Fresh claims of Church Cover-Up

Posted on July 13th, 2012

Article by Alan Collins, Child Abuse Lawyer

The past two weeks has seen shocking stories of the Catholic Church’s reprehensible covering up stories of child abuse, denying protection and justice across the globe. Alan Collins, specialist child abuse lawyer, further examines the scandals of US Monsignor William Lynn and Catholic priests of NSW and gives a brief summary of the Catholic Church crisis over the last ten years.

Monsignor William Lynn who oversaw hundreds of priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese was found guilty on Friday 22 June 2012 of one count of endangering the welfare of a child, making him the first senior US Roman Catholic Church official to be convicted for covering up child sex abuse.

This week has seen the Roman Catholic Church embroiled again in claims of a cover-up over its handling of child sexual assault allegations involving priests. This time in Australia.

Australia’s ABC’s Four Corners program has revealed the church apparently failing to pass on abuse admissions by a priest to police. Four Corners says it obtained documents showing that a New South Wales priest, who is accused of abusing young boys, made clear admissions during a meeting with three senior priests, but they never referred the matter to police.

Following the programme, police and prosecutors are launching a full investigation and, as with Lynn case, could face criminal charges for failing to report the offences.

The allegations centre on a priest, dubbed ‘Father F’, since defrocked but now living in Armidale. Father F testified under oath in a 2004 court case that he confessed to sexually abusing young boys at a meeting in 1992 with Fathers Brian Lucas, John Usher and Wayne Peters.

All three, and the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, denied there was any cover-up, holding that the presence of a ”file note … does not show that he made any admission”. This account is thrown into doubt not only by Father F’s testimony but also by a letter sent by Peters eight days after the meeting with Father F. The letter to the then Bishop of Armidale says Father F was eager to admit he had ”sexually interfered” with boys aged between 10 and 11 in the early 1980s, including oral sex.

Although Father F was made to give up his position in the Church the information was never passed to police. This deliberate and dangerous act of dealing with allegations ‘in-house’ was also seen in the Lynn trial and, would appear to be the church’s global practice.

The former NSW director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery has spoken that there are grounds to pursue Lucas, Usher and Peters under section 316 of the NSW Crimes Act, which holds that those withholding information about an indictable offence could face two years in prison. A conviction under this would therefore, be for a crime similar to Lynn’s. As precedent is set the Catholic Church should wake up to the crimes it is responsible for.

Of course, child abuse scandals are sadly nothing new to the Catholic Church as Mr Plante, writing in the Washington Post has recently pointed out.

In an Atlanta meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the bishops recognized the 10th anniversary of the Dallas Charter, the church’s document to prevent child abuse in its ranks, with a reflection presentation by the National Review Board, an independent lay advisory group to the bishops.

Mr Plante asks what have we learned in the past ten years?

“We have learned that more than 10,000 youth were victimized by perhaps four percent of Catholic priests in America during the past half century, with the vast majority of cases occurring during the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, 94% of all cases occurred before 1990, according to the recent John Jay College of Criminal Justice study on the causes and context of the crisis. The sexual abuse of children by priests is horrific enough but it was the repeated stories of cover up and lack of accountability of bishops and other church leaders that has made this crisis a decade-long story”.

The sexual abuse trial of Jerry Sandusky shows that child sexual abuse is certainly not confined to the Catholic Church or to any church organization, but can occur wherever adults have control and unsupervised access to young people. And as we have seen over recent weeks this can range from the armed forces to schools and football clubs.

Mr Plante says that the “It is startling that research finds that a sizable number (perhaps up to a quarter) of men and women in America report that they were sexually violated as a child by an adult”.

We are only too aware that those responsible for abusers go into a state of denial when confronted with allegations of child abuse. It is an issue that unhappily remains unresolved for many an institution, and the Lynn conviction has put them on notice, in my opinion, that time is running out.

Mr Plante amplifies this: “Another unfortunate lesson of the past decade is the tendency of institutions to go into denial when confronted with allegations of child sexual abuse perpetrated by their valued organizational members. It is especially disheartening when churches and universities, which set high standards for ethical and moral behaviour, focus efforts on covering up and protecting themselves from accountability, lawsuits, embarrassment, and scandal, rather than making their top priority the well-being of abuse victims”.

Alan Collins, Pannone LLP

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Report in Family Law Week by Samantha Bangham, Law Reporter – 28 June 2012

Posted on July 2nd, 2012

CARE PROCEEDINGS:Re N (Parenting Assessment)
(Court of Appeal, Thorpe, Black LJJ, 20 June 2012)

“The father appealed a decision refusing a further parenting
assessment. The local authority was in the process of assessing the
maternal aunt as a potential carer and opposed a further assessment of
the father due to the inevitable delay it would cause.  The situation
before the Court of Appeal was distinctly different; the father had
identified an independent social worker who could produce a report in
3-4 weeks. Whichever way the assessment of the maternal aunt went
there was a need for further assessment of the father as he would at
the very least have contact with the child. Appeal allowed.”

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