The Catholic Church in Australia has been accused of vastly underreporting its wealth, after a Fairfax Media investigation estimated the religious body has assets amounting around $30 billion nationwide.
That stunning figure comes amid criticism the Church hasn’t done enough to financially support victims of child sexual abuse within its institutions.
Late last year, the church also responded to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse by saying that increased payments to survivors could force cutbacks to Catholic-run social services.
Fairfax Media arrived at that mammoth figure by asking Victorian councils for information pertaining to the values of properties owned by the church.
In 2014, the Melbourne archdiocese informed the royal commission that its properties were worth a piddling $109 million.
The Fairfax investigation found the church had came to that figure by calculating the value of each property at time of purchase, and that an adjustment put the 2016 valuation of the church’s holdings at $6.9 billion.
Is there absolutely no desire in the Catholic Church to tell the truth. Jesus said, 'I am the Truth'. Do they even know Him?
An extrapolation of that data nation-wide led to the $30 billion figure. Cathedrals and offices aren’t the only holdings: the church’s massive school system is included, along with car parks, a conference centre, and even a mobile phone tower.
Fairfax Media suggests their total Australian holdings even rival those of shopping centre behemoth Westfield. The church is also nearly universally exempt from taxes and rates, and receives huge amounts of taxpayer funding for its private schools and hospitals.
Payouts to survivors from Towards Healing, a compensation system the church established in 1996, average $49,000. That figure is $14,000 lower in Melbourne. In the two decades leading to 2015, the church paid out nearly $69 million in compensation to survivors in Sydney and Melbourne.
The church spent $800 million alone fighting the claim of survivor John Ellis, who sought a comparatively minuscule settlement of $100,000.
Advocates continue to argue that the church has not provided enough monetary support to those who survived abuse at its institutions across the nation.
No but they have certainly provided lots of monetary support for lawyers, Catholic lawyers, of course.
Shane Healy, communications director of the Melbourne archdiocese, said accurate information on the church’s local holdings is “not available”.
A Sydney archdiocese spokesperson also countered to Fairfax Media that the church is “more than just buildings” and that “if the Church wasn’t [providing social welfare], who would?”
“As a charitable organisation it is important to remember we hold most assets for missionary purposes, not for profit,’’ the spokesperson added.
“It seems there are some who see the Catholic Church merely through the prism of assets and property, reporting and regulation.”
And then there are some who see it as the protector and enabler of pedophile priests and teachers, and the re-abuser of victims of those who were abused by those priests and teachers. There are some who see it as a dishonest bunch of liars who are an embarrassment to the name Christian.
Last week, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a national apology to survivors of institutional child abuse during an update on a national redress scheme, itself a recommendation of the royal commission.
Queensland Governor and former chief justice Paul de Jersey has come under fire for perceived conflict of interest over his role in a legal review 20 years ago that recommended maintaining legal limitations for child sex abuse claims.
A former Supreme Court colleague is among the judge's critics, whose views support concerns raised privately by victims with the recently concluded Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse.
The review on time limits for civil lawsuits, including child sex abuse claims, was handed down in September 1998.
At the time it was carried out, Justice de Jersey — then a Supreme Court judge — was chancellor (honorary legal adviser) to the Anglican Diocese of Brisbane, which was then facing a growing number of sex abuse complaints.
An expert on judicial ethics, Justice James Thomas told the ABC Justice de Jersey should never have held the role of church legal adviser while he was also a judge.
The QLRC review urged the State Government to keep time limits on child sex abuse lawsuits, but recommended judges have discretion to extend them.
This limit gave most victims three years after turning 18 to file claims, which in effect limited any institution's potential legal exposure.
There is no suggestion that Justice de Jersey improperly influenced the outcome of the QLRC review.
But its findings were later swept aside, as recommended by the landmark royal commission into child abuse.
The royal commission found the limits "worked great injustices" against victims and the Queensland Government abolished them in 2016.
A leading public law expert questioned Justice de Jersey's decision not to stand aside from the QLRC review in the face of "a pretty obvious and serious conflict of interest".
La Trobe University professor Matthew Groves said Justice de Jersey "would have known, having been a judge and a senior lawyer, that this had the potential to impact on the liability of the church of which he was part".
"And I think it would probably have been prudent for [Justice de Jersey] to step out of this one," Professor Groves told the ABC.
"The important thing is firstly, it's the public perception.
"I think most people would think there's a clear potential for a conflict of interest and that's enough for a person to stand aside from an important public position — and doubly so when it's a judge."
Professor Groves said it was important to know that a lot was known 20 years ago about the legal exposure of institutions, including churches, to child sex abuse.
"So we're not imposing what we know now on what happened 20 years ago ... the key elements of this conflict were there and they should have been managed," he said.
Lyndal [surname withheld], who fought the Brisbane diocese in a landmark 2001 case over her abuse as a 12-year-old schoolgirl, said Justice de Jersey "should have stepped down" from the review. She was the only known abuse victim to sue the diocese in time before the reforms.
Lyndal's court-awarded damages of about $835,000 contrast with the average $74,000 the diocese paid to 145 victims between 1980 and 2015. Her case in part led to the downfall of former governor-general Peter Hollingworth, who was the Anglican archbishop of Brisbane in 1997.
Justice De Jersey said in 2001 the church had not sought his advice about Lyndal's case. But Lyndal said she "would have been pretty pissed off" to know it was the archbishop's honorary legal adviser involved in reviewing a key legal barrier for victims.
"How can you have this person in so many roles, who is advising Hollingworth at the time ... just doesn't seem right. It doesn't seem ethical," Lyndal said.
Another abuse survivor, a Brisbane man who settled out of court with the diocese after being out of time and did not wish to be named, accused Justice de Jersey of "absolute hypocrisy". "This man was in a legal position to highly influence that law which directly favours the Anglican Diocese of Brisbane, where he had held the very senior position of chancellor since 1991," the man said.
"One of the most important qualities of such a senior person in both these camps should have been to immediately recognise the unethical position he was in and dissociate himself immediately from any involvement."
'He should not have been church advisor while also a judge'
Retired Supreme Court Justice James Thomas said the review's recommendation would not have been unusual at that time. "In fairness to the judge, I don't think that back in 1998 any judge on the bench would have made any different recommendation on the statute of limitations issue," he said.
But Justice Thomas, an authority on judicial ethics, also said Justice de Jersey should never have held the role of church legal adviser while he was also a judge. "Judges should not be members of any organisation that is likely to be involved in public controversy," he said.
"For that reason I have thought it unwise for any judge to hold a position on the governing body of any church, and that of course includes the Synod of the Anglican Church."
Governor de Jersey declined an interview request by the ABC and offered no comment to questions. The QLRC has been unable to confirm whether a code of conduct around conflicts of interest was in place in 1997.
BuzzFeed News Reporter
After going dark for more than a year amid accusations on social media of soliciting and distributing nude images of his adolescent fans, a Minecraft YouTuber named Marcus Wilton, better known online as LionMaker, has resurfaced.
Before Wilton’s disappearance, his LionMakerStudios YouTube channel had around half a million subscribers, with more than 30 Minecraft videos numbering view counts in the millions. But rumors circulated in chat rooms for Minecraft — considered one of the most popular video games of all time — about Wilton’s behavior toward his young fans.
Things came to a head in December 2015, when Wilton confessed in a series of now-deleted tweets to having a sexual relationship with a UK-based YouTuber named Paige, known as Paige the Panda online, when she was underage — and to posting nude images of her on the platform. Wilton, who has yet to be formally charged with a crime, met Paige when she was 14. After the tweets were deleted several hours later, Wilton claimed he had been hacked.
And two months ago, a British YouTuber named Colossal tweeted a screenshot of an email Wilton wrote where he confessed to having had a sexual relationship with the underage girl. Paige, now 18, requested to have her last name withheld for privacy reasons and declined to comment.
After Wilton’s 2015 Twitter meltdown, the online backlash mounted. Allegations from two more minors accusing Wilton of sexual harassment and abuse would surface in a Vice article. Wilton denies both accusations. But what would play out online would lead to police in both Belgium and the UK investigating him for distributing child pornography and statutory rape.
Wilton has spent the last several months in a psychiatric hospital outside of Antwerp, Belgium, as part of the police investigation that has been open for the better part of the last year. He told BuzzFeed News that before that he spent 10 months in detention as part of a Belgian legal process called arrest huis, where law enforcement can hold you for a period of time out of fear that you may be a danger to society or tamper with evidence pertaining to their investigation. BuzzFeed News has reached out to Belgian police for comment.
Initially, Wilton tried to continue making videos, though, which became darker and darker, littered with threats of legal action against any YouTuber that accused him of using his status in the Minecraft community to prey on his underage fans. Then, around June 2016, Wilton’s online presence vanished. He scrubbed his YouTube account of all the troubling videos he had made. He stopped tweeting. The LionMaker Instagram stopped posting. And it seemed as though he had finally left the community — that is, until now.
In November 2017, his channel suddenly started uploading videos again — albeit without Wilton in front of the camera. The new host, a 23-year-old friend of Wilton’s from California who goes by THExSERGEANT, wrote in a comment on a recent video, “LionMaker is recovering from a rough couple of years. He will be back healthy and strong for you cubs. For now I have contacted some of his supporters and we are making some vids to keep you guys entertained.”
The activity on the channel seemed to hint at an eventual LionMaker comeback. However, last month, Wilton’s main channel, and a backup with 42,000 subscribers he was populating with videos, both went down. YouTube has not responded to a request for comment about why. He's now trying to populate a new one with videos and has gained 1,000 followers on it in the last month.
For much more on this story please go here.
An Auckland woman is breaking a half century of secrecy around her father. It's believed to be the first time in New Zealand that the child of a supposedly celibate Catholic priest has gone public.
The unnamed woman says her father was forced to keep the secret for decades as Catholic priests are meant to be celibate, RNZ reported.
Celibate or gay. Gay seems to have been accepted with little reservation. So, in other words, sex is OK as long as it is not with a woman.
The woman had received scientific evidence the priest was her father, and had taken that to Auckland Bishop Pat Dunn. She had asked for acknowledgement from the church in writing.
Dunn told the broadcaster if the evidence proved the woman's father was the priest he would be "more than happy" to acknowledge it.
However Dunn said: "There's expert DNA advice that he may not be the father, he may be the uncle."
The Government knew about a looming sexual abuse scandal within the aid sector involving 300 people, the former International Development Secretary has claimed as she accused charities of creating a “culture of denial”.
Amid fresh allegations over an alleged prostitution scandal embroiling Oxfam, Priti Patel claimed that instances of sexual abuse were “well documented”, adding that the disclosures were “just the tip of the iceberg”. She said that although she had raised the issue with the Department for International Development while in office, there had been “no international leadership” on the issue.
It comes two days after Ms Patel called for a criminal investigation into Oxfam, telling this newspaper that the charity’s handling of the controversy had been “absolutely scandalous”.
Speaking to the BBC’s John Pienaar, Ms Patel said: “I knew this was going on… I made this our own agenda, I did my research, this [sex abuse] is well documented. The tragedy is there has been no international leadership on this whatever. People knew in DFID, I raised this directly with my department at the time…. The UN said last year there were 120 cases involving 300 people - and that is just the tip of the iceberg”
“There is a culture of denial [of sexual abuse] in the aid sector… my former Department did not raise this with me, I raised it with them. There are no databases of these predatory paedophiles that exist and we need them … to stop this disgusting and corrosive culture of the revolving door in aid agencies.”
Ms Patel’s comment came as her successor, Penny Mordaunt, suggested that “predatory” individuals may be targeting disaster charities in order to prey on vulnerable people.
Ahead of a showdown with the charity's leaders on Monday, Penny Mordaunt has warned the charity that it faces having its funding withdrawn if it fails to cooperate over an alleged cover up of a prostitution scandal.
Describing reports of aid workers using prostitutes while working in disaster-stricken Haiti as a "betrayal", Ms Mordaunt said the decision not to handover evidence to the authorities was an "absolute absence of leadership".
She told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "I think it's shocking and it doesn't matter how good the safeguarding practices are in an organisation, if that organisation does not have the moral leadership to do the right thing, and where in particular they have evidence of criminal activity to pass that information to the relevant authorities including prosecuting authorities, that's an absolute absence of leadership." Asked whether Oxfam had failed in its moral leadership, she replied: "Yes, I do."
Amid reports of similar incidents taking place in other charities, Ms Mordaunt said that the entire sector needed to address the problem. It comes as Oxfam faces fresh allegations over former employees using prostitutes while working in Chad.
Just days after the charity was accused of covering up a prostitution scandal in Haiti, it has been alleged that former aid workers posted to the central African country also repeatedly invited women believed to be prostitutes to the house they were staying.
Roland van Hauwermeiren, Oxfam’s country director in Haiti who was allowed to resign in 2011 after admitting his involvement, was also head of the charity’s mission to Chad at the time of the alleged controversy.
According to The Observer, former staff have also alleged that one senior member of staff was fired in 2006 due to his behaviour, with one source claiming that aid workers would “invite the women for parties”.
This week Oxfam denied claims it covered up the use of prostitutes by aid workers in Haiti in 2011 and said it publicly announced an investigation into the claims when they surfaced. It said it could not confirm whether it had any records about a Chad staff member dismissed in 2006, adding that staff in Chad lived under a strict curfew due to security concerns.
120 charity workers accused last year
Meanwhile, it has emerged that more than 120 workers employed by Britain’s leading charities have been accused of sexual abuse in the last year alone.
According to figures compiled by charities on sexual harassment in Britain and abroad, Oxfam recorded 87 incidents in 2017, Save the Children recorded 31, Christian Aid 2, while the British Red Cross said there had been a “small number of cases” reported.
All four charities receive money from the Department for International Development.
In a stark warning to Oxfam, Ms Mordaunt made clear that failure to comply with safeguarding issues would result in the withdrawal of Government funding.
“I am writing to all UK charities which receive UK aid, insisting that they spell out the steps they are taking to ensure their safeguarding policies are fully in place and work properly, declare all safeguarding concerns they are aware of, and confirm they have referred all concerns they have about specific cases and individuals to the relevant authorities,” she said.
"With regard to Oxfam and any other organisation that has safeguarding issues, we expect them to cooperate fully with such authorities, and we will cease to fund any organisation that does not. I am very clear: we will not work with any organisation that does not live up to the high standards on safeguarding and protection that we require."
The Charity Commission said on Saturday that it had written to Oxfam "as a matter of urgency" to request further information and "establish greater clarity".
The regulator said an Oxfam report on the investigation stated there had been no allegations of abuse of beneficiaries and made no mention of any potential sexual crimes involving minors. "Our approach to this matter would have been different had the full details that have been reported been disclosed to us at the time," a spokesman said.
Four members of Oxfam staff were dismissed and three, including the country director, resigned before the end of the 2011 investigation. The charity said allegations that under age girls may have been involved were not proven.
The Department for International Development (DfID) earlier said the allegations raised "serious questions that Oxfam must answer" as it announced a review of its relationship with the charity. Ms Mordaunt, who has requested talks with Oxfam's senior management "at the earliest opportunity", will also meet the Charity Commission this week to discuss the regulation of UK charities overseas.
She said: "My absolute priority is to keep the world's poorest and most vulnerable people safe from harm. "In the 21st century, it is utterly despicable that sexual exploitation and abuse continues to exist in the aid sector."
"The horrific behaviour by some members of Oxfam staff in Haiti in 2011 is an example of a wider issue on which DfID is already taking action, both at home and with the international community via the UN."