AN inquiry into the way the Catholic Church handled child sex abuse accusations against one of its priests has strongly criticised church procedures.
Had the protocols of today been in force in the early 1980s, the abuse by the priest – identified only as Father F – could have been stopped in its tracks, the report says.
Two of those abused by Father F, at Moree in northern NSW, subsequently committed suicide. In the report released on Thursday, former Federal Court judge Antony Whitlam found there was no cover-up in the way the church responded to complaints against Father F.
The former priest, now 59, was described by a colleague in the report as “a sexually maladjusted creep”. Mr Whitlam found there was deficient church record-keeping, lack of or ineffective assessments and inefficient inquiries.
The most glaring omission from church records was any explanation as to why Father F was removed abruptly from Moree in 1984 when allegations of abuse of young boys first emerged.
Removal was a sanction so severe and calculated to affect reputation that it must have been made by the then Bishop of Armidale, Henry Kennedy and could only have been taken for grave cause.
Mr Whitlam said the Catholic Church principles and procedures for responding to complaints against its personnel were likely to come under review in the royal commission into child sex abuse.
“For my purpose it is only necessary to remark that had the procedures for reporting child abuse document been in force in 1984 and observed in Moree at that time, Father F would have been stopped in his tracks,” he said.
The priest was ordained in 1981 by Bishop Kennedy, against the advice of the Catholic Seminary at Manly.
Mr Whitlam said there were widely-held views about defects in his character, with a deacon subsequently observing a worrying lack of piety.
“Bishop HJ Kennedy appears to have had an unbending and inexplicable determination to make Father F a priest,” he said.
Father F was charged with serious sexual offences in 1987 but cleared after a committal hearing. He effectively ceased being a priest in 1992 and was thrown out of the church in 2005.
He was charged with further offences late last year.
The church commissioned Mr Whitlam to examine its handling of Father F following an ABC Four Corners program in July, 2012 which claimed the church failed to refer complaints to police.
The Bishop of Armidale Michael Kennedy (no relation to his predecessor) said the church accepted Mr Whitlam’s findings in the report commissioned by the bishops of Armidale and Parramatta into processes related to the management of “F”.
Bishop Kennedy said he, like Mr Whitlam, had no doubt Father F was guilty of the most vile sexual abuse.
He acknowledged victims and families had been treated poorly by official representatives of the church, and for that he apologised.
“No doubt your faith has been surely tested, your lives have been turned upside down and sometimes completely destroyed,” Bishop Kennedy said.
“Of this I am deeply ashamed and offer you my sincerest an unequivocal apology.”