Decree shows Church’s face

A RECENT Vatican decree that used character assassination of alleged victims to dismiss a case against a former Hunter Catholic priest proved the Church’s attitude to child sexual abuse had not changed, a child protection officer said.

‘‘How wrong can they get it?’’ said former Maitland-Newcastle diocese child protection officer Helen Keevers after a decree, issued in December, examined allegations about a former Hunter priest by ‘‘testing the reliability and credibility’’ of two men who made complaints.

The decree,  by Cardinal Levada of the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and issued after a process overseen by Cardinal George Pell, showed canon law ‘‘comes from the point of protecting the ‘good name’ of the priest, with absolutely no regard for assessing the risk to children’’, Ms Keevers said.

‘‘This is a very significant document and a key document for the Royal Commission [into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse]. I think there’s no better example available to demonstrate the modern Church can’t deal with these matters fairly.

‘‘They use evidence and twist it to say [the priest] is innocent, when it could just as easily be seen as evidence of his guilt,’’ Ms Keevers said.

The decree dismissed the men’s allegations after finding their credibility and reliability were ‘‘questionable’’.

Ms Keevers said she had known one of the men for nine years and had ‘‘witnessed his bravery, tenacity and refusal to be beaten by the Church process’’.

‘‘The claims we hear that the Church has got it right are completely negated by this document, and it goes beyond Australia.

‘‘It actually made me sick when I read it because I did hope things had changed. It made me see the Church hadn’t moved from the 19th century.’’

The decree was prepared after a panel of three canon law priests considered a case brought by two men alleging they were sexually abused by the priest in the 1970s at Bathurst’s St Stanislaus School.

The two men’s reports to police led to charges being laid against the priest, but the cases did not proceed in court.

In 2004 the NSW Ombudsman accepted the findings of an investigation by Ms Keevers and Maitland-Newcastle diocese that while evidence did not support more serious allegations of sexual abuse by the priest, an allegation of sharing pornographic material and permitting inappropriate behaviour was upheld.

The priest was stood down by Maitland-Newcastle diocese.

Ms Keevers said the Vatican decree’s concern to show ‘‘special care to protect priests from false accusations’’ showed the defensive nature of Church investigations.

Distribution of the decree with the inclusion of highly sensitive and private material about one of the men, who was named, was an extraordinary breach of his privacy, she said.

One of the men, who said he was ‘‘gutted’’ by the decree, which he has given to the royal commission, said the Church used the process to discredit him without addressing his allegations.


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