Melbourne Archbishop Told of Child Sex Abuse Rumours but Did Nothing – Inquiry
April 14, 2016
A senior Catholic nun, alarmed that a priest had boys in his bedroom, told a Melbourne archbishop about rumours he was sexually abusing boys. Nothing was done.
Boys would climb through a window to get to the bedroom of Gardenvale parish priest Ronald Pickering, the Star of the Sea college superior told the congregation leader of Victoria’s Presentation Sisters order, Sr Marie Therese Harold, in 1978.
“I recall thinking that having boys in a priest’s bedroom was alarming and that it should be reported,” Harold told the child sex abuse royal commission on Thursday.
Around the same time the Gardenvale parish curate, Leslie Harper, also told Harold he was suspicious of Pickering and believed boys were being sexually abused, her statement said.
Harper said in a commission statement that he could not recall being concerned about his housemate’s relationships with young boys, nor telling Harold about it, although it was possible he had told her about Pickering’s association with young adult homosexuals.
Harold went to the then-Melbourne archbishop, Frank Little.
“I recall I said to archbishop Little that there were ‘rumours’ about Father Pickering sexually abusing boys and rumours had to be investigated, or words to that effect,” she said.
Little had said he would investigate and Harold said she left the matter in his hands.
The archbishop’s December 1978 note of the conversation records that “there is always a coterie of males hanging around the presbytery”, the commission has previously heard.
But he did nothing, despite knowing about a 1978 complaint against another Melbourne paedophile priest.
The commission has heard Little told Pickering in 1986 about a complaint that he had sexually abused a young boy at the St James parish in Gardenvale in 1982.
Pickering went on extended leave to England but returned to Gardenvale later in 1986 and continued to offend, the inquiry has heard.
He resigned in 1993 and fled to England.
Pickering’s faculties as a priest were removed in January 1994 and the Melbourne archdiocese paid him a retirement pension for 10 years.
Nineteen people have made child sex abuse complaints to the church about Pickering, dating from 1960 to 1989. He died in 2009.
Little, Melbourne archbishop from 1974 to 1996, died in 2008.