Ex-Rockhampton Catholic bishop

The Australian

Ex-Rockhampton Catholic bishop ‘put kids at risk of abuse’

AUGUST 27, 2015

Sarah Elks

A former Catholic bishop of Rockhampton put children at risk by failing to sack a pedophile priest from the ministry, the royal commission has found.

Shocking child abuse, including rapes by priests and public floggings by nuns, occurred at the Sisters of Mercy-run Neerkol orphanage in central Queensland for generations, until it closed in 1978. In submissions published yesterday, counsel assisting Sophie David SC said evidence presented to the royal commission showed the state government failed to protect the children by inadequately supervising Neerkol.

When complaints of abuse began to emerge from 1993, bishop Brian Heenan — now retired — and the Sisters of Mercy’s Berneice Loch “did not provide an adequate and compassionate response”.

Ms David said the evidence showed that despite Bishop Heenan receiving a complaint of child sexual abuse in June 1993, and accepting the victim was telling the truth in early 1994, he failed to act against the abuser, Neerkol chaplain Reginald Durham. The commission found he placed no restriction on Durham’s contact with children and did not report the matter to police. “In failing to place any restriction on Father Durham’s contact with children … Bishop Heenan placed other children at risk,” Ms David said.

In May 1997, after receiving more complaints, Bishop Heenan warned Durham not to approach children, but did not monitor him. Even after the priest was interviewed by police in September 1997, he took no action. Bishop Heenan did not fire the priest or ask him to leave his church home until Durham was charged in 1998 — after which time the bishop provided him with a character reference. Durham was later jailed for 18 months. He has since died.

In a submission from the Sisters of Mercy, the Catholic Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council, and the Rockhampton Diocese, the nuns and the diocese apologised to the victims for “the pain they endured”.

Note: This is an Abuse Tracker excerpt. Click the title to view the full text of the original article. If the original article is no longer available, see our News Archive.