|Counsel assisting the royal commission, Gail Furness: data shows Catholic |
archdiocese of Melbourne had 450 child sex abuse claims in 35 years.
Photograph: Jeremy Piper
More than 450 people made claims and substantiated complaints of child sexual abuse against priests, religious employees and volunteers working within the Catholic archdiocese of Melbourne between January 1980 and February 2015, it has been revealed.
The child sexual abuse royal commission made the data public for the first time as its 35th case study began before Victoria’s county court on Tuesday, which is focusing on the conduct of eight priests within the archdiocese.
Counsel assisting the inquiry, Gail Furness, said in her opening address the data was the result of a comprehensive survey of all Catholic church authorities in Australia.
The survey revealed that when taking into account treatment, legal and other costs, the church paid $16.8m to 316 of the 454 victims at an average of about $52,000 each claimant, either from a civil claim or through the Melbourne Response, which was the internal method of handling sexual abuse cases by the archdiocese.
Over the next two weeks in Melbourne, the commission’s hearings will focus on the conduct and abuse at the hands of priests Nazareno Fasciale, Kevin O’Donnell, Ronald Pickering, Wilfred Baker, Peter Searson, David Daniel, Desmond Gannon and Barry Robinson.
Data obtained by the commission shows that O’Donnell, who was the parish priest at Sacred Heart parish in Oakleigh between 1979 and 1991, had 56 complaints made against him between 1944 and 1990, the highest number of complaints of all the priests.
The first incident of abuse occurred in 1944, just two years after his ordination, when he was 28, Furness told the commission. All the complaints were made before his death.
The commission has previously heard that in 1995, O’Donnell was charged with 49 child sex offences. That same year he was jailed for 39 months. By November 1996, O’Donnell was released on parole. He died in 1997 and was buried a priest.
Furness told the commission it would hear evidence that Fasciale, ordained in 1952 at St Patrick’s cathedral in Melbourne, died in 1996 without charges against him ever being heard, despite the first claims against him being made in 1954.
The first incident of abuse allegedly occurred one year after his ordination, when he was 27. Furness said the commission would examine why there were delays in the criminal investigation despite 20 people making a claim of abuse against him, 17 of which were made before his death.
Searson had numerous complaints made against his conduct, Furness said. After being transferred to the Holy Family parish in Doveton in 1984, there were reports he had a handgun at school, showed a body in a coffin to children, and engaged in sexualised conduct with children.
Although Searson was interviewed by senior church officials about his conduct and admitted to his behaviour, he denied any untoward intention, Furness said. He was also accused of physically abusing and making sexual advances towards children.
Meanwhile Baker, who had 21 complaints made against him, was placed on administrative leave in 1997 by then archbishop, now cardinal, George Pell. The Catholic Education Office received complaints about Baker’s behaviour towards children before this leave was granted, the commission heard.
The first witness to give evidence on Tuesday will be a former priest, Philip O’Donnell, who has previously accused the church of covering up allegations of abuse. Evidence will also be heard from survivors of sexual abuse.
The hearing continues.
|Cardinal George Pell|
Cardinal Pell, now the Vatican's financial chief, said church leaders had failed to address the conduct of abusers such as Father Peter Searson but had again defended his handling of abuse complaints.
Father Searson, who died in 2009, was never convicted of a sex offence.
One of his victims, Julie Stewart, criticised Cardinal Pell for telling a Victorian inquiry there may have been victims of Father Searson, after years earlier apologizing to her for the abuse.
When questioned in 2013 by Victorian MP Frank McGuire, Cardinal Pell defended his actions in relation to Father Searson.
"No conviction was recorded for Searson on sexual misbehaviour. There might be victims," the official transcript said.
|Julie Stewart received $25,000 in compensation from the Catholic Church |
and an apology from then Archbishop George Pell.
"I was absolutely so angry ... and I thought 'let's get 'em'," Ms Stewart said.
In a statement from the Vatican, a spokesperson for Cardinal Pell said he was very moved by Ms Stewart's courage and openness in giving evidence to the child abuse royal commission.
"There is no inconsistency between the evidence provided by the Cardinal at the Victorian parliamentary inquiry and apology provided by Cardinal Pell to Ms Stewart," the statement said.
"The failure of church leaders to address the conduct of Peter Searson and other abusers is shameful and as the evidence at the Victorian parliamentary inquiry illustrates, was one of the main reasons why the Cardinal moved so swiftly to establish the Melbourne Response."
Cardinal Pell set up the Melbourne Response to handle abuse complaints in the archdiocese when he became Melbourne archbishop in 1996.
Ms Stewart received $25,000 in compensation from the church and an apology from the archbishop in 1998 after being indecently assaulted by Father Searson during confession in 1985.
Cardinal Pell told the Victorian inquiry two police investigations into Father Searson were inconclusive and the Catholic Education Office was never able to pin anything on him.
Asked about victims' views that during the period, the church's stance was "hear no evil, see no evil", Cardinal Pell said: "I think that is an objectionable suggestion, with no foundation in the truth."