Christian Brothers spent $1 million to defend paedophile

The Age, Australia/May 3, 2013

The Christian Brothers Catholic order spent more than $1 million defending serial paedophile Robert Best, the order has told the Victorian inquiry into how the churches handled child sexual abuse.

The order also paid $10,000 to a private investigator to spy on a victim of another abuser, Ted Dowlan.

It paid for legal advice to protect Dowlan’s assets from being paid to victims in civil lawsuits, and gave him $125,000 when he left the order.

But the brothers appearing on behalf of the order denied there were cultural problems within it.

It apologised for the "repulsive" and "inexcusable" betrayal by the abusers, and said most of the offenders had themselves been abused earlier.

"I cannot defend and will not try to defend the indefensible," said Brother Julian McDonald, deputy leader of the order in Australia and the region.

The Christian Brothers ran St Alipius Parish School in Ballarat where four paedophile members taught in the early 1970s and where another paedophile, Gerald Ridsdale, was parish priest.

Brian Brandon, the executive officer for professional standards, agreed that the order had paid $1.2 million defending Best in three cases – in 1996, 1998 and 2010.

The last case cost $980,000, but Brother Brandon suggested this had saved the taxpayers, including victims, the cost and could be seen as generosity.

Committee member Nick Wakeling: "You spend nearly $1 million defending Best after the previous cases and him pleading guilty to abusing three children."

Brother Brandon: "Including GST."

Asked how the Ballarat situation was possible, Brother McDonald said he had no explanation, describing it as "an accident of history".

He said leaders at the time saw child sex abuse as a moral failure rather than a criminal matter.

Committee member Andrea Coote said that until 1949 "buggering children" attracted the death penalty – how could Christian Brothers leaders not realise it was a serious crime?

Brother McDonald replied that he had no explanation.

He said sexual abuse had always been a crime - "a terrible, terrible crime that’s ruined lives and we know that and we knew that and every leader of the Christian Brothers should have known that".

Challenged by committee member David O'Brien about the severance payment and other support for Dowlan, Brother McDonald said it was caring for people who would otherwise "end on the scrap heap".

Mr O'Brien said the order's defence of Dowlan, including misleading police, showed that, far from being repentant, it was protective of Dowlan, Best and others.

Brother McDonald said the order, which had worked in Victoria since 1868, had received 266 complaints, of which 20 were not pursued. It paid $10.5 million in compensation.

Six brothers had been jailed, of whom four remained members. Police had investigated six more, but they were not convicted.

"Any institution is as sick as its secrets, and there was a culture that kept things secret," Brother McDonald said.

Though he denied there had been a culture of covering up, he admitted "in hindsight, certainly that's what it looks like".

He said there was no evidence that the order had been infiltrated by paedophiles, though there had been "mistakes" in moving two known paedophiles from parish to parish.

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