THE Archdiocese of Melbourne allowed paedophile priests to abuse scores of children, according to a report released by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The report, which describes “a culture of secrecy” inside the Melbourne archdiocese, was released on December 5, just 10 days before the Commission’s final report is due to be handed down.
It found former Melbourne Archbishop Frank Little, who headed the archdiocese from 1974 until 1996, “sought to protect the archdiocese from scandal and liability and prioritised the interests of the Church over those of the victims”.
The Commission found Archbishop Little lied about the resignation of priests accused of child abuse, concealed ongoing financial assistance to some accused priests and moved others between parishes.
Sections of the Commission report that appear to deal with Cardinal George Pell who succeeded Archbishop Little as leader of Melbourne’s Catholics are redacted.
Cardinal Pell will face a four-week committal hearing next March as he fights sexual offence allegations. He denies the allegations.
In the report, Commissioners found there was a “practice of using oblique or euphemistic language in correspondence and records concerning complaints of child sexual abuse” with terms like “Special Issues” being used to refer primarily to complaints of child sexual abuse.
Commissioners also found that minutes of the meetings of the Curia (a body of senior clergy who advise and assist the archbishop) were generally euphemistic, incomplete and inaccurate.
None of the minutes referred directly to child sexual abuse or other similar terms.
Considering the evidence as a whole, Commissioners were satisfied that “there were such complaints which were or were likely to have been discussed” on various occasions.
“The purpose of not recording information was to protect the assets of the archdiocese in the event of a claim being made against it,” the Commission found.
Commissioners found dysfunctional systems, procedures and practices operated in the archdiocese that inevitably led to poor outcomes in responding to allegations of child sexual abuse.
It included the structure of Catholic education in Victoria, whereby the parish priest was the employer of staff at parish schools.
Commissioners found that during the tenure of Archbishop Little, who died in 2008, decision-making within the Archdiocese in response to complaints of child sexual abuse against priests was highly centralised.
There were no effective checks and balances on the Archbishop’s exercise of powers in relation to priests who were the subject of complaints. Commissioners concluded: “As the evidence in the case study makes plain, a system for responding to complaints of child sexual abuse in which the exclusive authority for making decisions was vested in one person, is deeply flawed”.
Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart said he accepted the report’s conclusion that the Case Study showed there was a culture of secrecy in relation to complaints, which were dealt with in a way that sought to protect the archdiocese from scandal and liability and prioritised the interests of the Church over those of victims.
He said that mishandling of complaints against priests and church personnel and the resulting lack of response to such complaints led to unnecessary suffering for many victims and their families.
“As a Church we will learn from this Case Study and the upcoming Royal Commission’s report and I make a commitment to greater transparency in our processes, in order to assist victims and their families,” Archbishop Hart said
He said the Church “should be a safe place for children but the events point to it having been unsafe for all those who are victims”.
“Where this abuse occurred resulting from the passivity or inactivity of predecessors of mine, I sincerely apologise and accept responsibility,” he said.
Archbishop Hart said he was “confident” that the archdiocese and its parishes and schools had the policies, codes and processes required to ensure child safe environments and to deal with complaints and committed to ongoing safety and wellbeing of children in the Church’s care.