Church Commissioners Deny Covering up Claims of Sex Abuse

The Australian
April 30, 2013

THE commissioners in charge of handling Melbourne abuse complaints against the Catholic Church deny they helped conceal crimes from police.

A Victorian parliamentary inquiry has also heard the Catholic Church's insurer has paid out about $30 million in compensation to 600 Victorian victims of child abuse.

The independent commissioners in charge of the church's Melbourne-based complaints system, Peter O'Callaghan QC and Jeff Gleeson SC, deny they are trying to protect the church.

Mr Gleeson said both men were appalled at the suggestion they had been involved in a cover-up.

“How offensive it is to have suggested that we would be complicit in a process that was designed to conceal it,” he told the inquiry.

“It's an appalling suggestion. It's offensive. I've got five children, why would I do that?”

Inquiry committee member Frank McGuire said the inquiry had heard allegations of heinous crimes, of cover-ups and that the church's position was about minimising damage to its reputation.

He said the perception was Mr O'Callaghan had a conflict of interest.

“The fact of being paid by the appointer does not - and it is a grave allegation against me when it has been made - destroy my independence,” Mr O'Callaghan said.

“If I am covering up, if that is what I am accused of, I have found 97 per cent of complaints that have come before me established.”

Mr O'Callaghan said his role as independent commissioner for the Melbourne Response - the church's internal protocol for dealing with abuse victims in the Melbourne archdiocese - was akin to that of a royal commissioner.

He said he rejected a Victoria Police inquiry submission that said the Melbourne Response appeared to be a substitute for criminal justice and not a single complaint had been referred to police.

The police submission, led by Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton, said victims of sexual crime were too often talked out of reporting the matters to police, while suspected offenders were sent elsewhere.

Mr O'Callaghan said police were flawed in their assessments.

“We submit that the police submission from Deputy Commissioner Ashton is in many aspects plainly wrong and seriously misconceived,” he said.

“I facilitated the referral of complaints to police ... In a lot of cases I rang the relevant police officer.”

There have been 330 complaints made to Melbourne Response since it began in 1996, 304 of which have been upheld, the inquiry heard.

Mr O'Callaghan agreed the number of victims was an indictment of the Catholic Church, but said the Melbourne Response provided a remedy for victims which did not previously exist.

“I think it is an indictment on the Catholic Church because the Catholic Church hasn't done something about it,” Mr O'Callaghan said.

Committee member Andrea Coote suggested many victims were unhappy with the process but Mr Gleeson said most complainants had not made submissions to the inquiry.

“The overwhelming majority of victims have respected (Mr O'Callaghan's) work,” he said.

“I think that you'll find that about 30-40 people that have dealt with Peter O'Callaghan have come to see you (the inquiry), so 30-40 out of 330.”

Catholic Church Insurance CEO Peter Rush told the inquiry compensation totalling about $30 million had been paid to 600 victims since 1990.

Money had never been paid to a person who committed abuse, Mr Rush said.








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