ABC News Australia
Updated July 03, 2012 09:00:46
The Roman Catholic Church is again embroiled in claims of a cover-up over its handling of child sexual assault allegations involving priests.
The ABC’s Four Corners program has revealed the church failed to pass on abuse admissions by a priest to police.
Four Corners obtained documents showing a New South Wales priest, from the parishes of Moree and later Parramatta, who is accused of abusing young boys, made clear admissions during a meeting with three senior priests, but they never referred the matter to police.
The program also detailed several cases in which priests were merely moved on when the church was made aware of sexual abuse claims against them.
A professor of law from the University of Sydney says the allegations should have been referred to police immediately, and he suggests those members of the clergy who did not do that could have broken the law.
For legal reasons the accused priest is knows as Father F. He worked in Moree and later in Parramatta, where it is alleged he abused a number of altar boys in the 1980s.
But it was not until 1992 that the Catholic Church ordered an investigation and called Father F to a meeting with three senior priests at St Mary’s Cathedral.
Australia’s most prominent Catholic, Archbishop Cardinal George Pell, told Four Corners Father F did not make any admissions in that meeting.
“The file note of that meeting shows that – does not show that he made any admission and that is the recollection of the three priests who were actually at that,” he said.
But Four Corners has obtained a report written by one of those present in the meeting, Father Wayne Peters, which clearly states that the accused priest did make admissions of criminal sexual assault.
Peter Jurd is the brother of one of the priest’s victims, who later committed suicide.
He says the priest should have been held responsible.
“It would have been no different if he’d just taken a gun and shot him … it just took longer,” he said.
Mr Jurd says the crimes of his brother’s abuser were brushed under the carpet.
“He’s still out there … he’s never been brought to justice,” he said.
Patrick Parkinson, a professor of law at the University of Sydney, says this is just the latest in a long example of the church failing to disclose abuse matters.
“I wish I could tell you that this was an isolated example, but the reality is that this kind of story has been surfacing all over the world and it’s a repeated pattern of criminal behaviour being dealt with as an in-house matter by the church,” he said.
‘Offenders in its midst’
Professor Parkinson says the allegations involving Father F should have been referred to police, and to do nothing about such serious claims is an offence under the Crimes Act.
“Catholic priests, like any other citizens, are subject to the law of the state and that criminal offences should be reported and one of the big issues from the program last night, whether in fact criminal offences have been committed in covering up the what was allegedly known about sex offences against children,” he said.
“Now I make no comment obviously on whether that would be so, but it’s certainly an issue that will have to be considered by the police and by others involved.”
Cardinal Pell has defended the way the Catholic Church has handled such cases and has cited the Towards Healing response set up to help victims.
But Professor Parkinson, who has reviewed the church’s Towards Healing program twice, says there is still a long way to go.
“I think there are real issues still about how the Church deals with alleged offenders in its midst,” he said.
“Now one of the other stories told last night in Four Corners was fresh allegations being made against Father Julian Fox, who is Salesian priest who is currently in Rome.
“Now this is not the first time that allegations have been made against Julian Fox and I think that an important response to the story last night will be for the worldwide head of these Salesians, Rector Major in Rome, to order Julian Fox to return to Australia to face whatever police investigation there may be, as a condition for remaining in the Salesian order.”
But he says if the church’s past behaviour is anything to go by, this will not happen.