Church Compounds the Sins of the Fathers
The Age [Australia]
June 23, 2004
The Salesian order has failed to ensure priests do not flee police inquiries into sexual abuse.
How many people would expect when charged with sexually abusing children that their employer would arrange a work transfer to a country conveniently beyond the reach of Australian law? If that seems outrageous, consider the case of Catholic priest and convicted pedophile Frank Klep, 60, who has been wanted in Victoria since 1998 on five charges of sexual assault. His order and employer, the Salesians of Don Bosco, transferred him to Samoa, where he still has contact with children. Unforgivably, Samoan church leaders were not informed of his record. In 1994, Father Klep was convicted of four charges of sexual assault during the 1970s at a school where he later became principal. The five outstanding charges also relate to that time. This week, Australian Salesian head Ian Murdoch said priests were not placed overseas to shield them from police inquiries or victims and that the order had co-operated with law enforcement agencies and would continue to do so. That assertion is at odds with the findings of an 18-month investigation by The Dallas Morning News, which this week reported that "Catholic leaders have used international transfers to thwart justice" in about 100 cases, with 30 priests still evading criminal inquiries by working for the church in another country.
In the past, when the church refused to take responsibility for sexual abuse by its priests, it compounded the damage by transferring them to other parishes. Today, their destination is other countries. Samoa and its Pacific neighbour, Fiji, appear to have been destinations of choice for former Melbourne members of the Salesians who either face allegations of pedophilia or share responsibility for the handling of Father Klep's case. Another priest who is alleged to have sexually assaulted a student at the same school as Father Klep is in Samoa, as is Father Murdoch's predecessor, Father John Murphy, who oversaw Father Klep's 1998 transfer. Last year, Fiji enacted legislation to expedite extraditions, but the Australian Government needs to ensure Samoa will not continue to be a haven for fugitives, and that the Australian Federal Police have done all they can.
But for the 1994 convictions, none of the allegations above have been proven in court and every accused priest is entitled to the presumption of innocence. The point to be made, though, is that such allegations should be investigated by police and, should they lay charges, the evidence should be tested in court. The church should in no way frustrate that process. Father Murdoch says the Salesians are "deeply sorry for the sexual misconduct of some of our members and for their violation of the young". Members of the order and the church they represent cannot begin truly to repent and atone for that - in the eyes of their public and their God - until their leaders do their moral and legal duty. The order has the power to recall Father Klep to answer the charges, and should, or else stand condemned for complicity.
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