The lawyer in charge of investigating child sex abuse claims on behalf of the Catholic archdiocese in Melbourne told victims that if they went to the police, his investigation process would end.
Peter O’Callaghan QC told the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse on Tuesday that he believed once police became involved, he would be in contempt of court if he continued the church investigation.
The two-week hearing in Melbourne is scrutinising church’s scheme for handling abuse cases, known as the Melbourne Response, established by Cardinal George Pell in 1996.
A witness identified only as AFA told the commission on Monday that during his meeting with O’Callaghan, he was told he would be eligible for compensation from the church of up to $75,000, but this process would be postponed if he went to police.
O’Callaghan said this was standard procedure.
“...if the police are in charge of a matter then I take no further steps because to do so would be conducting a concurrent investigation with the police which would be inappropriate,” he told the Commission.
“In some instances, quite a number, if the person was receiving counselling that would continue.”
O’Callaghan’s responsibilities in terms of encouraging victims to report complaints to the police as part of his role were clear, senior counsel assisting, Gail Furness, said.
He was to inform the victim of his or her unfettered right to report the matter to police immediately upon receiving their complaint, and appropriately encourage victims to exercise that right.
On Monday the court heard from sex abuse victim Paul Hersbach, who said after being interviewed by O’Callaghan he was told there did not seem to be much point in going to the police and that if he did, his case for compensation would be delayed.
But in his witness statement, O’Callaghan said he had no recollection of that conversation, which he would have likely taped.
O’Callaghan told the commission in his 18 years as independent investigator, he had found 97% of alleged abusers guilty.
More than 70 church staff including priests, and 10 lay people involved with the church, had been found guilty of abuse as a result of his investigations, he said.
The hearing resumes Wednesday.
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