|Bishop Peter Connors|
A special issues committee meeting at the Australian Catholic Bishops conference in 1992 noted: “It was agreed that there are serious time bombs ticking away in a number of dioceses at the present time.”
That was the case in a number of dioceses, former Melbourne archdiocese vicar-general Bishop Peter Connors, who chaired the committee, told the child abuse royal commission.
It also included Melbourne’s Doveton parish, where a succession of paedophile priests were sent.
“There would certainly be other dioceses where that problem, of time bombs ticking away, existed,” Bishop Connors said.
“That would certainly be the case, I think particularly, in the diocese of Ballarat, the big time bomb was ticking away there.”
The meeting of special issues groups, set up to deal with allegations against priests, noted it was important the alleged offender be treated fairly.
No concern for victims
Bishop Connors agreed with Gail Furness SC, senior counsel assisting the commission, who said there was little, if any, concern about the victims.
The commission heard there was a culture in the Catholic church of keeping abuse allegations secret.
When confronted about an abuse allegation, pedophile priest Ronald Pickering told then Melbourne archbishop Frank Little in 1986 that he had an “open house” policy with children invited to the presbytery.
“He also advised that on occasions he was imprudent but that there were no improprieties about which any legal action could be taken and which could do harm to the church,” Little noted, according to a tendered document.
Furness said it appeared Pickering believed that as long as what was done was not in the public arena, by way of legal action, no harm could be done.
Connors said it was probably the way priests defended themselves but conceded it was the mindset of the church to keep child sex abuse allegations private.
“I would accept that was almost certainly the way that I was approaching those kind of accusations,” he said on Thursday.
Bishop Hilton Deakin, who was Melbourne vicar-general from 1987 to 1992, said the abuse had been covered up to protect the church and that protecting children was simply forgotten.
The suffering of children was not well understood in those days, but I am certain it was not completely forgotten by everyone with any authority in the church. Some people, indeed many people, chose to ignore the damage and suffering of the children - whether it was to protect the church or to protect their own careers.
Deakin said he was told by Little that he should inform him of any sexual misconduct complaints about priests but that the matter would not go any further.
“He said: ‘There’s one form of complaint. You tell me verbally, and do it at breakfast or dinner, and that’s the end of it; there’s no discussion, no analysis, no further’,” Deakin said.
However, Little, who held the position of Melbourne archbishop from 1974 to 1996, told Deakin that he kept secret files full of “letters of complaint from all sorts of people, from parents especially, from offended people, and he would want to know name and place, and I was not to ask any further questions”.
Deakin said he was deeply embarrassed and sorry for those who had been hurt and apologised for any action or negligence on his part.
“I think that one of the actions certainly that’s become apparent to me since this commission started was the extraordinary cover-up of information.”
Deakin said when he was an auxiliary bishop he spoke to the Apostolic Nuncio, the Pope’s representative in Australia, about a priest called Peter Searson.
“I was telling him about this priest, who was a most evil person, doing evil things to little children in a school and had been doing it for quite some time,” he said.
“I was hoping and praying that something would be done.”
He said the Apostolic Nuncio thanked him and walked away.
Apostolic Nuncio, indeed. What a disgrace to the name 'apostle'. A real apostle would have called Searson to explain himself, and if he lied, he would drop dead on the spot for lying to the Holy Spirit. This fellow appears to have been completely unconcerned about the Holy Spirit and totally concerned with the Pope and the Holy See.
Would that constitute the Catholic church being an idol?