The Australian Catholic Church has announced it has received but is yet to release the report of its internal investigation into the role of three senior church officials in the coverup of child sexual abuse by the priest known only as Father F.
The report, prepared by former Federal Court judge Anthony Whitlam QC, is based on an examination of documents supplied by church officials. These include the history of appointments, ministry and activities of the serial predator Father F and the way in which reports by the victims of the respected priest were handled.
Relying on evidence supplied by the very institution being investigated, an institution with a long and proud history of covering up sexual exploitation of minors and other vulnerable populations, and of hiding incriminating documents and other evidence from law enforcement while claiming full co-operation, the report is expected to deliver a result in line with claims by church officials that there is no reason for charges to be laid against Fathers Peters, Lucas and Usher.
At issue is the crime of covering up serious crimes – serial child sexual assaults by an adult in a position of absolute authority over vulnerable children.
Church officials were repeatedly informed about Father F’s crimes, since the first complaints were received in 1983, but refused to act to protect children or inform police. Documentary evidence exists of a report to church officials in 1983. Clear evidence of the knowledge of Fathers Peters, Lucas and Usher of Father F’s criminal activity comes from a letter recording a 1992 meeting between these three and the admitted child abuser. Details of the 1992 meeting and his admissions at that meeting were confirmed in court by Father F in 2004. Documentary evidence also exists from 2002, showing Cardinal Pell was aware of Father F’s offending, once again without any action to prevent re-offending, help victims, prevent the suicides of victims or inform police.
It beggars belief that even after the announcement of a national Royal Commission into child sexual abuse and its cover up, the NSW Police and NSW Government do not publicly recognise how inappropriate it is for Catholic Church officials to presume to usurp the role of law enforcement in the investigation of these crimes.
The NSW Police are currently investigating this matter, so what possible role is there for an investigation whose terms of reference were set by the Catholic Church, whose costs are paid for by the Catholic Church and whose main, likely only, sources of information are Catholic Church officials? This is a report by and for the Catholic Church, and any involvement in such an exercise by people who are not themselves Catholic Church officials should not be mistaken for independence.
There is surely no place for a self generated smokescreen to obscure and deflect police efforts, findings and actions.
Would we give any credence to drug lords investigating illegal drug importation or its coverup?
Would we expect police to treat seriously a report into gang related drive-by shootings which was commissioned by bikie gang leaders?
If police find the actions of church officials to be sufficiently criminal that charges need to be laid, those officials should not be treated as above the law.
And they and their colleagues should not be handing police a report which could and should be seen as trying to dictate to police the result of a current police investigation into their own actions or lack of action.
Surely the resources poured into this and other heroic efforts to protect predator priests and those who cover up for them would be better spent assisting not obstructing the justice system, helping victims to recover, not adding to the damage from which they need to recover, and protecting children from sexual predators not protecting predators from law enforcement.
And surely the NSW Police, the NSW Government and the NSW public should file this report, if it is released, in the paper recycling bin where it belongs.
The Four Corners documentary, Unholy Silence, uncovered much of this evidence.
Opinion on the announcement of this investigation by Andrew Morrison SC.