Father John Fleming Involved in Sexual Misconduct Claims

By Nigel Hunt
Adelaide Now

August 30, 2008,22606,24268233-2682,00.html

[with links to victim statements]

EXCLUSIVE: ONE of SA's best-known priests was appointed to a prestigious Catholic teaching position despite the church being aware of serious allegations of sexual misconduct against him.

Father John Fleming is being investigated by the police Pedophile Task Force over allegations he was sexually involved with a teenage girl in the 1970s.

Detectives have also taken statements from another woman and a man who were allegedly sexually involved with Father Fleming after seeking counselling from him.

Father John Fleming ... subject of misconduct allegations.

A five-week Sunday Mail investigation has revealed Australia's highest-ranking Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, was aware of the allegations concerning at least one victim prior to Father Fleming being appointed to head Sydney's Campion College, a Catholic liberal arts facility, in 2005.

Victim's statement: Jane's story/Cardinal Pell's reply

Victim's statement: Jenny's story/Cardinal Pell's reply

Victim's statement: Read Richard's story

The Sunday Mail investigation has also revealed that former Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide Leonard Faulkner and one of his officials knew Father Fleming was the subject of serious misconduct allegations prior to ordaining him a Catholic priest in 1995.

On Friday, current Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson engaged prominent lawyer Michael Abbott, QC, to conduct an independent inquiry into the diocese's handling of the allegations against Father Fleming.

Archbishop Wilson has also "requested that the priest return to the archdiocese to assist" with the investigation.

"Mr Abbott has been retained to conduct an inquiry into the process and procedures regarding this matter," Archbishop Wilson said yesterday.

"We will place no limits on the extent of the inquiry or where Mr Abbott wants to go with this to address this issue. In the interests of due process, the Archdiocese of Adelaide cannot comment further."

The move came after the Sunday Mail posed questions to Archbishop Wilson's office on Wednesday over the diocese's handling of the allegations surrounding Father Fleming and also informed it of the police investigation.

The misconduct involving the two girls one underaged occurred in the 1970s, while his sexual relationship with the man spanned a six-year period ending in 1981.

Police yesterday declined to comment, but it is known the file will be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Stephen Pallaras, QC, when completed.

Only the allegations involving the underage girl are being investigated by police. The other two cases are being examined as part of that inquiry.

The Sunday Mail has obtained the police statements of the three people and has also interviewed them at length.

The disturbing revelations come six weeks after Pope Benedict XVI apologised to Australian victims of sexual abuse and promised that the church would treat them with care and compassion.

The Sunday Mail investigation has revealed the Anglican and Catholic churches have been aware of allegations surrounding Father Fleming for many years.

In the case of the male, the Catholic Church was made aware in 1995. It was also made aware of the alleged misconduct with one of the females in late 1994 and the second female in 2000. After a distinguished career as an Anglican priest, Father Fleming controversially left in 1987 to join the Catholic Church, which ordained him in 1995.

He left Adelaide in 2005 after being appointed president of Campion College, Australia's first Catholic liberal arts teaching facility, in Sydney.

In 2003, he was appointed by then Prime Minister John Howard to the board of the Australian museum.

In an April 2004 letter obtained by the Sunday Mail, Cardinal George Pell acknowledges the complaint against Father John Fleming from one female victim. Cardinal Pell wrote back the next day and advised the victim to contact police herself.

"The allegations you make against Fr Fleming are of a very serious nature. They should be investigated by the police and I would encourage you strongly to pursue your complaint with them," Cardinal Pell wrote in his response.

Despite Cardinal Pell and the Adelaide Diocese being aware of allegations, Father Fleming's Campion College appointment went ahead.

His three victims all want his position reviewed and a thorough internal investigation into his conduct. One of his victims, Jenny, told the Sunday Mail:

"I was so angry that this man who had abused his power over me and had such a huge impact on my life, an immediate impact, had been put in a position of power again over young people.

"I cannot imagine how a person who has questions about their integrity can be put into such a position."

The Sunday Mail investigation has also revealed the Catholic Church proceeded with Father Fleming's 1995 ordination despite then Archbishop Leonard Faulkner being told about, and meeting with, the man who had a sexual relationship with Fleming.

The man was aged 20 when he sought counselling from Father Fleming over his sexuality. Archbishop Faulkner had several meetings with the man in 1995, during which he was told of the relationship spanning six years.

The man's police statement reveals Father Fleming had contacted him in an agitated state after he was first spoken to by church officials.

"I believe the Catholic Church must have been in contact with him because he rang me distressed about it and asked me to tell the archbishop that there was no penetration," he told police.

"It appeared really important to John that I advised the archbishop that we did not have intercourse. I did tell the archbishop the exact relationship I had with John, which involved no penetration, but I didn't think it mitigated anything. I recall the archbishop asking me whether he should ordain John. I told him that it wasn't up to me to make that decision."

The man, who asked to be known only as Richard, said he was surprised Father Fleming was ordained months later. The Sunday Mail sought a response from Father Fleming at his Sydney home on Thursday.

He provided a written statement via his wife, Alison. "The proper course is for these allegations to be investigated by the police or the church in the ordinary way," he said.

When the Sunday Mail contacted his lawyer, Michael Sykes, on Friday and asked if Father Fleming was denying the allegations, he would not directly respond.

"This is not the appropriate forum for him to come out with any response to the allegations," Mr Sykes said. "The appropriate forum is the courts or the ecclesiastical disciplinary tribunal mechanism."

Late on Friday, Cardinal Pell's office provided the Sunday Mail with a written response to questions posed to it on Thursday. "As Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Pell has no jurisdiction over other dioceses or priests belonging to them," it said.

"When allegations are received about priests in other dioceses, complainants are encouraged to go to the police or the Professional Standards Office in the relevant state.

"A copy of the complaint is also provided to the appropriate Professional Standards Office to follow up. Responsibility for the selection and appointment of staff at Campion College is a matter for the college, which is a private institution, not an official church agency, and outside the Sydney archdiocese."

Campion College chairman Mr John de Bruyn refused to comment on Friday. It is not known if the college was aware of any of the allegations surrounding Father Fleming at the time of his appointment.

While Father Fleming is president, he answers to a board of trustees, headed by Mr de Bruyn. One trustee is Cardinal Pell's private secretary, Dr Michael Casey.

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