Category Archives: Father Peter Searson

Pell’s claim he was deceived ‘is wrong’

Pell’s claim he was deceived ‘is wrong’

27 APR 2016 – 6:30PM

From the Link:

Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal George Pell

A hearing into abuse in the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne winds up with former education officers expressing anger at Cardinal Pell’s allegations of deceit.

27 APR 2016 – 6:30 PM  UPDATED YESTERDAY 6:30 PM

Three former Catholic education officers have denied Cardinal George Pell’s claims their office deceived him about the activities of a violent and sexually abusive priest.

Former Catholic Education Office director Monsignor Thomas Doyle and his deputy Peter Annett told the sex abuse royal commission of their shock, disappointment and anger on hearing Dr Pell allege the office withheld information about pedophile priest Peter Searson in the 1980s.

Cardinal Pell, an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne in the ’80s, told the royal commission in March education officials were fearful of telling him the full story about Searson because they knew he would be “decisive” and not accept the status quo.

In giving his evidence from Rome where he is now the Vatican’s finance chief, Dr Pell also said he thought the education office at the time was protecting Archbishop Frank Little.

But Mgr Doyle and other witnesses categorically denied this was the case.

“I don’t agree with that evidence. I don’t agree that the Catholic Education Office intended to deceive Bishop Pell, so I thought his statement was wrong,” the Monsignor told the commission on Wednesday.

He was disappointed with the Cardinal’s claims.

“I don’t think they were true,” he said.

The now retired priest also said the office would have welcomed then Bishop Pell’s assistance in removing Searson.

The commission has heard evidence Searson threatened one little girl by holding a knife to her chest, sexually molested children in confession and threatened people with a gun.

Searson died in 2009 without being charged.

He was suspended from duty in 1997, a year after Dr Pell became Archbishop of Melbourne.

The commission has also heard that Archbishop Little ignored repeated requests to remove Searson.

Mr Annett said on Wednesday at one stage in the late ’80s the number one priority for the office was to get Searson removed from the parish.

“I would have thought our staff would be completely frank with Bishop Pell and be cheering from the rooftops if he was able to take action,” he said.

He said he had to admit to “some shock” at what Dr Pell said in Rome.

“I was disappointed and perhaps angry, but certainly very disappointed,” Mr Annett said.

Mr Annett, Mgr Doyle and former education consultant Allan Dooley said there was never any instruction to keep information from then auxiliary bishop Pell.

A fourth witness, former education official Catherine Briant who in 1989 took over as zone officer with responsibility for Doveton from Mr Dooley, said she was not briefed on problems at the Holy Family school.

She dealt with complaints he was bullying and harassing staff. She had no dealing with Bishop Pell, nor was she ever instructed to keep information from him, she said.

The hearing into widespread clerical abuse in Melbourne, which started last November, concluded on Wednesday.

Child sex abuse inquiry: Police asked repeat abuse victim if she was wearing ‘neon sign’, royal commission hears

Child sex abuse inquiry: Police asked repeat abuse victim if she was wearing ‘neon sign’, royal commission hears

By Pat Stavropoulos and Samantha Donovan
November 25,2015
From the Link: Child sex abuse inquiry: Police asked repeat abuse victim if she was wearing ‘neon sign’, royal commission hears

Pedophile Priest Peter Searson

Pedophile Priest Peter Searson

A survivor of child sex abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest and a family member was asked by police if she was wearing a neon sign saying “come and get me” above her head when she was a teenager, an inquiry has heard.

Witness Julie Stewart broke down as she told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that she was repeatedly abused by Father Searson at Doveton, from when she was in grade three.

The inquiry heard that when she was 15, she was approached by police about allegations against Father Searson after they received reports she was a possible victim.

She said because she had also been sexually abused by a relative from the ages of five to eight, she found it hard to tell anyone she had also been abused by Father Searson.

She said her admission that she had been abused by two men prompted the police officer to remark “oh my God, what, were you wearing a neon sign above your head, ‘come and get me?'”.

The police took no further action.

She told the inquiry she would blame herself, often thinking there was something wrong with her.

Priest’s abuse began in primary school

Ms Stewart said the abuse began at the Holy Family School, where Father Searson was the parish priest.

She said he would often visit her class and hug the children, including her.

“At first I loved the attention,” she said.

“He was a priest, and it made me feel special.”

Ms Stewart told the royal commission Father Searson abused her between 12 and 14 times, beginning in 1984.

“It began with kisses on the lips,” she said.

“On about the fifth time and on each subsequent occasion, Father Searson also touched me.

“When he started to touch me, I knew it was wrong and it was sexual.”

After that, she said she would wear tracksuit pants or stockings to make it harder for him to touch her.

She told the inquiry the last time she went to confession was in 1985, when she was in grade four.

On that occasion, Father Searson placed her on his lap, so she could feel his erection against her backside.

“He pushed me hard against him. It hurt. He whispered in my ear, ‘you are a good girl, the Lord forgives you’,” she said.

“I snapped, I pushed myself off him, I ran out of the confessional, I was sobbing and hyperventilating.”

‘I will no longer be a victim’: Julie Stewart

Ms Stewart also spoke about how she tried to take her life as a young teenager.

She said she had become rebellious and hated her parents.

Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal George Pell

It was not until late 1996, or early 1997, after a chance meeting with a former teacher that she was told a Queen’s Counsel had been hired by then Archbishop of Melbourne George Pell to investigate Father Searson.

She said a year later, she received a cheque of $25,000 from the Archdiocese and a letter of apology from Cardinal Pell, through the Melbourne Response.

But she said the hearing to resolve her claim was distressing.

“I was made to sit facing Father Searson, and I was questioned by his lawyer for a long time,” she said.

“I was not prepared for how hostile the cross-examination was.

“I was taken into another room and asked to sign a confidentially agreement. I don’t remember what it said but I signed it. I just wanted to leave.

“When I left the hearing I broke down and cried … I felt that the whole process re-traumatised me.”

She completed her testimony, saying she still cried for the little girl she once was, but that she wanted to be a voice for survivors.

“The little girl that never got to be a normal little girl, doing all the things that little girls should do, the little girl that always wanted to fit in but always felt like a weirdo,” she said.

“Nothing can ever give that back to me. It is a life sentence and every day I make a choice to keep going.

“It is important to me to tell my story now, because I want peace for myself.

“I’m not ashamed anymore and I no longer blame myself. I will no longer be a victim.”

Does George Pell still have questions to answer over his handling of child sexual abuse claims?

Does George Pell still have questions to answer over his handling of child sexual abuse claims?

By Louise Milligan
November 25,2015
From the Link: Does George Pell still have questions to answer over his handling of child sexual abuse claims?

Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal George Pell is due to re-appear before the Royal Commission next month over his handling of allegations of child sexual abuse. One survivor of abuse gives evidence for the first time and claims George Pell downplayed the conduct of her abuser at a previous parliamentary inquiry.

Transcript of video below:

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Next month, Catholic Cardinal George Pell will make his much-anticipated appearance before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

New evidence about the case of Victorian predatory priest Peter Searson raises new questions for Cardinal Pell about how he managed allegations of sexual abuse.

The cardinal has consistently defended his handling of abuse by the clergy, but one victim claims she has evidence he knew far more than he’s let on.

Louise Milligan has the story.

LOUISE MILLIGAN, REPORTER: Julie Stewart is coming back to Melbourne, a place she ran away from almost 20 years ago.

JULIE STEWART: I just wanted it out of my life. We moved to Cairns. Been there ever since.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: What Julie ran away from is the abuse she suffered at her Catholic primary school, Holy Family Doveton in outer Melbourne. Here abused was parish priest, one Peter Searson.

JULIE STEWART: I used to see him on the playground cuddling – he was very affectionate with children and always had a smile on his face.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: One of the milestones at Holy Family that year was Julie’s first confession.

JULIE STEWART: I went to sit on the chair next to him and he said, “Come and sit on my knee.” So of course, I was delighted. “Father’s paying attention to me. Wait till I tell Nana.” And he asked, you know, “Do you love Father?” And I said, “Oh, of course.” I’m thinking the Lord – I love Father, I love the Lord. And he said, “No, no, no, do you love me? I said, “Oh, of course I love you.” And he said, “Give Father a kiss.” So I gave him a kiss on the cheek and he said, “No, no, no, give Father a kiss on the lips,” so I gave him a kiss on the lips and that was just the beginning.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: The abuse escalated over two years every time Julie went to confession.

JULIE STEWART: And then from there, it led to touching and him placing my hand on his private parts and kissing, more kissing and him trying to put his hands inside, um, my, um, my, um, underwear. His face would always light up when I walked in the room. Oof, you know, he’d light up straight away and I was just sickened by it.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Things came to a head when Searson’s abuse became more forceful.

JULIE STEWART: I snapped. And I remember putting my hands on his knees and pushing myself off. And I just turned around and I – I looked at him and he was sort of shocked that I’d done it and I just bolted out.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: She ran sobbing to a teacher and was brought to see the school principal, Graeme Sleeman.

GRAEME SLEEMAN, PRINCIPAL: I heard this child screaming and I ran out of my office. … And she was there and absolutely unconsolable.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Julie hasn’t seen Graeme Sleeman in almost 20 years.

GRAEME SLEEMAN: G’day, Jules. How are ya? Long time no see, eh? You right? It’s not the same as talking on the phone, is it?

LOUISE MILLIGAN: The principal and his former student have come to give evidence to the Royal commission into child sexual abuse about what Peter Searson did and how the Catholic Church failed to act on it. Julie only recently discovered how hard Sleeman fought for her.

GRAEME SLEEMAN: In all my life, I’ve never been frightened of anyone, but Peter Searson scared me, because he was a really, really creepy guy.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Principal Sleeman made it his mission to ensure Searson was punished for what he did to Julie. But his efforts to spur the Catholic Education Office to act went nowhere.

GRAEME SLEEMAN: Oh, they said, “We’ve passed it on, we’ve passed it on.” And they kept constantly telling me, “We do not have – that is not concrete evidence. We need concrete evidence.” I don’t know how much more concrete evidence we could give them.”

LOUISE MILLIGAN: The Church’s failure to take action against Searson led to Graeme Sleeman resigning in 1986.

GRAEME SLEEMAN: The diocese really did not assist me in providing a safe environment for any of the students in that school.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Parents sent dozens of letters supporting Sleeman and begging the Church to remove Father Searson. One letter from a 10-year-old student said, “If anyone should leave, it should be Father, as he sexually assaulted my friend”.

GAIL FURNESS, Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission: No investigation was undertaken. Indeed, there was no serious investigation of any complaint made during the ’80s and early-’90s.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Out of the blue, five years after her abuse when Julie was in high school, Julie received a visit from a police officer in 1990, a police officer who interviewed her about Searson. He seemed determined to prosecute. This is her statement:

JULIE STEWART: As he was leaving, actually, my Dad saw him out and he turned around and he said to my Dad, “We’ll get him.”

LOUISE MILLIGAN: We’ll get Searson.

JULIE STEWART: “We’ll get him. We’ll get him,” is what he said. And then a few days later, he rang and said there, “Wasn’t enough evidence, Julie.”

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Julie also told her high school principal. The principal contacted the detective and called Julie in a week later.

JULIE STEWART: And he said, “Well, there’s not much we can do about it.”

LOUISE MILLIGAN: The week after she spoke to the principal, Father Searson was invited to the high school to give communion to students, including Julie, at mass. She took an overdose of tablets the following week.

JULIE STEWART: I was alone in this whole journey and that’s how I felt totally and broken. … I’ve always felt there was a cover-up.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: It was the evidence of Cardinal George Pell to a Victorian parliamentary inquiry in 2013 that jolted Julie into anger.

QUESTIONER (May 27, 2013): Can you understand how victims regard what happened during this period as there was really hear no evil, see no evil, say nothing about evil from the Church?

GEORGE PELL, CARDINAL: I think that’s an objectionable suggestion with no foundation in the truth and I’ve – as I – no conviction was recorded for Searson on sexual misbehaviour. There might be victims.

JULIE STEWART: That pissed me off.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: “There might be victims.”

JULIE STEWART: Yeah, I was absolutely so angry … and I thought, “Let’s get ’em.”

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Julie Stewart was given a payout by the Catholic Church’s Melbourne response, set up by George Pell. She’s asking why, if George Pell believed only that there might be victims, he sent her this letter in 1998 which accepts that she had been abused:

GEORGE PELL (letter, male voiceover): “On behalf of the Catholic Church and personally, I apologise to you and to those around you for the wrongs and hurt you have suffered at the hands of Father Searson.”

LOUISE MILLIGAN: What do you think about George Pell?

JULIE STEWART: Not very much.

GRAEME SLEEMAN: It would be impossible for him not to know what was happening in Doveton.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: But it wasn’t until 1997 that Searson was finally prosecuted after he hit an altar boy. He was removed from all priestly duties.

Julie Stewart is determined the Church is now called to account for its failures.

JULIE STEWART: I was a victim as a child and I was a little girl, but I’m not gonna be a victim as an adult. And I’ll be buggered if they’re gonna try and shut me down and cover it up anymore.

LEIGH SALES: Louise Milligan reporting.

Video is online with link to story.

Sex abuse royal commission: Angry victim reveals details of Pell letter apologising for suffering at hands of ‘creepy’ paedophile priest

Sex abuse royal commission: Angry victim reveals details of Pell letter apologising for suffering at hands of ‘creepy’ paedophile priest

By Louise Milligan and Andy Burns
November 26,2015
From the Link: Sex abuse royal commission: Angry victim reveals details of Pell letter apologising for suffering at hands of ‘creepy’ paedophile priest

Pedophile Priest Peter Searson

Pedophile Priest Peter Searson

A victim of notorious paedophile priest Peter Searson has revealed the contents of a letter of apology to her from former archbishop George Pell about her abuse.

The letter paints a different picture to the evidence given by Cardinal Pell to a Victorian inquiry in 2013.

Julie Stewart gave evidence on Wednesday morning to the royal commission into child sex abuse about her treatment at the hands of Father Peter Searson at the Doveton Holy Family Parish in outer Melbourne in the 1980s.

The letter, signed by the then-archbishop Pell and written in 1998, accepts that Ms Stewart was abused.

“On behalf of the Catholic Church and personally, I apologise to you and to those around you for the wrongs and hurt you have suffered at the hands of Father Searson,” it says.

But, while being questioned in 2013 by Victorian MP Frank McGuire, Cardinal Pell defended his actions in relation to Searson.

The transcript of his evidence reads: “…No conviction was recorded for Searson for sexual misbehaviour – there might be victims…”

Ms Stewart told 7.30 she was deeply angered by the statement that “there might be victims”, so decided to tell her story to the royal commission for the first time.

“Oh, I was absolutely so angry. And I thought, ‘let’s get ’em’,” she said.

When asked by 7.30 what she thought of Cardinal Pell, she answered: “Not very much.”

Ms Stewart was abused by Searson in 1984 and 1985 at Holy Family when she was nine and 10 years old. The school was a hot spot for a succession of paedophile priests through the 1970s and 1980s.

Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal Pell, who has engaged personal legal representation for this royal commission, will reserve the right to cross-examine witnesses, including victims of paedophile clergy, despite a Church decision not to do so.

Evidence will also be heard this week from the principal of the Holy Family School at the time, Graeme Sleeman, who quit in disgust after he says the parish was left unprotected from Searson by the Catholic Church.

“When Searson was sent to me, priests, people, contacted me at the school to say ‘mate, you are getting this crazy guy’,” Mr Sleeman told 730.

“In all my life, I have never been frightened of anyone, but Peter Searson scared me. Because he was a really, really creepy guy.”

The former principal, whose career was left in ruins following Searson’s arrrival at the school, said the Catholic Education Office received numerous complaints about the priest but ignored them.

“They said ‘we’ve passed it on’. And they kept constantly telling me, ‘that is not concrete evidence, we need concrete evidence’. I don’t know how much more concrete evidence we could give them,” Mr Sleeman said.

The commission has received in evidence dozens of letters from the time Mr Sleeman left the school from concerned parents and parishioners who wanted Searson out.

Mr Sleeman told 7.30 the Church failed the students of Holy Family School.

“I signed a contract to be a principal at that school which said I would uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church and I would provide a safe environment for children. And the diocese really did not assist me in providing a safe environment for any of the students in that school,” he said.

The Catholic Church substantiated four complaints of child sexual abuse against Searson. He was also convicted in 1997 of hitting an altar boy. He died in 2009.

Does George Pell still have questions to answer over his handling of child sexual abuse claims? Video.

Sex abuse royal commission: People intimidated by priest who pointed a gun at student

Sex abuse royal commission: People intimidated by priest who pointed a gun at student

By Parthena Stavropoulos
November 26,2015
From the Link: Sex abuse royal commission: People intimidated by priest who pointed a gun at student

Pedophile Priest Peter Searson

Pedophile Priest Peter Searson

A former director of Catholic Education at the Archdiocese of Melbourne has been questioned over why he did not take action against a parish priest who pointed a gun at students.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse heard more evidence about Father Peter Searson, when he was parish priest at a Doveton school in the 1980’s.

On Tuesday, a former principal of Holy Family Primary School told the hearing Father Searson once terrified year 12 students when he pointed a gun at them.

The students, from the local secondary school, were working as cleaners at the Doveton school.

Monsignor Thomas Doyle, the former director of Catholic Education at the Archdiocese of Melbourne, admitted to being alarmed about the accusations, but did little about them.

The hearing was told that a letter of complaint was sent to the then-archbishop, Frank Little, about the incident.

The letter said people would not come forward because they were intimidated by Father Searson and were worried it could happen again.

Monsignor Doyle said he would have gone to the archbishop but there was no response to the letter of complaint.

Justice Peter McClellan questioned him closely over the incident.

“You’ve got reports of extraordinary behaviour, an archbishop who’s not responding and you didn’t go to the regional bishop?” Justice McClellan asked.

“I would have thought it no use to go to the regional bishop,” Monsignor Doyle said.

“If I couldn’t convince the archbishop then I don’t think the regional bishop could’ve either.”

“So you didn’t even try?” Justice McClellan said.

“Not that I remember,” Monsignor Doyle said.

He said he was aware police carried out a search warrant to find the gun after a number of complaints.

Father Searson eventually handed it to police several years later during a gun amnesty.

The former school principal, Graeme Sleeman, told the commission on Tuesday that he had confronted Father Searson about the incident.

Father Searson replied he was licensed to carry a gun and Mr Sleeman was told not to question him.

He said Father Searson told him “you can’t be too careful”.

Child abuse royal commission: Melbourne Archbishop defends George Pell, but admits bishops ‘did not do enough’ to remove abusive priests

Child abuse royal commission: Melbourne Archbishop defends George Pell, but admits bishops ‘did not do enough’ to remove abusive priests

By Danny Morgan
November 30,2015
From the Link: Child abuse royal commission: Melbourne Archbishop defends George Pell, but admits bishops ‘did not do enough’ to remove abusive priests

Archbishop Denis Hart

Archbishop Denis Hart

The Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne has defended his predecessor, Cardinal George Pell, against allegations he did not properly follow up child sexual abuse complaints against priests.

Denis Hart has told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that during the 1980s and early 1990s senior bishops did not do enough to convince Archbishop Frank Little to remove priests who were molesting children.

Archbishop Hart said it was a complete failure of process on the part of the bishops.

“So that includes Archbishop, now Cardinal, Pell?” he was asked by counsel assisting, Gail Furness SC.

Archbishop Hart replied: “I would exclude him.”

The commission had earlier heard Cardinal Pell, as an auxiliary bishop based in Melbourne in 1989, received complaints about paedophile priest Peter Searson.

Archbishop Hart was questioned on whether Cardinal Pell had done enough to follow them up.

“It’s the case isn’t it that the Auxiliary Bishop was part of a complete failure of process?” Ms Furness asked.

Archbishop Hart said: “He’d have to explain what he did and didn’t know.”

Archbishop Frank Little

Archbishop Frank Little

At one point the Archbishop was challenged on why he had not referred to a series of documents relating to Cardinal Pell’s conduct in his statement to the commission.

Ms Furness: Why aren’t they referred to in your statement?

Archbishop Hart: I’d say that’s just an omission, that’s all.

Ms Furness: A deliberate one?

Archbishop Hart: No

Ms Furness: Inadvertent?

Archbishop Hart: Inadvertent yes.

More women within church ‘might have prevented damage’

During his evidence, Archbishop Hart acknowledged having more women in senior positions within the church might have prevented the damaged caused by paedophile priests.

The commission was told just two of the 31 Catholic archdiocese in Australia have women in senior administrative positions.

Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal George Pell

Archbishop Hart said while the numbers were low, the advice of women was increasing sought by senior church officials.

“The movement may be glacial, but it is movement,” he told the hearing.

The Archbishop also acknowledged criticism the Vatican tried to minimise the risk of scandal to the church by initiating a lengthy and complicated process to remove people from the priesthood.

“I would certainly respect that criticism. I know that the people I have been in contact with don’t have that view, but I think it’s a valid criticism,” Archbishop Hart said.

“I would hope that replies from Rome would come more quickly because you’ve got a situation where you’ve stood a priest aside, there is a whole important question of protection of people, and you don’t like to leave it in suspended animation.”

Cardinal Pell is due to give evidence before the commission in mid-December.

Child abuse royal commission: Archbishop Denis Hart admits he was aware of complaints against abusive priest

Child abuse royal commission: Archbishop Denis Hart admits he was aware of complaints against abusive priest

By Danny Morgan
December 1,2015
From the Link: Child abuse royal commission: Archbishop Denis Hart admits he was aware of complaints against abusive priest

Archbishop Denis Hart

Archbishop Denis Hart

The Archbishop of Melbourne has admitted he should have done more to remove a violent priest who was alleged to have sexually abused children.

In 1996 Denis Hart received a complaint that Father Peter Searson, a parish priest, had hit a boy in the head.

Archbishop Hart told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that at the time, he would have checked Searson’s file and been aware of a long list of other complaints, including child sexual abuse.

However, he let Searson remain as parish priest in charge of a local primary school for another four months, only restricting his contact with altar boys.

Archbishop Hart told the hearing that in hindsight, more should have been done at the time.

Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan: You would have realised from the file it wasn’t just that group that was in danger, it was everyone?

Archbishop Denis Hart: I’d have to say that now, your honour, yes.

Justice McClellan: You didn’t realise that then?

Archbishop Hart: Well, I was relying very much on proper advice because there were a number of matters coming across the desk and I think I did what I thought at the time. On reflection, of course I’d have to say more should have been done.

The commission has previously heard that the Melbourne Archdiocese lied about the reasons behind the resignation of some paedophile priests in order to protect its reputation and avoid scandal.

In 1993, a group of senior bishops including Archbishop Frank Little allowed Father Narazeno Fasciale to resign for health reasons, despite knowing the real reason was an admission he had molested children.

In 1996 the Church put out a statement denying it had ever covered-up paedophilia.

Counsel assisting Gail Furness: That’s just a lie in relation to Fasciale, isn’t it?

Archbishop Hart: Well, I think that the facts of what was done and weren’t done put the lie to that sentence.

Ms Furness: And this is 1996. That’s appalling Archbishop, isn’t it?

Archbishop Hart: I think it’s indicative of the mentality.

The commission confirmed Rome-based Cardinal George Pell will give evidence to the hearing on December 16.

It is expected he will be questioned for up to three days on his response to child sexual abuse in his time as Archbishop of Melbourne and earlier in his career in Ballarat.


Child abuse royal commission: Senior Melbourne clergy ‘motivated to protect church’s reputation’ over abuse complaints

Child abuse royal commission: Senior Melbourne clergy ‘motivated to protect church’s reputation’ over abuse complaints

By Danny Morgan
December 2, 2015
From the Link: Child abuse royal commission: Senior Melbourne clergy ‘motivated to protect church’s reputation’ over abuse complaints

Pedophile Priest Peter Searson

Pedophile Priest Peter Searson

A senior Catholic Bishop has admitted he and other leaders of the Archdiocese of Melbourne had not properly addressed child sexual abuse complaints because they wanted to protect the church’s reputation.

Appearing before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Bishop Peter Connors also conceded senior clergy have considered whether they may be guilty of concealing a crime.

As a former Vicar-General of the Melbourne Archdiocese, Bishop Connors was aware of multiple cases of priests abusing children dating back to 1978.

He told the commission he should have done more to convince former Archbishop Frank Little to remove the priests.

It was put to the Bishop that church leaders were motivated by a desire to protect the church from scandal.

“That could well have been the case. Yes, I accept that view,” he replied.

Commission chair Justice Peter McClennan: It’s a fundamentally damning allegation of the church, isn’t it?

Bishop Connors: It is indeed, I accept.

Justice McClennan: Do you accept it’s entirely contrary to the church’s purpose and mission?

Bishop Connors: Yes, I accept that your honour.

The Bishop was asked about the implications of the failure to act on complaints.

“My question really is whether the men ever discussed the fact that they may be concealing crimes?” Commissioner Andrew Murray said.

Bishop Connors answered: “I would expect that the other bishops particularly would have raised the issue that we were concealing a crime.”

Senior officer ‘disagrees’ with decision not to charge priest

Earlier, a senior Victorian police officer has criticised an investigation into child sexual abuse allegations levelled at Melbourne Catholic priest Father Peter Searson.

Julie Stewart had previously told the child abuse royal commission that in 1985 she was made to sit on Father Searson’s knee in the confession box.

She said he initiated sexual contact and she ran away screaming.

Ms Stewart told authorities about the incident, but a police report in 1990 concluded the priest had not committed an offence and he was never charged.

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Fontana said on Wednesday he believed Father Searson could have been charged with indecent assault.

“Reading the statement, I thought quite clearly there was an indecency around it,” Assistant Commissioner Fontana said.

“To suggest that there was none and even, I think somewhere in the documentation or report that suggests it wasn’t a sex offence, I disagree with.

“I think the whole circumstance was surrounded with indecency.”

Justice system needs to ‘change attitude’ towards victims

Commission chair Justice Peter McClennan said the case showed those in the justice system needed to change their attitude to circumstances where there were no witnesses to the sexual assault of a child.

“We have to address this issue: why is it that there is a reluctance to prosecute or accept the evidence of complainants where there is only one person complaining?” Justice McClellan said.

Father Searson died in 2009 without ever being charged with child sex offences.

The Catholic Church has paid compensation of $291,000 to three of his victims.

The commission had previously heard that aside from sexual abuse allegations against Searson, the priest was also accused of pointing a gun at students, showing children a dead body in a coffin and holding a knife to the chest of a child.

Despite the long list of complaints in the 1980s and early 1990s, the Catholic Church never properly investigated.

His faculties as a priest were removed in 1998 after he had pleaded guilty to assaulting an altar boy.

The hearing continues.

In the Name of the Law

In the Name of the Law

By Quentin McDermott and Peter Cronau

Updated August 12, 2014 13:36:00

From the Link:

MONDAY 11th August 2014

They were sexually abused by the clergy and then found themselves targeted by the Church’s lawyers. Why did it happen and who was responsible for the strategy?

This week on Four Corners, reporter Quentin McDermott reveals the systematic way the Catholic Church sought to conceal the sexual abuse of children, using lawyers to minimise the potential financial impact to the organisation.

Talking to the abused, their families and employees of the Church, and by examining the detail of Royal Commission testimony, McDermott pieces together a strategy that even those inside the Church now concede was misplaced and utterly unethical.

“It’s a major, major crisis. It’s not only a crisis of scandal and crime; it’s also a crisis of faith and credibility.”

The program begins by looking at two cases where the Church clearly accepted that all the available evidence suggested abuse had happened, even offering a small settlement. When this was rejected, the lawyers acting on behalf of the Church argued the abuse had never happened.

“Firstly they disputed that the abuse had occurred and then they denied that our daughters had suffered from that abuse.”

The investigation examines the tactics employed by the Church in negotiating with victims in private, often with no legal representation, during compensation negotiations.

In case after case it becomes clear that the key objective has been to minimise financial costs. In each of the cases examined, the victims firmly believe the legal strategies employed constituted a second round of abuse. As one Catholic priest told Four Corners, it’s an approach that could not be justified in any way:

“It’s been a misguided attempt to preserve the Church’s assets… the real assets of the Church are its people.”

‘IN THE NAME OF THE LAW’, reported by Quentin McDermott and presented by Kerry O’Brien, goes to air on Monday 11th August at 8.30pm on ABC. It is replayed on Tuesday 12th August at 11.00am and 11.35pm. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 on Saturday at 8.00pm, ABC iview or


In the Name of the Law – Monday 11 August 2014

KERRY O’BRIEN, PRESENTER: How the Catholic Church used the law to hide its sins: welcome to the Four Corners.

A great deal of shocking revelation of systematic institutional abuse of children over many decades has by now washed through the various official inquiries into child abuse in Australia.

But if you think by now you’ve heard it all, you haven’t.

Some of the great iconic pillars of virtue have been sucked into the vortex of scandal in the process, none more so than the Catholic Church.

Earlier this year the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse scrutinised the Catholic Church’s nationwide policy on the issue, called “Towards Healing.”

One case in particular, that of abuse victim John Ellis, exposed a history of heavy-handed legal tactics by the Sydney Archdiocese. Next week the scrutiny turns to Melbourne and a strategy set up by its then archbishop, George Pell, in 1996.

It’s inevitable that the Royal Commission will again zero in on the Church’s legalistic pressure tactics in its dealings with victims. And again, as new evidence we present tonight will show, the Church hierarchy and its lawyers are likely to be facing serious questions on their past actions.

Quentin McDermott reports.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT, REPORTER: It’s Saturday evening at St Mary of the Angels Basilica in Geelong and Father Kevin Dillon is getting ready for Mass.

If there’s one topic here in Victoria that’s sacred, it’s football.

KEVIN DILLON, FR, ST MARY OF THE ANGELS PARISH, GEELONG: Freo are being done by St Kilda. It’s only the second quarter, though. Are the Cats playing GWS?

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: As with other Catholic congregations around Australia, attendances are down and many of the pews lie empty.

It’s a sign of the deep distress felt by the faithful at the Church’s litany of sex crimes and, more than that, of the Church’s abject failure to respond appropriately.

KEVIN DILLON: A lot of people are looking for care and support from within the Church. And the horrific thing is: when they have looked for it they have found it wanting and, ah, they are still being left in dire straits.

(Addressing congregation in prayer) In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Father Dillon’s answer has been to set up a victims’ support group called Lifeboat.

KEVIN DILLON: The prime purpose of Lifeboat is to say to the people: you matter. We care about you and we will do what we can to, ah, help you because the lifeboat – when you were assaulted, um, by a Church person, be it a priest or a brother or whoever – um, the- the lifeboat of connection with God went down with the ship.

This is our little effort in our own small way to put that lifeboat up again.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: But Father Dillon’s mission stands in stark contrast to a Catholic hierarchy which for years has employed teams of lawyers to fight victims in the courts and minimise the Church’s exposure to damages.

KEVIN DILLON: It’s been a- a misguided attempt to preserve the Church’s assets, ah, and the Church’s reputation.

(Addressing congregation) Behold the Lamb of God.

But the real assets of the Church are its people. Those assets have been damaged, in many cases irreparably: not just the- the victims and not just their families but so many people who’ve looked upon this horrific saga and have voted with their feet.

The awful thing is it didn’t have to happen this way.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Why it did happen this way, and why the Church treated victims in the way it did, is now being forensically examined at the Royal Commission. And the Church’s legal strategy is front-and-centre in that examination.

(Footage of Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 26 March 2014)

GEORGE PELL, CARDINAL: In a legal sense, uh, we always acted honestly. And I… believe, in a legal sense, there was nothing done that was improper.

(Footage ends)

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: John Ellis was 14 years old when he first became a victim of clergy sexual abuse. Forty years later, the pain remains etched in his face.

Father Aidan Duggan, his abuser, was a priest in his 50s who at first he admired and trusted.

(Footage of Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 10 March 2014)

JOHN ELLIS, LAWYER AND CHILD ABUSE VICTIM: Uh, my name is John Andrew Ellis and I’m a solicitor.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: In March, John Ellis told his story to the Royal Commission.

JOHN ELLIS: I was ashamed of what was happening and I knew that it was meant to be secret.

(Footage ends)

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Years after these events, John Ellis, by now a successful solicitor, suffered a severe traumatic reaction to his childhood abuse.

Looking for help and support, he approached the Catholic Church’s “Towards Healing” program and disclosed what had occurred. But the senior churchman’s response seemed inappropriate.

JOHN ELLIS: He was telling me that it was, you know, all a long time ago and that, um, you know, the police were probably not going to be very interested in that a-and really there wasn’t much could be done about it. And you know, they did have a- a process but, um, you know, it might be best, all things considered, um, to just go away and move on with my life.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: John Ellis pressed the Church to accept his story and in 2003 a Church assessor decided that, more likely than not, the abuse had occurred and had damaged his mental, physical and emotional health.

With his health in decline, John Ellis lost his high-paying legal job and requested $100,000 in compensation for the harm done to him in childhood by the Church.

But he was offered just $30,000 – with a catch.

JOHN ELLIS: I was told that um, “By the way, you need to sign a- a deed of release a-and sign off your legal rights, ah, before we’ll pay you this money.”

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: John Ellis felt he was left with no choice but to lodge a claim in court.

JOHN ELLIS: You know, looking back at it, I-I can say hand-on-heart that I might’ve been prepared to accept their payment of $30,000 if they’d actually treated me with respect.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Instead, the decision was taken to fight John Ellis’ claim and fight it hard, as a win against him would protect the Church’s assets against claims from other victims.

JOHN ELLIS: That was a deliberate strategy to send a message to, to people: don’t come after the Church.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: George Pell, then Archbishop of Sydney, had hand-picked a firm of solicitors, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, to fight the case.

And this internal email shows the Archbishop’s private secretary, Dr Michael Casey, commenting approvingly: “I think they’re approaching it the right way to knock E[llis] out.”

JOHN ELLIS: They had a, a decision to make, you know, whether to deal with the claim ethically and-and justly and-and compassionately, or-or whether to take, take a hard line and knock me out.

Um, Dr. Casey’s, ah, email was, was affirming the instructions that the latter and, and more shameful course was the one that had been chosen by the Church.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Remarkably, Archbishop Pell’s instructions to his team were to set aside the Church’s own assessment that John Ellis was telling the truth.

As a result, John Ellis was subjected to days of cross-examination in court about his private life and whether the abuse had occurred.

JOHN ELLIS: The dagger to the heart really was, was when the question was put about whether these things really happened. And the suggestion was made that, you know, I was somehow making the whole thing up.

Um, I- I think really from that, from that point in time there was, there was no turning back for-for me. Um, I… I couldn’t have any trust in the Church as an institution once that was done.

(Footage of Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 18 March 2014)

PAUL MCCANN, PARTNER, CORRS CHAMBERS WESTGARTH: Well, I think it’s o-, it’s only a portion of the cross-examination…

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: At the Royal Commission, the Catholic Church’s lawyers were grilled about the legal and moral stance they had taken in attacking Ellis.

PETER MCCLELLAN, QC, CHIEF COMMISSIONER: It’s a fundamental challenge to Mr Ellis and it shouldn’t have happened, should it?

PAUL MCCANN: Uh… on reflection, probably not.

(Footage ends)

(Footage of Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 20 March 2014)

PETER MCCLELLAN: Mr Dalzell, we’ve got the transcript. You sat there while your counsel put in issue whether or not Mr Ellis was telling the truth about having been abused. That’s the position, isn’t it?


PETER MCCLELLAN: Can you explain how ethically you could sit there and do that?

JOHN DALZELL: Your Honour, I don’t think it was ever put to Mr Ellis that he was lying about the abuse.

(Footage ends)

(Footage of Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 26 March 2014)

GAIL FURNESS, SC, COUNSEL ASSISTING THE COMMISSION: Cardinal, Corrs weren’t your moral advisers, were they?

GEORGE PELL: No. They received im-, instructions from me on this point and they said that, er, the option that th-they recommended to us was mo-, was legally proper.

(Footage ends)

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: At the heart of the Church’s defence was the argument that the Church’s trustees only deal with property and can’t be held liable for the criminal actions of priests.

It became known as the “Ellis Defence” and it meant that there was no one John Ellis could sue because by now Father Duggan, his abuser, was dead.

(To Francis Sullivan) It makes the senior hierarchy, it makes the bishops and archbishops look like very slippery characters, legally speaking?

FRANCIS SULLIVAN, CEO, TRUTH, JUSTICE AND HEALING COUNCIL: Times have changed now and, uh, what’s abundantly clear is that the Catholic Church needs to demonstrate to the community its genuine bona fides that the interests of victims is paramount and that they need to provide victims who want to bring, um, a case for damages against the Church: they need to provide them with a legal entity to sue.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: In 2007 John Ellis lost his bid to take his case to the High Court and was handed a bill for costs of more than $500,000.

The Church, through its lawyers Corrs Chambers Westgarth, continued to pursue him for payment even after being told that his health had deteriorated further.

It took three years for the Archdiocese of Sydney to relent and waive the costs.

(To Francis Sullivan) Why was John Ellis treated in the fashion he was by the Church’s lawyers? I mean, that was unforgivable, wasn’t it?

FRANCIS SULLIVAN: Yes, it was unforgivable.

(Footage of Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 27 March 2014)

PETER GRAY, SC, COUNSEL FOR CATHOLIC CHURCH: I, I know what it is that the Cardinal wishes to say…

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: At his final appearance to date at the Royal Commission, Cardinal Pell apologised.

GEORGE PELL: And at the end of this gruelling appearance for both of us at this Royal Commission, I want publicly to say sorry to him for the hurt caused, uh, him by the mistakes made and admitted by me and some of my archdiocesan personnel during the course of the Towards Healing process and litigation.

(Footage ends)

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Do you believe his apology was sincere?

JOHN ELLIS: I… I’m inclined to believe that he regrets taking that course, um, but I’m not really sure how much that has to do with being hauled before the, the Royal Commission and-and exposing, ah, the Church to the sort of scrutiny that it would rather avoid, um, and-and the door having been opened to that by, by how I was treated.

Um, I don’t know the man personally. I don’t know what’s in his heart. Ah, I don’t know if it really has any impact on him that, that, that people have been harmed by that. I certainly know at the time he was quite happy for me to be fodder for whatever the Church’s objectives were.

(Archive footage of then-Archbishop Pell holding service)

GEORGE PELL: Through the Gospel and the Eucharist…

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: John Ellis’ case isn’t a one-off. It followed a pattern of legal strategies adopted by Archbishop Pell in Victoria for dealing with the victims of the Church’s worst child abusers.

Among these men was Father Kevin O’Donnell, whose record of sexual assaults lasted nearly 50 years.

CHRISSIE FOSTER, VICTIMS’ MOTHER: One solicitor who represented many victims of O’Donnell, um, he called him the two, “two-a-day man”. So, many, many crimes there.

ANTHONY FOSTER, VICTIMS’ FATHER: And there seems to be evidence of offending in the mid-40s, going right through to, at least with our children, in the, the late 80s, so – and early 90s. So it went on for an awful long time and we’re confident that the Church knew about that offending happening along, through those years.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Chrissie and Anthony Foster’s daughters, Emma and Katie, were repeatedly raped by Father O’Donnell at Sacred Heart Primary School in Oakleigh, in outer Melbourne.

Evidence that the Church knew about Father O’Donnell from the very beginning comes from a man who, as a young altar boy, was abused by Father O’Donnell in the mid-1940s.

The boy told his mother, who removed him from the school. She also informed the nuns, but Father O’Donnell was left in place.

(To Vivian Waller) What outcome could there have been if they had acted on that complaint?

VIVIAN WALLER, SOLICITOR, WALLER LEGAL: Well, the course of history could have been changed if the Church had responded to very early complaints about O’Donnell. And certainly other children who suffered throughout the course of time, such as the, um, children of Mr and Mrs Foster, would not have been exposed to the risk of his sexual predation.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: This letter, written by a priest in 1994 and shown tonight for the first time, reveals that as early as 1958 the Melbourne Archdiocese received a report “regarding interfering by Kevin O’Donnell” with a boy.

The letter records that: “Someone from the cathedral had come to see Kevin O’Donnell and also had talked to [the boy]… and that everything was squared up since that time.”

In the ensuing decades Father O’Donnell continued to commit crimes against children. In 1983 he baptised Katie Foster at Sacred Heart Church in Oakleigh.

Six years later he was in high spirits at a confirmation service in Oakleigh, when Emma Foster had been added to his long list of victims.

(Amateur video footage)

KEVIN O’DONNELL, PRIEST: I’d just like to thank you very much, m’Lord, for coming with us again. Make it a Sunday afternoon next time. We like Sunday afternoons, don’t we, ’cause we can have a bit of a party afterwards.

We’d like the chance for you to meet with the Bishop when he comes.

GEORGE PELL: I look forward to many, many more years of work from Father O’Donnell in the Church here.

(Laughter and applause)

(End footage)

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: At Emma Foster’s confirmation in 1993, her picture was taken with Bishop Pell.

Three years later, in an adolescent psychiatric unit, she disclosed that Father O’Donnell had sexually assaulted her.

VIVIAN WALLER: The Fosters are just ordinary people. They live ordinary suburban lives. They were raising their children in the community. They didn’t ask for this. Um, this horror was visited upon them, not from out of the blue: this horror was visited upon them because the Archdiocese of Melbourne did not take earlier opportunities to investigate complaints that they had had against O’Donnell, to perhaps report matters to the police, ah, and to take O’Donnell out of contact with children.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Francis Sullivan is CEO of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, which speaks for the Church on matters related to the Royal Commission and child sexual abuse.

FRANCIS SULLIVAN: You heard the other day that the, uh, Pope said that about two per cent of priests were paedophiles. Well, we think that figure is pretty low for what we estimate it to be in Australia: around maybe, at least four per cent of clergy – that’s priests and religious – were child sex abusers.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: That’s a shocking percentage, isn’t it?

Francis Sullivan: Absolutely shocking. It’s very confronting, actually.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Equally confronting for many victims has been the experience of going through the Church’s internal complaints process in Victoria, known as the Melbourne Response, which was set up by George Pell when he became the city’s Archbishop in 1996.

The process has been highly controversial.


They’re promised things such as: “We will get to the truth.” Ah, “We will address your needs. We will treat you with compassion and respect.” And, of course, once they arrive and by the time they’ve come through the process, ah, it is anything but compassion, love and Christianity.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Chrissie and Anthony Foster experienced this for themselves when Archbishop Pell visited Oakleigh and met them, shortly after setting up the Melbourne Response.

ANTHONY FOSTER: His whole thrust was that the Church wasn’t liable for the actions of their priests.

I was trying to get justice for our children at the time and he was trying to prevent scandal to the Church and trying to ch- save the Church’s money.

And we were in those two opposite corners. He was sitting in the big red chair. We were sitting on a hard wooden seat, being looked down upo- upon by this powerful man of the Church.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: When the Fosters told Archbishop Pell what had happened to their daughter Emma, they were astounded by his response.

ANTHONY FOSTER: Well, he said to us, “I hope you can substantiate that in court.” Now, it was a very strange comment because we had had some acceptance that this had happened from the Church already and yet here he is taking the, the legal tack.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: One thing the Fosters could immediately substantiate was the psychological damage that Father O’Donnell had inflicted on Emma.

It came in the form of a photo.

CHRISSIE FOSTER: He looked at a photo of Emma that we showed him where she’d cut her wrists. And he just looked at it and then said, “Oh, she’s changed, hasn’t she?”

We thought he’d have some sympathy, some empathy. This shocking photo of a, of anyone, of a child, anyone, with cut wrists, sitting there. She was crying. And… it didn’t have any effect whatsoever on him. It was quite astounding. It just stunned us.

(Footage of Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations, 27 May 2013)


GEORGE PELL: Now, I-I understand people feel deeply about this…

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Cardinal Pell gave his own explanation of what had occurred when he appeared at last year’s Victorian Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious organisations.

FRANK McGUIRE, COMMITTEE MEMBER: When Chrissie and Anthony Foster showed you a photograph after their daughter Emma had slashed her wrist, did you respond, and again I quote: “Mmm, she’s changed, hasn’t she”?

GEORGE PELL: Er, probably, but, er, let’s-let’s put this in context. Now we know that was a, uh, an attempted suicide. When you just look at a photo, suddenly, in front of you, ah, how do you recognise just from the photo that this was an attempted suicide? Now, whe-when you say, “Well, there is blood, ah, blood on the arms”: sure. But you’ve, er, you’ve got to understand that this was a, er… production of this photo was something sudden and I didn’t have a chance for a considered, er, response. Ah, I fully understood the enormity of the, the suffering.

(Footage ends)

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: The Fosters were one of the first families to go through Archbishop Pell’s Melbourne Response. It concluded with an offer of $50,000 to their daughter Emma and a letter of apology from Archbishop Pell.

But, as usual, it came with a catch. Enclosed was another letter from the Church’s lawyers, Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

ANTHONY FOSTER: Oh, that letter said that we should see the offer of $50,000 as an alternative to litigation that would be strenuously defended. So that was in the same envelope.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Which one more accurately depicted the Church’s real intent?

ANTHONY FOSTER: The letter from the-the lawyers, without doubt. Um, the Archbishop’s letter, ah, showed their position by offering a very small amount and the letter from the lawyers, I think, recognised that we had a much greater claim, but they were going to fight it tooth and nail – and fight it they did.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Chrissie and Anthony Foster decided to meet the Church head-on and take civil action.

ANTHONY FOSTER: It was the only way to get any sense of justice for our children and ourselves. It was as simple as that.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: As would happen later in the John Ellis case, the Church, through its lawyers, no longer admitted that Emma and Katie Foster had been abused by Father O’Donnell – even after the Archbishop’s apology for what he had done.

ANTHONY FOSTER: Firstly, they disputed that the abuse had occurred. And then they denied that, that our daughters had suffered from that abuse.

There’s a pattern there of playing hardball, of playing legal games, of in fact in both the Ellis case and our children’s cases of saying it didn’t even happen, and if it did you weren’t harmed by it. Ah, there is that pattern there and that pattern is an extension of what George Pell said to us in our meeting: “If you don’t like it, take it to court.”

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Nearly 10 years after starting their legal battle, the Fosters won a settlement of $750,000 plus costs – 10 times the maximum now payable under the Melbourne Response.

But under the terms of the agreement the Church required that this be kept confidential.

ANTHONY FOSTER: It was not an amount which I believe was just. But it gives a sense of what the Church is willing to pay in order to keep people silent and to ensure that the, the case doesn’t become public and that they don’t… and that they’re… what they’re willing to pay is not made public.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: The Fosters achieved a substantial settlement by taking civil action against the Church.

But those victims who put their faith in the Church’s internal resolution process have ended up with a fraction of that amount in compensation.

Robin Henderson disclosed her childhood abuse to the Melbourne Response. Father Dominic Phillips was the priest who abused her when she attended St Joseph’s Primary School in the Melbourne suburb of Malvern.

ROBIN HENDERSON, CHILD ABUSE VICTIM: He’d sit me on his knee and was looking into my eyes with a magnifying glass and telling me that I had one eye bigger than the other and did I know?

And while he was distracting me like that he, his hands would wander and, ah, I was abused by him, um, manually, um… anally and, and vaginally.

And because he was a priest I thought that was… all right but I felt uncomfortable. And I told the nun about it and she said, “Oh, he’s just being fatherly because he knows you haven’t got a dad.”

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Father Phillips died in 1970 without ever being tried for the sex offences he is alleged to have committed.

In 2009 the Church accepted Robin Henderson’s story and referred her to the Melbourne Response’s Compensation Panel, which decides how much the Church’s victims will be paid.

When she visited the offices of the Church’s lawyers, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, to talk to the panel by video link, she secretly recorded the remarks made to her by the panel’s chair, David Curtain QC, about whether she needed a lawyer, paid for by the Church, before signing a deed of release.

Her recording is being played tonight for the first time.

(Excerpt of amateur audio recording)


ROBIN HENDERSON: I’d prefer a title.

DAVID CURTAIN: Thank you, Ms Henderson, that’s fine.

You have discussed with me in emails the provision of a, uh, a lawyer to be provided by the Church. I-I see that myself as something that’s unnecessary because you’ll be asked to sign a release and the release is intended to release the Church from any claim.

So, if- if you work on the assumption that that was effective, then I-I myself struggle to see the point in having advice about that, unless that advice was to the effect that maybe the release isn’t effective.

Now, I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be requested but I, I hope that on analysis you can see the reason why we are of the view that it’s an unnecessary item.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: David Curtain has told Four Corners that he has never advised a victim not to seek legal advice before signing a release.

When Robin Henderson insisted that she wanted a lawyer, David Curtain agreed to ask the Church and her legal bill of $1,100 was later paid for her.

Robin Henderson was offered $30,000 in compensation which, reluctantly, she accepted.

ROBIN HENDERSON: I didn’t want to know any more after that. I was just depleted. I knew I had a good case. I knew I could’ve fought it if I wanted to but I just didn’t have the mental or the physical stamina to do it.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: It’s not just the victims of clergy sexual abuse who have suffered; it’s also those who have tried to protect the victims.

Graeme Sleeman is a former Catholic school principal who lost his career after fighting to get the Church to deal with a paedophile priest.

Tonight he is speaking out for the first time on national television.

GRAEME SLEEMAN, FMR PRINCIPAL, HOLY FAMILY SCHOOL, DOVETON: What did other priests know? What did the Archbishop know? They knew lots but sat on their hands.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: In 1982 Graeme Sleeman was appointed principal of Holy Family School in Doveton, part of the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

It was a disadvantaged community and history now shows it was also a town that was cursed with a succession of four paedophile priests between 1972 and 1997.

The offending priests were Father Thomas O’Keeffe, Father Wilfred Baker, Father Victor Rubeo and Father Peter Searson.

GRAEME SLEEMAN: This was a community who, that was perceived as low socio-economics, poorly educated, wouldn’t have the power or the tenacity or the willpower to complain to the, to the authorities. So if we’ve got a problem, where do we send it? Would we send it to Toorak? I don’t think so.

FRANCIS SULLIVAN: Doveton appears to be just a tragic example of the maladministration of the Catholic Church during that period and, um, people rightly should be enraged.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Graeme Sleeman contends that, in the case of Father Searson, the actions of the Church go well beyond maladministration.

For 13 years after Father Searson arrived as parish priest in Doveton parents, teachers and children reported that he was a child abuser.

Pedophile Priest Father Victor Rubeo (C) abused both Paul Hersbach (L) and his father Tony.

Pedophile Priest Father Victor Rubeo (C) abused both Paul Hersbach (L) and his father Tony.

GRAEME SLEEMAN: You could almost call it a fetish that he had about g- having children go to confession to him. And they’d have to sit by him and kneel at him, and they were the complaints that children c- brought to me about him and his behaviour.

This particular day he had confession and this young girl came screaming out of the church. And she was brought to me by her teacher and she was inconsolable. And she had been interfered with by Searson in the confessional.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: In 1986, four years after his appointment as principal, Graeme Sleeman resigned to draw attention to what was happening.

But his letter of resignation, he says, was censored by a church official in the Catholic Education Office.

GRAEME SLEEMAN: I alleged that he had interfered with young girls at the school and he had, ah, stolen money and that he, ah, terrorised young boys.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: And were you asked to take that out of your resignation letter?

GRAEME SLEEMAN: I was ask- he said I could not say that. I didn’t have the proof.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: In Doveton, Graeme Sleeman’s departure caused uproar, with parents at the school demanding that Father Searson be dismissed. But no action was taken against him by the Church and Searson himself remained unmoved.

“I have not been approached by either parents or teachers concerning any allegations. There is absolutely no truth or substance to them,” he insisted. “I’d take an oath on that to anyone.”

From then on, it was all downhill for Graeme Sleeman and his wife Jenny, who also resigned from her job as a teacher at the school.

To this day, neither of them have ever been given another job in Catholic education.

GRAEME SLEEMAN: Oh, we took a massive, uh, financial, uh, beating over all this. We lost everything and the only thing I’ve got left is, is my wife and my children.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: And your integrity?

GRAEME SLEEMAN: I hope I’ve got my integrity. I hope I have that and that’s the thing that’s, that’s, I’ve been able – hopefully able to maintain.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: So, Carmel, um, we’re coming up to the school here on the right. How does it feel to be coming back after all those years?

CARMEL RAFFERTY, FMR TEACHER, HOLY FAMILY SCHOOL, DOVETON: Bit emotional, but you people are telling the story.

Pedophile Priest Father Wilfred Baker

Pedophile Priest Father Wilfred Baker

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: It really was a-a-a very traumatic experience for you, wasn’t it?

CARMEL RAFFERTY: Yeah, most definitely. It coloured my life ever since.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: One year after Graeme Sleeman left Holy Family School, Carmel Rafferty arrived to take up a teaching post.

From the start, she too was concerned about Father Searson. Teachers told her that the children needed protection from him. And then she heard it from the children themselves.

CARMEL RAFFERTY: They were very loud and voluble, very upset. And they wanted protection from the priest. And I said, “What is your concern?”

“We don’t want to serve on the altar.” So I asked them why they didn’t- what was the worst that could happen if they did s- serve on the altar? And they said, “It’s because of the way he touches us.”

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: In 1990 Bishop Pell, who had met a deputation of concerned teachers the year before, went to Doveton to consecrate Father Searson’s new church.

“Our aim is to bring people back to God,” Father Searson announced.

Later, the teachers became so desperate that they sent a second deputation to Bishop Pell.

CARMEL RAFFERTY: And it came to a head when the priest was going into the boys’ toilets several times a day. And we more or less said, “That’s it.” And the principal authorised the three Year 5/6 teachers to go in a deputation to Pell at the time.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: The teachers asked Bishop Pell to remove Father Searson – but it didn’t happen.

Cardinal Pell defended his actions when he was challenged about this at last year’s Victorian inquiry.

(Footage of Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations, 27 May 2013)

GEORGE PELL: I met with at least two, on two occasions with groups of teachers from, er, Searson’s school. So I certainly didn’t do nothing; I certainly did.

I was sent back to Searson to tell him to… follow the protocols correctly, because people were saying he was, er, misbehaving. Now, he was furious at that. He denied e-everything and, er, anything.

(Footage ends)

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Bishop Pell’s instruction to Father Searson to follow the protocols correctly cut no ice with the priest. Not long afterwards, Carmel Rafferty heard a pupil’s disclosure in a sex education class.

CARMEL RAFFERTY: He rolled himself in a ball, sort of hide himself, and he’s saying, “Oh no. Oh, no. Father’s Searson’s got a big penis.” So we were very concerned.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: After fruitlessly trying to get the Church to act, Carmel Rafferty resigned in 1993. It would take the Church another four years to act.

In 1997, after the victim who had run screaming from the confessional came forward with her story, Father Searson was finally suspended as a parish priest by the new Archbishop of Melbourne, George Pell.

When Archbishop Pell set up the Melbourne Response, he appointed Peter O’Callaghan QC as independent commissioner to investigate victims’ claims and decide if they were justified.

In 1997 he asked Mr O’Callaghan to investigate the Doveton scandal. Graeme Sleeman became a key witness.

Over several years, Mr O’Callaghan made regular, unconditional payments to Graeme Sleeman, amounting in all to $90,000. Mr O’Callaghan says the payments came out of his own pocket and he did this out of compassion for Mr Sleeman.

GRAEME SLEEMAN: And I contacted Mr O’Callaghan and said, “How do we survive?” And he said, “Well, I’ll support you.” And he then sent once a month equivalent to my weekly pay, which about a- a- a monthly’s payment was about $2,000.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: In October 2005 Graeme Sleeman received a settlement payment from the Church of $150,000, forwarded to him by the Church’s lawyers, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, but a condition of this payment was that he remain silent.

(To Graeme Sleeman) Was that money hush money?

GRAEME SLEEMAN: Well, I believe that it had to have been. Why else would they have done it? They did nothing to help me in the past and then all of a sudden, out of the blue, they come to it.

I believe now in strong reflection that it was, I was paid that sort of money to remain silent. My interpretation of the deed of release was: if I accepted the $150,000 I could neither say what I received and what took place for me to receive that. So all the information I had about Doveton and so forth and so on was to remain confidential.

(Footage of Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations, 27 May 2013)

FRANK McGUIRE: Just from your evidence, your… can you understand how victims regard what happened during this period as: there was really “hear no evil, see no evil, say nothing about evil from the Church?”

GEORGE PELL: I think, sir, that’s, er, an objectionable suggestion with no foundation in the truth. And I’ve, er… as I… No conviction was recorded for Searson on sexual misbehaviour. There might be victims.

(Footage ends)

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: But tonight Four Corners can reveal that, in an internal Church hearing, the priest was found guilty of child sexual abuse.

This confidential draft report by Peter O’Callaghan, shown tonight for the first time, reveals that even before he went to Doveton Father Searson “achieved a regrettable record of suspected sexual abuse of children and considerable financial misappropriations.”

Mr O’Callaghan records that, in an internal hearing in 1997, he made a finding that “the parish priest had been guilty of sexual abuse.”

But astonishingly, Father Searson “successfully appealed to the Congregation in Rome”, which held that Mr O’Callaghan “did not have appropriate jurisdiction or procedure” to make the findings he did against Father Searson.

CARMEL RAFFERTY: The priest had rung Rome and spoken to a canon lawyer and claimed that he didn’t have to leave.

Pedophile Pimp, Cardinal George Pell

Pedophile Pimp, Cardinal George Pell

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: There is now a third whistleblower who has come forward to reveal what went on inside the Archdiocese when the Doveton scandal was unfolding.

Helen Last was director of the Church’s Pastoral Response Office, answering to vicar general Denis Hart, now Archbishop of Melbourne, when she was contacted in 1997 by worried parishioners from Doveton.

HELEN LAST, FMR DIRECTOR, PASTORAL RESPONSE OFFICE: One of the major things that they were grappling with was: how could our Church have known that this priest was a paedophile – Father Searson and others before him – and not done anything to help us?

I decided in all conscience that I would go and spend the day with them. But I had been told in a phone message prior to going, by vicar general Hart, that I needn’t pay any attention to Doveton; I needn’t respond. I also received a letter from him that I recall instructing me not to go.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: She also received a letter from Archbishop Pell telling her that “the situation at Doveton was under control” and that “there remains no need for any pro-active measures by your office.”

Helen Last disobeyed Archbishop Pell’s instructions and went to Doveton. One month later, she was out of a job.

The day she spent there was an emotional one.

HELEN LAST: I spent the day with these people who cried, who raged, who shook their fists, who held each other and who were utterly lost in the situation and wanted me to point them towards a way of doing something about what had been visited upon them.

FRANCIS SULLIVAN: Well, Doveton, like every other community, every other Catholic parish or school community, deserves to see the Church today make atonement for the past.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: The sins of the fathers have lasting consequences for victims and their families, but the Church itself has often failed to recognise this.

Dangerous Pedophile Priest Father Peter Searson

Dangerous Pedophile Priest Father Peter Searson

In 1999 Katie Foster, who had been drinking, was hit by a car and remains profoundly disabled. In 2008 Emma Foster took her own life.

But when Father Searson died, 15 priests and a bishop from the Melbourne Archdiocese gathered to pay their respects.

These photos were taken by Chrissie and Anthony Foster. They want the Church to let us see the whole picture.

ANTHONY FOSTER: The Royal Commission here, to do its job properly, needs all the documents associated with all the sexual assault complaints and all the priests that have carried those out in Australia that it knows of.

We need all the documents to ensure that we see the whole picture. And of course, the Catholic Church does not want us to see the whole picture. That’s the problem.

KERRY O’BRIEN: I guess we can have some sense of what a victim loses after the kind of abuse we’ve now heard such a great deal about.

I wonder how the Church measures what it’s lost or, indeed, thrown away?

The Archbishop of Melbourne, Dennis Hart, David Curtin QC and Peter O’Callaghan QC all declined to be interviewed by Four Corners because, they said, they will soon be appearing at the Royal Commission hearings in Melbourne. Cardinal Pell has also declined to be interviewed.

Next week on Four Corners, the battle over the Great Barrier Reef: testing claims by scientists, tourism operators and environmentalists that the reef is at risk, as UNESCO considers whether to place it on the World Heritage Endanger List.

Until then, good night.


The price of battling paedophilia

The price of battling paedophilia

September 17, 2012

Former teacher Graeme Sleeman lost his career, health and financial security when he took a stand against a sexually abusive priest in Doveton.

Graeme Sleeman. Photo: Penny Stephens

Graeme Sleeman. Photo: Penny Stephens

GRAEME Sleeman knew Peter Searson was trouble even before Searson arrived as parish priest of Doveton in 1984. Searson liked to dress in military fatigues, often carried a revolver, and had a bad reputation when it came to money – and sexually abusing children.

The two locked horns immediately when Sleeman, principal of the Holy Family school, told the priest he knew of his reputation and would be watching him, and Searson replied that as priest he was the boss. Their main battleground was bizarre: the sacred Catholic sacrament of confession, where Searson could get the children alone and unsupervised.

“I was concerned about his addiction to confession,” Sleema n recalls.

“Sometimes he would get children to sit on his lap, or kneel between his legs.” Later he would help a church investigation into two sexual assaults during confession.

Sleeman was a respected educator and a devout Catholic. The latter cost him his career, his health and economic security for his family, as he sought to protect the children under his charge from a predatory priest while also trying to protect the good name of the church.

When Sleeman resigned as principal in 1986 in a vain bid to force the church and Catholic Education Office (CEO) to act against Searson, he was besieged by media wanting to know about the priest’s behaviour. But he stayed silent, even in later job interviews, when his refusal to explain his departure worked against him.

Now, after 25 years, Graeme Sleeman, 63, is breaking his silence. Previously he feared a backlash against his family, and that he would not be believed. Now living in Queensland, he has decided to talk because ”the climate is right”.

He is still angry that despite repeated pleas to the church hierarchy, including to then archbishop Frank Little, and to the CEO to remove Searson – even providing proof he had stolen $40,000 from school funds – nothing was done.

Sleeman says when the CEO asked Searson about the money, the priest said it was ”a mistake” and he would repay it, though he never did.

Sleeman is also angry that he had to carry out this fight alone, with no support or counselling from the CEO.

Carmel Rafferty, a later teacher at Holy Family who stood against Searson, felt similarly abandoned.

Dangerous Pedophile Priest Father Peter Searson

Dangerous Pedophile Priest Father Peter Searson

”I felt bullied, abused, traumatised, humiliated and isolated by the principal and CEO staff,” she says.

Worse still, Searson was the last in a line of six sexual abusers – some violent – who arrived in Doveton parish after it was created in 1962: the first four were parish priests at the Holy Family church, plus an assistant and a locum – a remarkable misfortune for a parish regarded as one of the most disadvantaged in Melbourne.

Sleeman, a big man who played semi-professional football, started as a Salesian novitiate at the Rupertswood school in Sunbury, where several serial abusers were based.

He left the order but later, feeling he had unfinished business with the church, became a seminarian, lasting only nine months because he didn’t “fit the tea party conception” of priesthood and was uneasy about the homosexual activity of other seminarians there.

He became a bush footballer and principal at St Mary’s in Sale. He arrived at Doveton in 1982, parachuted in by the CEO as a trouble shooter “because the Presentation nuns had walked out that morning after upheavals with the parish priest”.

Sleeman didn’t know that the priest, Victor Rubeo, was a serial abuser of boys and girls, but was aware Rubeo had affairs with women. Sleeman had a key to the priest’s home, and once caught him in flagrante.

One day in 1984, Rubeo approached Sleeman “absolutely beside himself, in tears, in trouble with one of his women”. Sleeman arranged for the priest to take sick leave, and helped him do a midnight flit to Malvern. Another abuser, Father Regis Smith – a female victim of whom was later paid out by the church – became interim priest at Doveton.

”I made a number of visits to [Archbishop] Frank Little and [Vicar-General] Peter Connors, asking them to send a pastorally minded priest,” Sleeman says. ”They appointed Peter Searson. I was on a fishing trip and saw it in The Advocate [a Catholic newspaper] and nearly had a heart attack.”

From the start, Sleeman made sure at least one teacher was in the church when Searson took children for confession. He did not know what Searson later conceded to a reporter, that the priest arrived from Sunbury banned from being alone with children in the confessional.

One day a teacher brought him a nine-year-old girl who had rushed sobbing from the confessional. More than a decade later, she received compensation from the archdiocese for a serious sexual assault. Another pupil, also later compensated, told her mother Searson had interfered with her. Carmel Rafferty says police told her Searson was brilliant at persuading parents not to make formal complaints.

Sleeman says the education office cover-up began with making teachers doubt what they were told – “what have you really seen, what evidence have you got?” “But they also kept telling us to report incidents. So we became the policeman, and they would go to the priest and say ‘we’ve had another complaint’, so the perpetrator was always getting a heads up,” Sleeman says.

At one point, he found that Searson had a 14-year-old Indian girl living with him alone in the Holy Family presbytery because of her family problems. Sleeman warned him but Searson ignored it, so Sleeman told the CEO who ”counselled” Searson. Nothing changed.

“Searson got great strength because he got away with it, and he upped the ante about taking kids to the confessional. So we put in place a whole lot of things to guard against him,” Sleeman says. ”There were always at least two staff inside the church, and we put in place a timetable for confession, but he ignored it. If he saw my car wasn’t there he’d rush over to the school and grab a group [of children].”

Despite this, Holy Family was thriving. It was a finalist in Victorian school awards, and educators came from around the country and overseas to study Sleeman’s ideas.

In the end, becoming increasingly volatile himself – on one occasion he threatened to “rearrange” Searson’s face – Sleeman decided he would have to resign. He thought it would create such waves that the church and CEO would have to act. Parents were up in arms and demanded Searson’s removal. But Searson stayed and, apart from a short stint coaching football in Chadstone, Sleeman never worked in Catholic education again. “I was suicidal. I was treated like I had leprosy.”

He went to interview after interview, in Victoria and Queensland, and things would go well until he was asked why he left Doveton. He would just say “personal reasons”, as advised by the education office. After he noticed a paper on a desk at an interview, he became convinced that the CEO was undermining him, telling schools “he’s a great educator and works harder than anyone, but you’ll never be able to control him”.

The Sleemans bought a general store in Longford, then Graeme got a job driving horse semi-trailers, but his physical and mental health declined. In 1998 he had a breakdown, and was referred to Melbourne’s Independent Commissioner into Sex Abuse, Peter O’Callaghan, QC.

For several years, O’Callaghan paid expenses and “wages” totalling $90,000 for both Sleeman and his wife out of his own pocket and without the approval of the Melbourne archdiocese.

He did this until the church finally paid Sleeman $150,000, a sum Sleeman says was not even close to what he had lost in income, superannuation and lost opportunities. “My family was totally dislocated, and we didn’t know where the next meal was coming from,” he says.

Carmel Rafferty joined Holy Family school the year after Graeme Sleeman left. But she wasn’t forced into the front line until she started teaching grades 5 and 6 in 1992.

“I lost my job over it, and during the process I couldn’t make children safe.”

She says the school’s staff had a good idea of what was going on with Searson. Altar boys didn’t want to serve; asked why, they said “because of the way he touches us”. One boy became upset during a sex education class when a teacher mentioned erections – he began rolling on the floor saying, ”Oh no, Father’s got a big penis”.

Pedophile Pimp, Cardinal George Pell

Pedophile Pimp, Cardinal George Pell

In 1991, concerned at the way Searson was loitering around the boys’ toilets, the staff sent a deputation of three teachers to the regional bishop, George Pell, now Archbishop of Sydney. Nothing was done.

Rafferty says that over time many people approached her about Searson: children seeking safety, different concerned parents, a police liaison officer who wanted her to ask Vicar General Gerald Cudmore to remove Searson (she did, in vain), and a worker at Doveton Hallam Health Centre after an incident in which Searson picked up a girl in his car.

Her relationship with Searson deteriorated. The CEO wanted to be told about Searson, but would tell her, ”Don’t say anything, it’s being handled”. Instead, she says, she was pressured out of her teaching career and livelihood. She resigned in 1993.

”This has wrecked my life, basically.” She had to move house because she couldn’t pay the mortgage, and spent six years working in a call centre. ”I felt my soul was dying.”

For 13 years she sought compensation for wrongful dismissal, and was finally given a compensation for ”hardship and distress”.

Searson’s reign finally ended in 1997 when he was charged with the physical (not sexual) assault of two altar boys and stood down.

The Age put several questions to the Catholic Archdiocese and CEO about why they did not act against Searson despite receiving complaint after complaint.

Independent Commissioner Peter O’Callaghan noted in 2004 how surprised he was that Searson was left so long as a parish priest, “producing ill will, frustration and concern to school and parish staff, fellow priests and parishioners”.

A spokesman for the archdiocese replied that Searson was an eccentric and difficult person, but until a formal complaint in 1997 there was no evidence on which the church could act.

“Searson’s conduct was examined from time to time, but nothing firm could be established under the processes that were then in place.”

Searson was warned about behavioural issues, but the church did not know of his sexual misconduct.

The archdiocese says it would have acted had it known about the Indian girl living with Searson, and when it found out about his gun it demanded he surrender it to police.

Similarly, the CEO says it would have acted had it known about the stolen $40,000.

Sleeman says that given he informed authorities about both episodes, he finds this ignorance hard to explain.

Sleeman, like many victims, suspects that the archdiocese did not find evidence because it was disinclined to look too hard. At the least, they knew he was not the pastorally sensitive priest Holy Family needed.

Similarly, the CEO says it gave “regular and considerable support” to Sleeman, but did not identify a single example. Nor could Sleeman.

Both Graeme Sleeman and Carmel Rafferty plan to make submissions to the inquiry into the church’s handling of sex abuse now being conducted by a parliamentary committee. Submissions close on September 21.