses telling the commission he discouraged them from taking their claims to the police.

Giving evidence to the commission, Mr O’Callaghan said he encouraged victims to go to the police, and some followed his advice, while others did not.

He agreed with counsel assisting Gail Furness SC that if police were investigating a complaint, his own investigation stopped because “it would be a concurrent investigation and quite inappropriate”.
Church response offered ‘rapid redress’ for abuse victims

Mr O’Callaghan said he established a procedure for dealing with claims of abuse that involved inviting the person making the claim to visit him.

He told the hearing how he would then take a statement and submit it to the victim for approval or amendments.

If the priest involved was still alive he would refer it to him and invite a response.

He said he felt the church’s response to complainants was “very rapid redress” and they aimed to resolve matters in six months.

The commission heard Mr O’Callaghan made adverse findings against 65 priests out of 330 complaints to the Melbourne Response.

Twenty of the adverse findings were against priests who were still active.

Mr O’Callaghan said some priests who had been the subject of adverse findings had never been prosecuted by police and many of those were on administrative leave and not allowed to practice.

He said there was a 97 per cent success rate with complainants who came to him.

He told the commission he was a truly independent investigator when it came to investigate claims of abuse.

“As far as I’m concerned I made decision without fear or favour or influence from other persons,” he said.
Foster daughter a victim of ‘grievous’ abuse

The commission spent some time discussing the case of the Foster family, whose two daughters were abused by priests.

Mr O’Callaghan said he first met the Fosters in March 1997 and later formally found their daughter Emma had been a victim of “grievous” abuse.

He recommended an ex gratia payment of $50,000 from the church.

However, he said in his view, while her parents were badly affected by what happened, they were not victims themselves.

Later Mr O’Callaghan received an application regarding the Foster’s other daughter, Katie, who was also abused.

He said he understood the Fosters were angry with him for not providing a formal finding about Katie’s claims, even though he had formed the view years earlier that she had been abused.

Mr O’Callaghan said he was not concerned that the Fosters might take legal action, saying if he had known, he would have taken no further action.

He said he would not have provided a finding if they were taking other proceedings outside of the church’s Melbourne Response.
Melbourne Response upholds 81 complaints

The commission has been told complaints have been upheld against 81 members of the Catholic Church in Melbourne since 1996.

Mr O’Callaghan said 64 priests, five sisters and 10 lay people were among those to have been investigated by the Melbourne Response program.

More than 350 cases were taken to Melbourne Response and 326 were upheld.


Catholic priests encouraged victims of abuse to go the police, the church tells the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

Melbourne Herald Sun

August 19, 2014 4:52PM

Shannon Deery
Herald Sun

The Catholic Church encouraged abuse victims to go to the police, the Royal Commission in

The Catholic Church said its priests encouraged abuse victims to go to the police, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has heard. Picture: Jeremy Piper

VICTIMS of sexual abuse by Catholic priests were repeatedly encouraged to make formal complaints to police, but rarely did, the child abuse royal commission has heard.

Melbourne Response independent commissioner Peter O’Callaghan QC told the commission today many victims didn’t want to name offenders to police.

Mr O’Callaghan told the hearing he didn’t pass matters to police because victims didn’t ask him to and he didn’t want to breach their confidentiality.

Just 119 of the 326 upheld complaints have been dealt with by police since the Melbourne Response, the church’s internal compensation panel, was started in 1996.

Mr O’Callaghan is being grilled as part of the commission’s examination of the Melbourne Response scheme.

It has been widely slammed by victims and was last year heavily criticised during Victoria’s parliamentary inquiry into abuse by religious and other organisations.

Victims told the royal commission they felt betrayed by the church’s Melbourne Response process, which they said lacked compassion, and called for the $75,000 cap on compensation payments to be scrapped.

A victim of paedophile priest Father Michael Glennon said Melbourne Response independent commissioner Peter O’Callaghan told him the prospects of Glennon doing any more jail time were low and he might not be charged.

“I felt Mr O’Callaghan was trying to discourage me from going to the police,” the man told the commission on Monday.

The man said he felt like he couldn’t win a court case against the church so he took a $50,000 payout, with no explanation for why the compensation was $25,000 less than the maximum.

“I did not think I had any other options for seeking compensation,” he said.

The commission heard today the church vowed, in a draft terms of reference, to actively encourage victims to report complaints to police.

“Immediately upon a complaint of sexual abuse being made to him the commissioner shall inform the complainant that he or she has an unfettered and continuing right to report the matter to police”.

Mr O’Callaghan said he believed every one of his recommendations were acted upon by church hierarchy.

But he said if he found no prima facie evidence after investigating allegations no further action would be taken.

The hearing continues.



Church lawyer told victims that police involvement would postpone process

Lawyer investigating sex abuse claims on behalf of Melbourne Catholic archdiocese tells royal commission that he was required to end his involvement or risk contempt

The Guardian


Tuesday 19 August 2014 08.37 BST

Melissa Davey

Peter O’Callaghan QC leaving the royal commission in Melbourne on Tuesday. Peter O’Callaghan QC leaving the royal commission in Melbourne on Tuesday. Photograph: Julian Smith/AAP

The lawyer in charge of investigating child sex abuse claims on behalf of the Catholic archdiocese in Melbourne told victims that if they went to the police, his investigation process would end.

Peter O’Callaghan QC told the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse on Tuesday that he believed once police became involved, he would be in contempt of court if he continued the church investigation.

The two-week hearing in Melbourne is scrutinising church’s scheme for handling abuse cases, known as the Melbourne Response, established by Cardinal George Pell in 1996.

A witness identified only as AFA told the commission on Monday that during his meeting with O’Callaghan, he was told he would be eligible for compensation from the church of up to $75,000, but this process would be postponed if he went to police.

O’Callaghan said this was standard procedure.

“…if the police are in charge of a matter then I take no further steps because to do so would be conducting a concurrent investigation with the police which would be inappropriate,” he told the Commission.

“In some instances, quite a number, if the person was receiving counselling that would continue.”

O’Callaghan’s responsibilities in terms of encouraging victims to report complaints to the police as part of his role were clear, senior counsel assisting, Gail Furness, said.

He was to inform the victim of his or her unfettered right to report the matter to police immediately upon receiving their complaint, and appropriately encourage victims to exercise that right.

On Monday the court heard from sex abuse victim Paul Hersbach, who said after being interviewed by O’Callaghan he was told there did not seem to be much point in going to the police and that if he did, his case for compensation would be delayed.

But in his witness statement, O’Callaghan said he had no recollection of that conversation, which he would have likely taped.

O’Callaghan told the commission in his 18 years as independent investigator, he had found 97% of alleged abusers guilty.

More than 70 church staff including priests, and 10 lay people involved with the church, had been found guilty of abuse as a result of his investigations, he said.

The hearing resumes Wednesday.


 Barrister picked by George Pell to investigate sex abuse gives evidence

Peter O’Callaghan QC questioned by royal commission about Catholic church’s Melbourne Response and the level of compensation to victims

The Guardian


Tuesday 19 August 2014 05.43 BST

Melissa Davey

Peter O’Callaghan QC leaving the royal commission in Melbourne on Tuesday. Peter O’Callaghan QC leaving the royal commission in Melbourne on Tuesday. Photograph: Julian Smith/AAP

The barrister appointed by Cardinal George Pell in 1996 to investigate hundreds of child sexual abuse claims involving the Catholic church in Melbourne thought all claims would be investigated within six months, the royal commission has heard.

More than 18 years later, Peter O’Callaghan QC is still working on the investigation as victims continue to come forward.

His role in Melbourne Response – the operation set up by the church to investigate the claims – included interviewing victims in his legal chambers in the city and making recommendations to the church as to whether they should be compensated, the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse heard on Tuesday.

On Monday, two witnesses told the hearing at Victoria county court in Melbourne how they felt discouraged by O’Callaghan from reporting their abuse to the authorities. They also spoke of feeling overwhelmed by O’Callaghan’s chambers, where most interviews were, and still are, carried out.

Abuse victim Paul Hersbach told the court on Monday that the chambers were “monstrous”.

“It was a massive room – monstrous – it seemed to me to be the domain of an experienced legal professional,” he said.

“Mr O’Callaghan looked very comfortable, but I was not. I attended this meeting alone.”

Head of the commission, Justice Peter McClellan, described how commissioners interviewing sex abuse victims tried to ensure interviews were carried out in a comfortable and supportive environment.

McClellan asked O’Callaghan: “Did you give consideration as to whether chambers was best place to meet with victims?”

O’Callaghan replied that interviews had initially been carried out at a separate office in Collins Street for 2-3 years but “it was becoming too cumbersome and it was more convenient to meet in my chambers”.

Responding to the discomfort of victims, O’Callaghan said: “Well I’ve heard that said and undoubtedly, some people were distressed,” O’Callaghan said. “But I feel that my secretary… generally she would meet with the victim and generally give a cup of tea and things of that nature.”

“In my chambers there’s naturally a desk, plenty of chairs and a large table,” he said. “If I felt my chambers were not amenable to providing assistance and comfort to people, I would have done something about it.”

Victims were not told they could bring a support person or lawyer to the meetings, but were permitted to do so if they asked, he added.

McClellan also asked if O’Callaghan had made an adverse finding against any priests who had not been prosecuted under criminal law.

“Yes,” O’Callaghan said.

“How many?” McClellan said.

“Not many,” O’Callaghan said, adding that he would have to come back to the court with the exact number.

O’Callaghan said that as an independent arbiter he had made decisions about sex abuse cases “without fear or favour and without any influence of other persons”.

He said it was not appropriate for him to say whether the compensation provided to victims by the church, currently capped at $75,000, was appropriate, despite McClellan pressing him to do so as someone who had been interviewing victims for more than 20 years.

The hearing continues.


Victims want review into Catholic Church’s Melbourne Response compensation claims

The Victoria Age

18 August 2014

Victims have called for all 351 compensation claims to the Catholic Church’s Melbourne Response to be reviewed and have accused the process as lacking compassion and transparency on the opening day of the Royal Commission.

Paul Hersbach told the Commission on Monday that his father, uncle, brother and himself had been abused by Father Victor Rubeo, who the family had referred to as ‘Gramps’ which had been embroidered on his hat.

“I do not need or want a personal apology. I do not want the church burned down,” he said. “All I want is for someone from the Catholic Church to show compassion and give me a call one day and say ‘Hi Paul how are you going these days?..Can I do anything to help?'”

When Mr Hersbach sought compensation from the church, he said that he was discouraged by independent commissioner Peter O’Callaghan, QC, from reporting his abuse to police because he “didn’t think anything would happen”. Six weeks later he received a letter from Mr O’Callaghan saying “with respect to the unsurprising haziness of your memory there would not appear to be much point in your taking the matter to the Police”.

Mr O’Callaghan is expected to tell the Royal Commission that he does not recall the conversation.

Mr Hersbach received counselling from the Melbourne Response’s counselling arm Carelink as a “secondary victim” to his father’s abuse but only revealed he too was abused by Father Rubeo in 2006.

But he always felt intimidated and fearful that the counselling services would ultimately be withdrawn, and told the church he too had been abused in order to access counselling for himself and his wife after they experienced marital difficulties.

He later received $17,500 in compensation but only signed the deed of release to formally accept the payment a year later.

He told the Royal Commission he considered himself “lucky” compared to other victims because he had learned how to cope and recognise what triggered his emotions.

Chrissie Foster was the first witness to give evidence at the Royal Commission on Monday, blaming serial paedophile Kevin O’Donnell for the death of her eldest daughter Emma and the lifelong injuries sustained by her daughter Katie in a car accident.

O’Donnell preyed on both girls while he was a parish priest at Oakleigh’s private Sacred Heart primary school in the 1980s.

Emma received an offer of $50,000 in compensation from the Melbourne Response, which was then the maximum amount offered to victims of abuse.

The pair received three letters in the same envelope in August 1998. One was an apology from Archbishop George Pell, with another from the church’s lawyers at Corrs Chambers Westgarth, which said they hoped the counselling from Carelink would be a “realistic alternative to litigation that will be otherwise strenuously defended”.

“I felt there was an apology and then a threat. It was more of the same from the Catholic Church,” Ms Foster said.

She and her husband Anthony Foster were refused compensation for themselves in 1998.

Mr O’Callaghan, she said, found that Emma had been abused and told the couple that he believed Katie had also been abused, but when they took civil action against the Church in the Supreme Court, all defendants denied their abuse and subsequent injuries.

They later settled for $750,000, which she said was inadequate to reflect the pain and suffering caused to her family, but acknowledged this was far greater than most victims received.

“Nothing about this process was transparent,” she said.

The Fosters said the legal system was a “far superior” alternative to the Melbourne Response for victims of clerical abuse, and called for reforms to allow victims to access “full and just compensation” through the courts.

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