IN the NSW Parliament recently, Barry O'Farrell, the man who established the Special Commission of Inquiry into certain matters regarding two paedophile priests in the Hunter Valley, rose to his feet and gave the Catholic Church, its bishops and Father Brian Lucas a spanking regarding their lame response to Commissioner Margaret Cuneen's report and findings.
Pushed by a number of journalists, and by the Newcastle Herald in particular, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference subsequently made a brief statement on June 18.
It said: "Father Lucas has the support of the bishops because the report did not make adverse findings as to credit, nor did it recommend any action be taken with respect of Father Lucas."
Around about the same time as this was unfolding, Father Lucas was giving evidence before the national royal commission, and for those of us who saw his evidence at the Special Commission of Inquiry, there was a sense of déjà vu.
It was almost as if Father Lucas was reading from his own transcript - he didn't keep notes so that the "interviewee" would not be put off from making admissions, conceded that a consequence of his actions was that there was no "paper trail" that might be used in later police prosecutions, didn't remember a particular offender but conceded he probably interviewed him, didn't go to the police because victims would not have wanted him to, and so on.
So what created this fuss?
A brief recap on the Special Commission of Inquiry findings might help. Monsignor Alan Hart and Father William Burston were found to be "unimpressive" witnesses. Father Brian Lucas was named under a heading of "Adverse Findings" - with the commissioner noting that ". . . evidence establishes that in 1993 and afterwards, Lucas knew or believed that an offence had been committed [by Denis McAlinden . . . and that he] had information that might have been of assistance in securing apprehension, prosecution or conviction of Father Denis McAlinden".
Further, Commissioner Cuneen reported that the behaviour of the diocese and Lucas was ". . . short sighted and failed to have proper regard to the continuing risk which McAlinden posed to children".
It is not the role of a Special Commission of Inquiry to recommend internal discipline.
Rather it can, and did, recommend prosecutions - in this case an unnamed "senior clergy member" - and did make damning findings about Lucas and other clerics in the Hunter Valley.
In any event, it seems the bishops are at odds with abuse survivors, Mr O'Farrell, the Australian Lawyers Alliance - which said that Father Lucas's position was untenable and that it was inexplicable that he does not face prosecution - and with broad community sentiment, despite the bishops shouting from the roof tops that a new broom has swept through, and that their focus is now on victims and on the protection of current and future generations of children.
It seems to me that any reasonable person who admitted a grave mistake in the way they performed work which subsequently had devastating implications for other people, would have the humility to stand down, but not Father Lucas.
Why then have not the bishops whispered in his ear - if only for the avoidance of a public relations shambles?
In my opinion it is because for at least the past 22 years, Father Lucas has been the mister fix-it for the bishops when they have had a "problem" priest. Father Lucas has traversed the country in assisting Catholic bishops to deal with paedophile priests - attempting to extract admissions from them before the church moves them on one way or another.
According to the commission transcripts, Father Lucas has a wonderful memory of some events and terribly poor recall of others. At the end of her questioning of Father Lucas, Ms Julia Lonergan SC suggested that he had recreated a version of events that suited him personally.
Perhaps setting Father Lucas free from his duties as general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference would also shake loose some of his memories regarding which bishops asked him to do what about paedophile priests.
Perhaps this is a question the royal commission could ask Father Lucas and all of his supporters on the Bishops Conference.
Peter Gogarty is a Hunter Valley resident and a clergy abuse victims advocate