By Tom Allard
The Sydney Morning Herald
THREE of Australia’s most senior Catholic clergy failed to tell authorities of evidence they received that a priest had repeatedly sexually abused boys as young as 10 in NSW.
The three priests are Brian Lucas, the secretary-general of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference; John Usher, the former head of the Australian Catholic Social Welfare Commission; and Wayne Peters, the vicar-general of the Armidale diocese.
The priest, who can’t be named for legal reasons, told a court in 2004 he admitted in a meeting with the three men who he had sexually molested boys between 1982 and 1984.
The scandal has also ensnared Archbishop of Sydney George Pell, who spoke in defence of the three men, apparently unaware that there was extensive documentation backing the assertion that the alleged paedophile priest outlined his conduct to the three clergy.
The saga has intensified calls for a royal commission into sexual abuse in the Catholic church and allegations of widespread cover-ups.
Patrick Parkinson, a University of Sydney professor of law who has advised the church on sexual abuse cases, said: “We need a royal commission with subpoena powers.
“The files of the Catholic Church must be opened up.”
A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Sydney, Katrina Lee, said the church wanted to review all of the material before making a statement. The head of the Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Denis Hart, also declined to comment.
Dubbed Father F, the alleged paedophile priest was first accused of sexually abusing young boys in the early 1980s in Moree, ABC’s Four Corners reported.
Arrested in 1987, he was brought to trial but the matter was dismissed by a magistrate before it ever went to jury, because he judged the alleged victim, Damian Jurd, 15, as a witness whose credibility could not match that of the priest.
Father F was allowed to continue to serve as a priest in Parramatta, where he allegedly molested more altar boys.
The continued reports of sexual assaults at Parramatta prompted a meeting between Father F and three senior priests at St Mary’s Cathedral in September 1992 – Fathers Brian Lucas, John Usher and Wayne Peters.
Interviewed by Four Corners, Cardinal Pell insisted that Father F made no admissions to the priests. A file note of the meeting proved this was the case, he said. The Catholic Church would not release the file note yesterday.
But Cardinal Pell’s assurances were called into question after Four Corners revealed the priest had admitted under oath in a court case in 2004 that he had, in fact, told the priests he had engaged in oral sex with young boys.
The court case involved one of the priests alleged victims, Daniel Powell, being prosecuted
for attempting to extort money from the priest.
Asked about the contradiction, Cardinal Pell said: “I would take the word of the three priests against that allegation.”
More damning still is a letter Father Peters wrote to Bishop Kevin Manning of Armidale just eight days after the 1992 meeting that describes what the priests talked about.
Right from the outset, Farther F “indicated he wished to make certain admissions”, Father Peters wrote.
“He admitted there had been five boys around the age of 10 and 11 that he had sexually interfered with in varying degrees in the years approximately 1982 to 1984,” the correspondence says.
One of those boys was Damian Jurd.
Father F admitted to fondling “the boy’s genitals during a car trip from Moree to Narrabri”.
In relation to two of the other boys, “he admitted that over a period of approximately 12 months he fondled genitals of each of these boys and ...”
The letter then canvases what actions the Church should take against the priest.
“Widespread knowledge” of the scandal meant he could not be appointed to a position in the diocese of Armidale “for the foreseeable future”, Father Peters wrote.
It was also felt that Father F could not be appointed anywhere else, not least because criminal charges could be laid against him “with subsequent grave harm to the priesthood and the Church”.
Father F was banned from conducting mass in 1992 but wasn’t formally de-frocked until 2005.
In an email to Four Corners, Father Peters, the vicar-general in Armidale, explained the apparent contradiction between Cardinal Pell’s account of the meeting and his own contemporaneous one.
He said Father F had admitted to “instances of misconduct” but had not said anything that would “incriminate” him.
For Daniel Powell’s mother, Renee, the saga has been devastating. Daniel, like Damian Jurd, killed himself after spiralling into a life of drug abuse. Both received substantial payouts from the Church but were haunted by their abuse and the fact the accused priest remained free.
“I want to see the mongrel prosecuted. The Church should have stopped him in 1983. The Church must be held accountable,” she said.
Claire Jurd, Damian’s mother, said: “He must be charged ... he’s not a bit regretful about what he’s done.”
The alleged paedophile priest lives in Armidale. Father Peters and Father Usher did not return calls and Father Lucas is abroad.