Catholic Church won't bail out Robert MacGregor Fuller

AAP, Australia/August 14, 2009

The Catholic Church says it has not paid a bail surety for a Sydney priest has suspended over a criminal charge of grooming a child for sex.

Robert MacGregor Fuller, 54, is accused of using a webcam to show himself masturbating during online chat sessions with a police officer posing as a 13-year-old girl.

A priest at All Saints church at Liverpool, in Sydney's southwest, for some six years, Father Fuller was arrested yesterday afternoon in the car park of Parramatta pool where it is alleged he planned to meet the teenage girl for sex.

He was subsequently charged with grooming and procuring a child under the age of 16 and faced Parramatta Local Court today.

"This is a clear abuse of a position of authority within the church, particularly as the defendant is in a position of having unvetted access to (children)," police prosecutor Sergeant Kai Peninkilampi told the court.

Police allege that between July 21 and August 13, Fr Fuller had 13 online chat sessions with an officer masquerading as a 13-year-old girl.

"During these communications, the accused masturbated on webcamera ... on other occasions he instructed and encouraged (the girl) to masturbate herself with her fingers," police facts before the court said.

"He also arranged meeting (the girl) for the purpose of engaging in sexually explicit acts."

Fr Fuller's face was captured by webcam during five of the online conversations, police said.

In applying for bail, Fr Fuller's solicitor Greg Walsh called evidence from another Sydney priest who has known the accused for several years.

Father Terry Bell, currently acting in the position of bishop for the Western Sydney diocese, said Fuller worked hard and had a "very good reputation in the community", adding he was "shocked" when he heard the allegations.

Fr Bell offered $25,000 as bail and accommodation at a church-owned property at Terrigal in support of Fuller's bid to be released on bail.

Mr Walsh said there was no suggestion in the facts that any child "before this alleged behaviour, has been put at risk or preyed upon by this man".

Labelling the charges as "serious", Magistrate Peter Miszalski granted Fr Fuller bail, requiring that he report to police three times a week, surrender his passport, not use the internet, and not be in proximity to children or attend places such as schools, the movies and sports grounds.

A sum of $25,000 cash was lodged as part of the bail conditions.

The Archdiocese of Sydney released a statement on Friday saying that as part of its policy priests accused of any criminal offence are "responsible for their own legal costs".

"The Archdiocese does not contribute to these costs or provide sureties for bail, and Fr Fuller's case is no exception," the statement said.

"The Archdiocese of Sydney was not a party to the proceedings at the Parramatta Local Court today, did not have legal representatives in attendance, and has not seen a copy of Fr Fuller's bail conditions."

It said Fuller's legal representatives had advised Archdiocese lawyers that Fr Terry Bell, a family friend and parish priest of Fairfield, had provided the surety for Fuller.

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