Royal Commission hears Vatican told priest to offer a Mass every Friday for his victims

Sydney Morning Herald/December 19, 2013

By Catherine Armitage

A Lismore Catholic priest who sexually abused children was ordered by the Vatican to “live a life of prayer and penance” and offer a Mass every Friday for his victims, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been told.

But the “overwhelming majority” of clerical sex abuse cases are not reported to Rome because the Vatican wants to know only about incidents which occurred within the past 10 years, the Commission heard. The Bishop of Lismore, Geoffrey Jarrett, did not pass on any complaints for five years, probably because a directive from the Pope to do so was filed in a drawer and forgotten, he told the Commission.

In a day of astonishing revelations about the Australian Catholic church’s lackadaisical attitude to child sex abuse allegations, Bishop Jarrett admitted he did not pass on a 2002 complaint in which a woman alleged she “walked in on Father [Paul Rex] Brown in the act of sexually abusing a child in the sacristy of the cathedral” in 1959. That alleged incident preceded Father Brown’s abuse of Mrs Jennifer Ingham in the late 1970s by two decades.

When Bishop Jarrett eventually reported the separate case of a Lismore priest accused of “numerous” incidents of child sex abuse, with reparations of $50,000 already paid, the Vatican took two years to issue the punishment of offering Mass on Fridays. That priest is retired and lives in the presbytery with other priests in Lismore, Bishop Jarrett said. The Bishop has opted not to let him keep his priestly faculties, but said he would have written to the priest in 2004 to tell him he was not allowed to have contact with children. “I can’t recall whether I have written to remind him of it ever since,’’ Bishop Jarrett said.

In 2001, the Commission was told, a Holy See directive ordered bishops to refer to it every case with a “semblance of truth” involving sexual abuse of children by clerics who were still living. The revised rule that bishops should refer only allegations concerning incidents from the past 10 years came into effect in 2002 after the Holy See was “unable to deal with the vast number of referrals” from all over the world, said counsel assisting the Commission Gail Furness SC, citing a 2009 Irish report into clergy sexual abuse.

Chair of the Commission Peter McClellan said “the reality is the overwhelming majority of cases would not be reported within 10 years”. The Bishop said he was not aware of the Pope’s directive to report child sex abuse to Rome for the first five years it applied. “Directives can come to the Bishop, go to the chancellery, and remain there on the file and perhaps not be remembered or acted upon”. He said this may have happened even though he agreed with Justice McClellan that clergy sexual abuse was a big issue within the church by 2001.

The directives from Rome arrive in Latin with Latin explanations, Bishop Jarrett said, though not all bishops are fluent in Latin “these days”. An English explanation came around later, the Commission was told.

Brother Alexis Turton, who was director of professional standards for the Marist Brothers order for 10 years until 2012, was asked about a 2009 list made by Brother Anthony Hope naming 18 people who might make sexual abuse complaints against him. Brother Turton said he didn’t refer Brother Hope’s list to the police or even take advice about whether he needed to. Angus Stewart for the Commission suggested his attitude showed “an alarming indifference to this history of potential abuse”. “Since I didn’t have a complaint I was uncertain how to move,’’ Brother Turton replied.

Father Paul Rex Brown died in 2005 without ever facing the law for child sexual abuse.

The hearing adjourned until January 22.

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