Good Friday Ribbons to Remember Children's Suffering at Hands of Father Peter Searson

By Beau Donelly
The Age
March 25, 2016

A retired teacher who tried to stop a paedophile priest from assaulting her students has returned to her old school to pay tribute to the victims of clerical sex abuse.

Former Holy Family teacher Carmel Rafferty led a group of people back to the Doveton parish adjoining her old primary school on Friday to tie colourful ribbons to the fence in a mark of respect to survivors.

Carmel Rafferty tying ribbons on the fence outside the Holy Family parish, Doveton on Good Friday. Photo: Penny Stephens

"The church is paying attention to the suffering of Jesus on Good Friday, but we're paying attention to the abused," Ms Rafferty said.

"We're sending a message of recognition," she said.

"This is a way we can show our heartfelt concern to the victims, survivors, their families, and to those who have never disclosed their suffering to anyone."

Father Peter Searson has since died.

The Doveton church - in a disadvantaged pocket in Melbourne's outer south-east - was plagued by a succession of paedophile priests, the last of whom was notorious predator Peter Searson.

Searson, who arrived at the church in 1984, carried a gun, dressed in military fatigues and targeted the children from Holy Family primary school behind the closed doors of the confessional.

Ms Rafferty took a stand against him after receiving complaints from parents and children about his inappropriate and violent behaviour.

Carmel Rafferty (centre) gets a hug from child abuse survivor Kees Kortekaas while another survivor Noreen Wood looks on. Photo: Penny Stephens

She reported her concerns to the Catholic Education Office but said that they were covered up.

Ultimately, she said she was pressured to leave the school in 1993 because she continued to complain about the priest.

"Searson was very creepy, but very cunning as well," she said.

"The children were all scared of him and the teachers were all trying to protect the children, to keep them away from him."

Ms Rafferty, who testified before the child abuse royal commission last year, said she was heartbroken to hear accounts of abuse from Searson's victims all these years later.

"We couldn't stop it no matter how hard we tried the children were stuck between the church and police not acting for years," she said.

One of Season's victims told the commission that when she was nine years old the priest lifted her onto his lap during confession. She said he pushed her against his erect penis while telling her she was forgiven for her sins.

"He whispered in my ear: 'You are a good girl. The Lord forgives you'," she said.

Searson was never convicted but the church has paid out $290,000 in compensation to his victims.

When the royal commission turned its focus to Ballarat earlier this year, hundreds of ribbons were tied to the fences around the St Alipius Presbytery and school to pay tribute to victims in the city where clerical sex abuse was widespread.

Giving evidence to the royal commission from Rome last month, Cardinal George Pell was asked about the church's handling of complaints against Searson.

The commission heard evidence that the church had been presented with accounts from children who expressed their fear of him.

The children recounted: "Father gives me the 'no' feeling when he touches me; we are all very scared because we don't know where he is going to touch us next; Father could sexually abuse us, he is dangerous."

Cardinal Pell told the commission that he had been kept in the dark about the allegations made against Searson because senior clerics were "keen to keep a lid on the situation".

Counsel assisting the commission, Gail Furness SC, told Cardinal Pell that the reasons he gave for not being informed were "completely implausible".

"Counsel, I can only tell the truth," Cardinal Pell replied. "The whole story of Searson is quite implausible, and the cover up is equally implausible."

Despite this, Cardinal Pell told the commission he accepted partial blame for the failure to remove Father Searson.

"Tangentially," he said. "Marginally."








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