Judge Slams Catholic Church over Handling of Paedophile Priest Robert Claffey

The Courier
July 11, 2019

Robert Claffey.

A Melbourne judge who will soon sentence a repeat offender pedophile priest has condemned the Catholic Church for prioritising "the sinner" over children.

Robert Claffey, 76, is already serving more than a decade in prison for sexually abusing 12 children as young as five, between 1969 and 1992.

Claffey was a priest at Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Wendouree during the 1980s.

The church became aware of his behaviour in the 1980s, but moved him "parish to parish" throughout western Victoria, at one point even installing him as a replacement for notorious pedophile Gerald Ridsdale.

In 2016, Claffey was jailed for a minimum of 13 years and four months.

But on Monday, Claffey admitted he abused another two boys in Ballarat during the 1980s, following fresh allegations.

One of the victims was aged between 12 and 15 at the time, while the other was aged six to seven.

Defence lawyer Alan Hands has asked County Court Judge Paul Higham to consider Claffey had already been "vilified" by the media and community, and shouldered the burden of his offending for years.

"He was moved from parish to parish," Mr Hands said on Friday.

"For a number of years, he was hunted around the western district."

He noted Claffey had become a lay priest at his own request in 1994.But the judge wasn't convinced the pedophile was vilified or burdened by guilt.

"Some parents had got up the courage to challenge the church. I don't see how we make the leap from that to vilification. Being held accountable for your actions is not vilification," he said.

While noting the Catholic Church was "not in the dock", Judge Higham added the church did not report Claffey to police, but simply moved him around.

"Their priority was to bring the sinner back to the church rather than protect the children," he said.

"The church did not report him to the police and he did not report himself to the police. Where is the evidence that he had this matter hanging over him...over the decades?

"Where is his sense of guilt?"

Judge Higham noted Claffey initially contested the allegations he is now in jail for, only confessing in 2016.

Also on Friday, one of Claffey's victims told the court he had lost faith in the church.

"I felt I could not tell anyone and if I raised or complained about what happened to me, I would not be believed, I would be sinning," the man said.

"I have lost my faith in the church...for many years I was a broken person."

Judge Higham thanked the man for attending court.

"I reassure you that your voice is heard in this court," he said.

The court is waiting to receive one more victim statement before Claffey is sentenced for his Ballarat crimes on July 18.








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