Nsw Church Child Abuse Inquiry Winds up Public Hearings - Catholic Church Thought They Could 'Cure' Abusers

Herald Sun
September 9, 2013

Father John Usher outside the sex abuse inquiry.

AUSTRALIA'S Catholic bishops could not believe that a "man of God" could be a pedophile, the NSW church child abuse inquiry was told yesterday.

When allegations of sexual abuse by priests and clergy began to flood out with mandatory reporting laws in the late 1980s, Father John Usher said the church hierarchy still thought that pedophiles could be "cured" with therapy.

He said the bishops took some convincing that even if a pedophile priest or religious brother said he was sorry, he was likely to do it again.

"We had to convince church leaders that they had to come to terms with this," Father John Usher said.

He said it had been a steep learning curve to understand the way pedophiles operated.

Father Usher, a former member of the NSW Child Protection Council and currently Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Sydney, gave the rare insight into how disbelieving church leaders had been as he gave evidence at the inquiry sitting in Sydney after several weeks in Newcastle.

"It was thought that a man of God couldn't do this. The church leaders thought that this could not be true," Father Usher, who sat on the first church group to confront the issue of pedophile clergy in the late 1980s, said.

"We were trying to educate each other as well as the bishops.

"It is important to understand that the church like many other institutions really believed if someone committed these offences it was possible for them to go into therapy and be cured."

The inquiry, chaired by Commissioner Margaret Cunneen SC, moved into its final scheduled sitting day to hear evidence about whether and to what extent Catholic Church officials facilitated, helped or co-operated with police investigations into child sex abuse within the church.

They will also look at whether police investigations were obstructed by the failure to report alleged abuse, discouraging witnesses to come forward, alerting police to alleged offenders or the destruction of evidence.

Father Usher revealed that in the late 1980s, he wrote a six-page submission to Cardinal Edward Clancy who was then the Archbishop of Sydney, suggesting that a special unit be set up to handle issues of child abuse by clergy but did not receive a formal reply and it was some years before anything official was done.

Father Usher said he always kept notes and records about discussions he had with alleged offenders or victims and encouraged victims to go to the police.

When there was not enough evidence and the priest or brother denied the allegations, they were moved to a special ministry, such as working in a nursing home "for risk minimisation purposes."

Father Brian Lucas, one of the country's most senior Catholics as general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, returned to the witness box to reaffirm that he had worked closely with Father Usher to combat child abuse.

Unlike his colleague, Father Lucas has said that he did not take notes during meetings with priests accused of sexual abuse to ensure they could not be used later in court. He has admitted that he advised other clergy to do the same.

The inquiry, sparked when Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox claimed to be blowing the whistle on the cover-up of child abuse by two Hunter Valley priests, has been given an extension of time to hand down its report which will now be at the end of February.


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