Vatican attacks abuse victims, offered payout to ‘appear concerned’

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The Australian

February 21, 2014 12:00AM

A VATICAN investigation into claims of child abuse by a Catholic priest has attacked the credibility of the alleged victims and said a decision to offer financial compensation was made “for actuarial reasons and to appear pastorally concerned”.

The findings of the inquiry, which was conducted under the authority of the Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell, were sent to the alleged victims’ lawyers last month, after one of the two men involved spent more than a decade lobbying the Catholic Church to investigate his case.

The resulting decree, seen by The Australian, provides a powerful and controversial insight into the secretive canon law processes used by the church to respond to claims of child abuse.

Its authors, three Catholic priests appointed by Cardinal Pell, “decided not to see themselves as judges charged with determining the guilt or otherwise” of the priest, the document states.

“What is being tested is the reliability, the credibility of those making the complaints,” it states, despite the fact “such an approach could be seen as subjecting them to more abuse above what they allege they have already suffered”.

The document, which has been provided to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, goes on to describe one alleged victim as an “exaggerator” and a solicitor representing the other as “corrupt”.

Cardinal Pell, who is in Rome, is due to give evidence before a commission inquiry next month into his archdiocese’s legal response to an unrelated claim of child sexual abuse involving the church.

At the centre of the Vatican inquiry were allegations that two former pupils of St Stanislaus College in Bathurst, NSW, were sexually abused by a priest during the 1970s, including inside the confessional. In 1994, one of the alleged victims agreed to a $43,000 financial settlement with the Trustees of the Vincentian Fathers religious order, on condition he forgo his rights to pursue civil or criminal action against the church.

The order did not accept liability for the alleged abuse, and a subsequent prosecution of the priest in relation to the victim’s claims, despite his previous legal agreement, did not result in a conviction. The accused priest continues to live with the Vincentians order in Sydney.

After years of lobbying by the alleged victim, the Vatican’s powerful Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith authorised Cardinal Pell “to conduct an Administrative Penal Process” in May 2012, the decree states.

This found: “The decision to pay compensation was for actuarial reasons and to appear pastorally concerned for (the alleged victim) but it was wrong. It is now the tail wagging the dog.”

The decree found the alleged victim “is demonstrably an exaggerator whose complaints escalate in seriousness and refinement as time passes. He has a detailed dossier of these ‘remembered’ events clogging his computer which serve to assist his rehearsing to ensure his story’s consistency,” the decree says.

The diagnosis of the alleged victim as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder was made “self-servingly” by a psychologist, the decree states.

The second alleged victim’s doctor is described as being “addicted to Pethidine and subsequently struck off” and “other reputable legal practitioners have no trouble in labelling the approaches of (his) solicitor as corrupt”.

While other staff at St Stanislaus College have been jailed for child abuse, the decree states, “as a boarding school for teenage boys it is also a venue where one would expect some sexual experimentation among the students”.

“In such a situation one might expect some mutual masturbation and frottage. Penetrative intercourse would seem far less likely.”

The investigators found there was insufficient evidence to make any finding against the priest. “The evidence presented by the accusers is problematic, and the insistence of innocence on the part of the accused is consistent,” the decree states.

Patrick Parkinson, a University of Sydney law professor who has advised the Catholic Church on its response to child sexual abuse, said he had concerns over the decree and the deed of release previously signed by the alleged victim.

“To be saying ‘for actuarial reasons’ and ‘to be perceived’ to be caring is very disturbing language,” Dr Parkinson said.

“Any deed of release by which the church requires somebody under the threat of financial disadvantage to sign away their right to go to the police risks breaking the criminal law and ought to be investigated as a possible offence.”

One of the alleged victims said yesterday he was “devastated” to receive the final decree and has since requested a formal review of its findings by the Vatican.

“I thought they would have mediated and said ‘There’s something going on here’, but they just stuck with him being innocent the whole time,” he said.

“Even though there is an appeal, I don’t know what the appeal process is and how to address it, and that’s what I’ve been asking and asking.

“This was my review that they took away from me. I’m going to keep going until I die.”

In a written statement, Cardinal Pell’s office said he “is awaiting instructions on how and when the canonical process … will be finalised”.

“Cardinal Pell understands this has been a long and protracted process for the victim.”

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