Inquiry Push over Clergy Abuse Cases

By Reid Sexton
The Age
March 1, 2012

Anthony and Christine Foster with a picture of their daughters, two of whom were abused by Father Kevin O'Donnell.
Photo by John Woudstra

A PUBLIC investigation into how religious organisations in Victoria such as the Catholic Church have handled child abuse allegations is a step closer after a groundbreaking report found it should proceed.

The Protecting Victoria's Vulnerable Children Inquiry said a Baillieu government-backed investigation should proceed, with private investigations stretching back decades potentially denying victims justice.

"A private system of investigation and compensation, no matter how faithfully conducted cannot fulfil the responsibility of the state to investigate and prosecute crime," it said.

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"There is a strong public interest in the ascertainment of whether past abuses have been institutionally hidden, whether religious organisations have been active or complicit in that suppression, and in revealing what processes and procedures were employed."

Supporters of an inquiry say more than 65 people within the Catholic Church in Victoria including brothers and priests have been convicted of abuse since 1993.

They say the church covered up abuse but paid out more than 300 victims, with many committing suicide or suffering life-long trauma.

The vulnerable children report, released this week and overseen by retired Supreme Court Judge Phillip Cummins, said the investigation should have power to compel witnesses and seize evidence.

Attorney-General Robert Clark has previously said he would consider the Cummins report's findings before deciding whether to investigate further and said yesterday he was considering the recommendation.

Paedophile Father Kevin O'Donnell abused Emma Foster and her sister Katie while at Sacred Heart Primary School in Oakleigh from 1988 to 1993.

Emma died after a battle with drug addiction and Katie drank heavily before being left disabled when hit by a drunk driver.

Their father Anthony yesterday said a wide-ranging investigation was needed rather than a police probe because abuse had been caused by not just criminal actions, but also systemic failures within the church.

Mr Foster said he believed the church had known of Father O'Donnell's activities dating back to 1958 and it was this sort of evidence that should be exposed. "We would want a renegotiation of any previous settlements of any previous victms, just treatment of any victims who have not yet gone through the process and above all else we want to ensure this does not happen in the future," he said.

Labor MP Ann Barker said such an investigation would be the first of its kind in Australia and could uncover new evidence of abuse and cover-ups in the same way as the Cloyne Report did in Ireland last year.

A Catholic Church spokesman said the report's recommendations were being considered.


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