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George Pell and the requirement for the mandatory reporting of sex predator priests

The ABC’s 4 Corners this week exposed blatant concealment of a priest’s sexual assaults and rapes of children by the Catholic church in NSW. Admissions of guilt were made by the offender and documented…

Cardinal George Pell has faced questions about what he knew regarding allegations of sexual abuse by priests. AAP/Dean Lewins

The ABC’s 4 Corners this week exposed blatant concealment of a priest’s sexual assaults and rapes of children by the Catholic church in NSW. Admissions of guilt were made by the offender and documented in a church internal document.

The three senior priests who witnessed these admissions did not report these sex crimes to the police. They were legally obliged to do so. Such cover-up, or containment of these crimes, is also obvious in the church’s internal complaints processes.

The Archdiocese of Sydney has said it will now investigate this meeting.

The need for full mandatory reporting laws

The mandatory reporting requirements of child abuse and sex crimes vary from state to state in Australia. This confusion leads to an erratic response from those to whom the laws apply.

In Victoria and the majority of other states clergy and church personnel (unless they are a teacher or health care provider) are not required to report such matters to the police.

In NSW, not only is an individual worker or teacher who works with children, mandated to report to the police, but so is any manager or supervisor in an organisation that provides education or other services to children.

This unsatisfactory scenario is compared with a mandatory reporting bill that was introduced recently in Ireland. If passed, a failure by clergy (and others) not to disclose information to police that would “assist in prosecuting a person who commits a serious offence against a child or vulnerable adult”, would be a criminal offence. The proposed sanction for this offence is a five-year jail term.

Such uniform and sweeping changes should be adopted in Australia. A very dark cloud of shame continues to blight this country while our governments allow the powerful and wealthy Catholic church to be unaccountable for decades of cover-up of possibly thousands of serious sex crimes, including anal, vaginal and oral rape of children, by grown men.

The church must take responsibility

Though not legally obliged in much of the country to report these crimes to the police, the church displays smugness in ignoring its moral and ethical obligations by not reporting. Uniform mandatory reporting legislation would override such conceitedness and help deliver some justice to the many thousands of victims and their families.

The other string to the Catholic cover-up bow relates to their internal complaints processes, the Melbourne Response (for the Melbourne Archdiocese) and Towards Healing (a National process).

These organisations assess criminal allegations and, based on the evidence, make decisions as to whether these crimes happened or not. The church and these processes are not accountable to any civil authority and there is no external review process. These crimes are not private matters. They are matters for the state and the police.

Also, the victims, by going through these processes, experience a high degree of re-abuse and re-traumatisation. Many say they feel like they are the one on trial. They feel isolated, disempowered, frightened, interrogated, intimidated and threatened.

Unjust processes

One of the major problems with the Towards Healing process is that although the “Church shall respond to the needs of the victims in such a way as demanded by justice and compassion”, the provision of apology, counselling or compensation is entirely discretionary.

But that initial discretion is augmented such that each bishop or provincial of a religious order has absolute and individual discretion in terms of the amount of monetary compensation to be paid. There is no yardstick and no guidance as to the amount. There could be years of abuse for which one bishop might offer $12,000, while another more compassionate bishop may offer $100k for a seemingly far less serious case.

Despite this lack of consistency and the discrepancies in relation to whether compensation is paid or not, and how much is paid, there is no appeal or review available.

These same unjust processes also apply to the Melbourne Response.

In relation to the legal representation of victims going through these processes, some lawyers argue that both have a policy of lobbying victims to be unrepresented. Certainly, many go through the process completely alone and are not told or advised to get representation.

Unrepresented victims are exploited. Take an unrepresented, unemployed victim who is troubled, frightened and perhaps has alcohol or drug problems, $5000 or $10,000 may seem like a lot of money. But this person is uninformed and unfamiliar with the process. They are daunted in having to confront the church (its abuser) whilst being unable to negotiate with the church’s lawyers effectively and on an equal footing.

The need for a Royal Commission

These church processes should be shut down and replaced with a national redress scheme run by the state and paid for by the church. Victims also need legislative reform so they have the choice of litigating the church. This is currently unavailable to them due to the church’s legitimate legal defences.

With respect to the rising number of suicides and premature deaths of people who were sexually assaulted or raped by clergy, Victoria Police hold the details of at least 40 people who commited suicide and who were the victims of just two serial offenders, Father Ridsdale and Brother Robert Best.

My research is revealing more clusters of suicides including in the parish of Gardenvale in Victoria where the alleged offender escaped to England many years ago, never to be held accountable. He has now died. More suicides and premature deaths were reported in this week’s 4 Corners program as well as cases of offenders fleeing the country to escape prosecution.

The consequences of these crimes are immense, as are the social and economic costs. How are these issues to be dealt with and how will victims and their families find justice? To forge such a path, there must be a national Royal Commission and not a Parliamentary Inquiry as recently announced in Victoria. Prosecutions are needed. Only a Royal Commission can match the might of the Catholic church and effectuate accountability.

Government and church make very dangerous bed-mates. Our government must get out of that bed and show leadership and courage by calling for such an inquiry. Nothing less will do.

Join the conversation

46 Comments sorted by

Comments on this article are now closed.

  1. Robert O'Toole

    Retired

    I agree wholeheartedly - there MUST be a Royal Commission into this. How/What can we do to achieve this?

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    1. James Walker

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Robert O'Toole

      An election is coming - ping your local MP (and any other candidates you are aware of) and demand one.
      Petitioning parliament is surprisingly simple here's the phamplet that describes the process:
      http://ic.pics.livejournal.com/fishlivejournal/11726077/6557/600.jpg
      http://ic.pics.livejournal.com/fishlivejournal/11726077/6818/600.jpg

      Seriously this is in everybody's best interests, including the churches! Hunting child molestors is like hunting nazis - something we can all rally behind.

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    2. Craig Sajben

      retired

      In reply to Robert O'Toole

      Robert O'Toole
      How/What can we do to achieve this?

      I'm not sure how, but I know one thing if the Mad Monk gets in it will ALL! be swept under the carpet faster than a poodle can bolt out of parliament.

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  2. Blair Donaldson

    logged in via Twitter

    As usual the Catholic Church buries its skeletons until they are dug up by investigative media and then, and only then does the church hierarchy reluctantly admit something needs to be done - but only enough to be seen to be doing something.

    This gross behaviour by the church is a disgrace and a lingering shame that should be sheeted home to the gutless politicians and church leaders who have denied responsibility for decades.

    For an organisation that enjoys tax-free status, can legally practice…

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    1. Ian Ashman

      Manager

      In reply to Blair Donaldson

      Hear hear Blair

      and thanks to Judy for this excellent article.

      It would be good for any investigations to include a review of the tax free status of all religious organisations.

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    2. Nick Stafford

      writer

      In reply to Blair Donaldson

      Thank you for this article Judy

      Bring on a Royal Commission!

      This issue is really upsetting me. The sexual abuse of children is bad enough. It is now clear that many Catholic priests and other church officials have covered up the crimes of pedophiles in quite a few countries including Australia.

      It should not have mattered that there were/are no laws compelling the reporting of sexual crimes by clergy to police, it just should have happened. In every case.

      That it has not happened, that…

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  3. Guy Curtis

    Senior Lecturer at School of Psychology and Exercise Science, Murdoch University

    A couple of things.

    First, mandatory reporting is limited to various groups. It deals with reporting of suspicions. The Department of Community Services in NSW deal with more than a quarter of a million reports each year, hence the professions required to report are selected judiciously so as not to overwhelm the system. With the NSW government set to dump thousands of state employees I doubt DOCS will be spared, making following up all clams even harder. Caution is needed in calls to add any…

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    1. Sean Lamb

      Science Denier

      In reply to Guy Curtis

      Although in the case discussed by 4 Corners the letter/report in question was hiding in plain sight.

      It had been provided to the NSW courts in a case involving an extortion attempt by a heroin addict against Father F. So its not as if the Church was hiding documents.
      The report was read and then ignored by the magistrate, the defence lawyer and the crown prosecutor involved in that case. The failure here was far more systematic that just the Church.

      However, what Father F. confessed too…

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    2. Lynne Newington

      Researcher

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      I think those who have gone through it's system Sean, would disagree.
      I certainly do in relation to the 100.000's of thousands of dollars of church money in compensation that "probably went to funding the drug syndicates".
      That truly is offensive, the image it conjures up is horrific.
      As far as the church hiding documents, they are well and truly capable of doing so and in fact, on record of having done so:
      The Melbourne Archdiocese within the competance of the office of Judicial Vicar Ian Waters.
      The informer a past member of the Rescource Team of Melbourne Response.

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    3. Sean Lamb

      Science Denier

      In reply to Lynne Newington

      "probably went to funding the drug syndicates".

      Well it did in the case of Damien Jurd and Daniel Powell. They were drug addicts, they were trying to extort money - not through any formal process but by direct approaches to Father F. Father F. made no admissions as regard Daniel Powell and in regards Damien Jurd he said he fondled his genitals during a car trip.
      "Daniel Powell pursued a civil case against the Church and received $135,000 in compensation in 2006 for Father's F's abuse. Damian…

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    4. Lynne Newington

      Researcher

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      I can't see anything compassionate in your views Sean. I wonder why?
      Dealing with, what Irish Archbishop, Diarmuid Martin quoted: (not that I'm impressed by, or owe them anything), "abusive priests with the exception of a few aren't even remorseful, with common attributes of narcissism and grandiosity",
      Fr F appears to have these same attributes with a lot of help from his friends in high places.
      You may like to read the history on Brokenrites website. it may give you a little more insight and change your attitude, even if a little.

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    5. Sean Lamb

      Science Denier

      In reply to Lynne Newington

      "I can't see anything compassionate in your views Sean. I wonder why?"

      Errrr, probably because I am not a compassionate person. At least I never claim to be.

      But the compassionate response of paying 300 000 dollars to those two drug addicts doesn't seem to have been very effective, does it? Perhaps doing something about their drug problem would have.

      Something for the compassionate people to consider.

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    6. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      Sean, something else to think about before demonising victims: IF these individuals HADN'T been subject to the depredations of God's representatives on Earth, it is much less likely that they would have become junkies.

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    7. Matt Stevens

      Senior Research Fellow/Statistician/PhD

      In reply to Guy Curtis

      In the NT, every one has to report and it does not matter whether you are member of the general public, a teacher or Priest. It is absolutely ridiculous that in this day and age the Church is still protected.

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  4. Matthew Costello

    Director

    Pell appeals to the integrity of the priests involved as his defence in not acting on the allegations (Tom Allard SMH 4/7/12) and seems completely oblivious to the notion that it is this supposed integrity of a priest, and the church itself, that has come into question.

    The church needs to dismantle their internal protection racket the writer alludes to above and accept that there exists the worst of rapists in their ranks and that the only option is to hand them over for earthly judgement and compensate the victims.

    Their reluctance to act, in obvious contradiction to the doctrine they preach, shows them to be less the godly servants they claim to be and more the twisted misogynists in frocks that we are coming to see them as.

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    1. Sean Lamb

      Science Denier

      In reply to Matthew Costello

      4 Corners was acting tricky. Since they had the letter from 1992, which the Church had provided to court in early 2000, the ethical way to proceed was to provide the letter to Cardinal Pell and then ask for comment.

      Since 4 Corners only provide short clips we really don't know what questions Pell was replying too, but if it was concerning Damien Jurd then the recollection of the priests present was not inaccurate, namely that the admissions of Father F were far short of the charges against him. Although fondling the genitals of a boy during a car trip is certainly not insignificant.

      Springing a trap on Cardinal Pell seems unethical and unnecessary. But I guess it makes good television.

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    2. Roger Powell

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      Yup. Acting tricky. Trying to establish the truth from the Catholic Church can be a very tricky business.

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    3. Phill Herbert

      Self funded

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      Sean:
      The lack of rigor in your analysis is disappointing, if not confronting. 101: Sexually abused children will have worse health outcomes, sticking a needle in the arm is merely a manifestation of this. Pell's intent of placing this beneath the carpet is a clear indicator that he condones child sexual abuse. I can only hope you are not part of academia and have access to eager young minds. Pick up your act...

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    4. Sean Lamb

      Science Denier

      In reply to Phill Herbert

      I can assure you have to part of academia - and when I did peripherally I didn't see much evidence of eager young minds.

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    5. Sean Lamb

      Science Denier

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      I can assure I have no part of academia [etc etc]

      Oops

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    6. Ian Ashman

      Manager

      In reply to Phill Herbert

      Phill, Sean is just a troll - ignore him.

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  5. Roger Powell

    logged in via Facebook

    Well done Judy Courtlin and well said.

    Yes, Australian Royal Commission now, please.

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  6. Phill Herbert

    Self funded

    Very will written Judy. I find the echo of silence from both Parties astonishing...

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  7. James Jenkin

    EFL Teacher Trainer

    The article points out that New South Wales, where these crimes took place, has mandatory reporting laws. Therefore is it important to discuss why these laws didn't work on this occasion, as well as how we introduce them in other states?

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    1. Roger Powell

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to James Jenkin

      The evidence made public by 4 Corners seems to point to the law being defied by the church and I hope the police follow it up. However, whether or not the law says it is mandatory to report sexual abuse against children ought surely to be irrelevant. Who among us - if made aware of such a heinous crime - would then go searching the statutes to find out if we were obliged by the law to report it or not? We would just do it - and quickly.

      As usual, Mr. George Pell trotted up to the camera to say…

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    2. John Harland

      bicycle technician

      In reply to Roger Powell

      A problem with trying to get the police to do anything is that many police are Roman Catholics.

      Would they dare risk excommunication, or dare to question men in gaudy frocks?

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  8. John Brown

    Human Being

    While we are told that the church is free to operate in our country whilst it abides by our laws the fact is that when the church is shown to be in breach as it has many many times in the past the country has been held to blackmail and forced to provide exemptions and to make changes to our laws very often weakening our justice system through tactics such as publicly lobbying to maintain or extend statute of limitations laws which the church has globally hidden its foul corruption behind.

    The…

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  9. John Brown

    logged in via Facebook

    We hear from our politicians and leaders that the Catholic church is free to operate here so long as it complies with our laws.

    The evidence here and in many previous examples shows that they are in breach of that requirement thus there is an obligation on our politicians to take action to rescind the right of the Catholic church to operate here in any manner until it is in complete compliance with our law.

    Traditionally when these breaches have been explosed the country has been blackmailed…

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  10. Wendy Albert

    Gardener

    Any organisation that demand its adherents believe in 'immaculate conception' and the infallibility of an old man who wears frocks and jewels - is inherently suspect and not to be trusted with the bodies and minds of children

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  11. Comment removed by moderator.

    1. Lynne Newington

      Researcher

      In reply to Gil Hardwick

      We who are rightly so held up to scrutiny as Catholics, are brothers and sister in Christ, therefore these abuses are incestuious.
      Do you also believe that incest is acceptable, you appear to sit well with most of the atrocities mentioned here.

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  12. Comment removed by moderator.

  13. Peter Sommerville

    Scientist & Technologist

    Some of us have personal experience of priests with predilections for young boys. Altar boys atending to masses with no congregations on cold winter morningswerefair game. Some learnt to put the experience behind them. Others were severely damaged. But is time for the shutters to be opened and the light allowed to reveal the truth and to expose responsible for suppressing it. A very thoughtful and incisive article.

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    1. Lynne Newington

      Researcher

      In reply to Peter Sommerville

      It's wonderful that the shutters are beginning to be opened Peter, especially for those who had to put the experience behind them, and for those who were damaged, just to see they have not been forgotten by those who knew, but could do nothing, would validate them.
      On the battle field when soldiers have been wounded or are dying, many ask just to be remebered, spiritually I can see a connection.

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  14. Philip Dowling

    IT teacher

    While there certainly have been a number of predatory paedophiles who were priests and religious order members.
    Victims and/or their parents have always have always had the option of taking their allegations to the police in the first instance.
    When will I see a similar call for a royal commission into the ALP or other organizations.
    http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/orkopoulos-whistleblower-feared-for-her-life-20110228-1bbs9.html
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Collins_%28politician%29
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keith_Wright_%28Australian_politician%29

    Now that mandatory reporting is in place there is one crime that is seldom reported to this day.

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  15. Lynne Newington

    Researcher

    I'm afraid I have my reservations about the Information Forum for Victims by the Melbourne Victims Collective and Fr Bob Maguire Foundation.
    It all loooks good on paper and Helen Last certainly has a long record, being the victims advocate for the Melbourne Response within the Archdiocese put in place by then, Archbishop Pell in 1996. I also recall very well her dealings with victims in the early days of Brokenrites and founder Chris Wilding and Margaret Jouhgin.
    In relation to Fr Maguire, I…

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    1. John Brown

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Lynne Newington

      I too have grave reservations and a concern for the safety of some sectors of the survivor community with regard to the Melbourne Victims Collective.

      There are many aspects that require serious explanations for past activities that a Royal Commission would be expected to investigate; until then those dealing with this extremely toxic aspects of these abuses must be advised to take precautions as they are dealing with aspects that have strong and close toxic connections to the clusters of suicides across Victoria.

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    2. John Brown

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Lynne Newington

      The trail of damaged victims from this collective is only marginally shorter than the trail of damaged victims of the Melbourne process. My experience and the experience of 5 other contacts point this process as being more insidious and more damaging than the church process itself.

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