August 25, 2014 12:00AM
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is also investigating the matter, following the publication of the resulting church decree in The Australian this year.
This decree, provided to the alleged victims in January, provides a powerful and controversial insight into the secretive canon law processes used by the Catholic Church to respond to claims of child sex abuse.
After more than a decade of lobbying by one of the alleged victims, the Vatican’s powerful Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith authorised Cardinal Pell “to conduct an administrative penal process” into the case. Cardinal Pell personally appointed three senior Australian clerics to undertake the investigation and forwarded the resulting decree back to the congregation.
The decree itself states that its authors “decided not to see themselves as judges charged with determining the guilt or otherwise” of the priest alleged to have committed the abuse.
“What is being tested is the reliability, the credibility of those making the complaints,” the decree states. It describes one alleged victim as “an exaggerator” with “a detailed dossier of these ‘remembered’ events clogging his computer’’. A previous decision by the church to pay this alleged victim financial compensation was done “for actuarial reasons and to appear pastorally concerned”, the decree said.
In April, following the revelation of the document’s contents in The Australian, the royal commission wrote to the Vatican requesting “copies of any documents regarding” the priest concerned.
Last month, in a letter subsequently tendered to the royal commission, the Vatican replied, saying the priest “is presently the subject of a canonical process which (has) been returned to ecclesiastical authorities in Australia for further review’’.
“To avoid compromising the integrity of the canonical proceeding, it is not possible to provide all the requested documentation relating to the case at this time,” the letter states, although some documents were provided to the commission.
The review of the church’s previous investigation is being undertaken by the Sydney archdiocese’s acting administrator, Bishop Peter Comensoli. Cardinal Pell left his position as archbishop earlier this year to take up a senior Vatican position with responsibility for the finances of the church.
At the centre of the new investigation are allegations that two former pupils of St Stanislaus College in Bathurst, NSW, were sexually abused by a priest during the 1970s, including inside a confessional.
In 1994, one of the alleged victims received a $43,000 settlement from the Vincentian Catholic order, although it did not accept liability for the alleged abuse and a subsequent criminal prosecution of the priest did not result in a conviction. The priest in question continues to live with the Vincentians in Sydney.
Giving evidence by video to the royal commission from Rome last week, Cardinal Pell was questioned about the Vatican’s decision to refuse the commission’s request for every available document relating to this, and other, cases of alleged abuse.
The Vatican had, to date, provided “5000 pages of documentation in relation to specific requests” and would respond to other such requests in future, Cardinal Pell said. It had refused to provide “internal working documents” and those relating to “cases which are still going forward, if there are any, in Rome’’.
The archdiocese of Sydney said it was unable to comment as the matter was before the royal commission. Neither of the alleged victims were able to comment.