Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC [Sydney, Australia]
November 2, 2022
By Rory Callinan and Baz Ruddick
Despite commissioning multiple investigations, the Catholic Church is still to resolve allegations a priest knew about paedophile clergyman Neville Joseph Creen’s abuse of a school girl in the 1980s.
- The church has failed to resolve the complaint and has now commissioned another report
- Father Creen was convicted of multiple offences of abusing young girls in the 1970s and 1980s
- Father Lancini denies claims a victim of Creen told him she had been abused
Two independent reviews and investigations have so far been undertaken by the Church and a third is under way into a complaint by Townsville woman Kathleen Walsh who was abused by former Catholic priest Neville Creen in the 1970s and 1980s.
Ms Walsh alleged that as a 16-year-old in the early 1980s she met with then Mount Isa priest Father Dave Lancini and told him that Creen had “touched” her when she was a school girl.
She alleged Fr Lancini disregarded her disclosure.
Ms Walsh also alleged that in another meeting in the late 2000s or early 2010s she again raised Creen’s abuse with Fr Lancini.
Fr Lancini has vigorously denied the allegations and said he did not ever recall Ms Walsh coming to see him when he was a priest in Mount Isa in the 1980s or later when he was in Townsville in the 2000s. He has also said he would have reported the allegations if he was told.
Other Church officials said they first knew about Creen being an abuser in 1994 when a report was received in relation to a different child and Creen was stood down.
Creen convicted of abuse
But it was only in the early 2000s that Creen’s offences became widely known when he was convicted and sentenced to three and a half years in jail after pleading guilty to indecently touching 18 young girls.
He has since been convicted of other charges for similar offences and in 2019 was charged with abusing Ms Walsh when she was a school girl.
He pleaded guilty to the abuse which began when Ms Walsh was in Grade Seven at her school in Mount Isa.
During the 2020 sentencing of Creen for the abuse of Ms Walsh, District Court Judge Craig Chowdhury revealed details of her victim impact statement where she claimed she disclosed the abuse to Fr Lancini and there had been an alleged lack of support by the Church.
Fr Lancini’s was not accused of wrongdoing in the case, was not represented and did not give evidence.
In his sentencing remarks Judge Chowdhury, criticised Fr Lancini’s alleged response to Ms Walsh’s claims that she told him Creen had “touched” her.
Judge Chowdhury told Creen: “Instead of supporting her and trying to get to the bottom of what happened, he (Lancini) disgracefully said to her, accusing her of coming onto you (Creen) as she was advanced and in a relationship”.
In 2020 Ms Walsh asked the Catholic Church for an apology.
“I just wanted him (Lancini) to hear about my life and what had happened to me ” Ms Walsh said.
Concerns about inconsistencies
Ms Walsh also alleged she told two nuns about the abuse, but they failed to take any action. Both women have since died.
Responding to Ms Walsh’s 2020 request for an apology the Church ordered the first investigation by Australian Catholic Safeguarding Ltd (ACSL) .
That investigation was completed in 2021 and given to the Catholic church’s National Professional Standards Office. The outcome of that investigation is unknown.
Ms Walsh said she never saw the report but immediately raised concerns about inconsistencies and that it failed to investigate allegations relating to what information the two nuns had about the case.
Following her complaint about the ACSL investigation a review was commissioned by the Church.
The review, undertaken by a lawyer, found the previous inquiry was not fair or just and recommended another investigation, according to emails from the Catholic Church to Ms Walsh that have been sighted by the ABC.
A second investigation was then commissioned in August 2021.
That investigation by an external company “sustained” on the balance of probabilities, Ms Walsh’s allegation that she disclosed Creen’s abuse to Fr Lancini and that he did not pass on the information to the relevant authorities.
The investigation’s findings relied significantly on Ms Walsh’s account and the sentencing remarks by Judge Chowdhury as there were no other witnesses to the alleged disclosure.
It stated that “Lancini categorically denies ever knowing the complainant”.
The report also noted that where a finding is established, it does not allege or implythat the investigation “attributes an assumption of guilt in relation to any person, as this can only be established by a court of law.”
The report recommended Fr Lancini undergo a refresher education on ministry integrity and practice.
Ms Walsh said she was “fairly happy” with this report but still had some concerns about whether all the necessary information had been passed to the investigators.
Lancini denied procedural fairness
Then Townsville dioceses Bishop Timothy Harris, and a lawyer representing Fr Lancini, lodged a request for a review prompting the Church to commission a second review of the last investigation by a different consultancy group.
This subsequent review found Fr Lancini had been denied procedural fairness and the previous report’s findings should be disregarded.
The report argued the requisite standard of proof of the findings against Fr Lancini did not exist.
The findings also lacked the necessary “probative evidence by which an adverse conclusion could be made” about Fr Lancini, it said.
It noted the investigation did not interview Fr Lancini about Ms Walsh’s allegations, breaching the rules of procedural fairness.
It also highlighted the fact that the comments of Justice Chowdhury were not persuasive in the context and were simply a reflection of Ms Walsh’s victim impact statement.
The review called for a new independent investigation prompting the Church to launch a third inquiry into the allegations.
Contacted about the allegations, Fr Lancini referred the ABC to his lawyer Ben Cohen in Brisbane.
Asked about whether there was any truth in Ms Walsh’s allegations and the findings of the second critical investigation, Fr Lancini said it had been “thrown out” in a review the Church had done and to speak to his lawyer.
Mr Cohen told the ABC Fr Lancini did not wish to comment in relation to the current Church investigation.
The Townsville Dioceses confirmed a new investigation by it was underway.
Townsville Diocese spokesman Neil Helmore said it was important to note the second investigation commissioned by ACSL was the subject of a review with the Church’s National response Protocol.
Mr Helmore said the review was endorsed by the National Review Panel and it impugned the investigation findings.
He said it recommended the initiation of a new investigation.
Bishop Harris has initiated that further investigation and it was currently under way, he said.
“It would be inaccurate for the ABC to suggest that any of the findings of the impugned investigation remain operative,” he said.
“Bishop Tim Harris looks forward to the completion of the current investigation so that the matter can be brought to its proper resolution.”
Ms Walsh, who has not sought compensation, said she is angry and frustrated about the situation.
She said the failure to resolve her complaint had left her believing that victims were not the church’s prime concern.
“I don’t think there’s been impartiality. I want the truth to come out, the fact that the church failed to do anything about Creen from the beginning. The bottom line is nobody did anything.”
No law was in place in Queensland in the 1980s requiring priests to report child abuse.
Fr Lancini retired in 2020.
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