Melbourne Archbishop knew about ‘litany’ of child abuse and did nothing
By Megan Neil
December 5, 2017
|He did nothing. Frank Little died in 2008.|
|Father Peter Searson who was found guilty of sexual abuse, died in 2009 — a year after the Archbishop who protected him.|
A DAMNING new report reveals how this Archbishop protected a gun-toting Catholic priest at the cost of the children he and others continued to abuse.
A FORMER Melbourne archbishop repeatedly did nothing about a gun-toting priest and others who abused children as he sought to protect the Catholic Church from scandal, an inquiry has found.
Archbishop Frank Little led a culture of secrecy in the Melbourne archdiocese designed to hide child abuse complaints against several priests and protect the church’s reputation, the child abuse royal commission concluded.
Archbishop Little knew about a litany of allegations against Sunbury and Doveton parish priest Father Peter Searson ranging from child sexual abuse to complaints about his unpleasant, strange, aggressive and violent conduct.
He did nothing, even when Searson pointed a hand gun at two people, threatened a girl with a knife and showed altar boys a dead body in a coffin.
The archbishop dismissed serious and credible complaints, backing a priest he knew had allegedly raped a woman in 1974 over concerned parishioners and parents.
The inquiry found Archbishop Little, who died in 2008, also did nothing about child sexual abuse complaints against other priests who he allowed to resign or retire for health reasons, and tried to conceal that some were receiving financial support.
CATASTROPHIC HUMAN CONSEQUENCES
The 1974-1996 Melbourne archbishop’s ongoing inaction had tragic and catastrophic human consequences, the commission said.
“We are satisfied that there was a prevailing culture within the archdiocese, led by Archbishop Little, of dealing with complaints internally and confidentially to avoid scandal to the church,” said its report, released on Tuesday.
“Complaints were dealt with in a way that sought to protect the archdiocese from scandal and liability, and prioritised the interests of the church over those of the victims.”
While only the archbishop had the authority to remove Searson from the ministry, the commission also criticised other church personnel and some Catholic Education Office (CEO) staff for taking a position that the allegations were not proven or were unsubstantiated.
LEVEL OF “INFAMY”
“The case of Father Searson is remarkable in terms of the volume of complaints against him and the number of church personnel to whom they were made,” it said.
“This was not a story of serious but isolated allegations being reported only to the archbishop or vicar general.
“Rather, Father Searson enjoyed a level of infamy within the parish and ... within other parts of the archdiocese.”
The principal of Doveton’s Holy Family Primary School, Graeme Sleeman, resigned in 1986 in frustration at the archdiocese’s inaction about Searson.
GRAVE RISK TO CHILDREN
By the end of 1986, Archbishop Little knew enough about Searson to show he should be removed and posed a grave risk to the safety of children, the commission said.
“By not removing Father Searson, Archbishop Little abjectly failed to protect the safety and wellbeing of the children within the parish.”
In the case of Fr Wilfred Baker, the commission agreed with current Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart that the archdiocese failed to act on credible information about criminal abuse by a priest, which led to more children being abused. Archbishop Little also did nothing about child sexual abuse complaints against priests Nazareno Fasciale, Desmond Gannon, Ronald Pickering and David Daniel, who he allowed to resign or retire on health grounds.
The commission said Archbishop Little sought to conceal Pickering and Gannon’s continued financial assistance by the archdiocese.