The Australian state of Victoria has announced a parliamentary inquiry into child abuse in the Catholic Church.
The announcement follows decades of accusations and court cases, including an ongoing investigation which is revealing a number of suicide clusters.
Deputy Commissioner of Victoria’s police, Graham Ashton, told a Melbourne radio show last week that the Catholic Church in Victoria has never come to the police with knowledge of suicides or sexual offenses, despite them being aware of committed offenses.
“I can’t think of a single referral we’ve had from the Catholic Church in the last couple of years I’ve been around,” Ashton told presenter Neil Mitchell.
Ashton said he had met with the Catholic Church to urge them to pass on to police any awareness of criminal acts, but they had their own processes in place where they would internally decide upon criminality.
“Our point is we’re the ones to make the decision around whether things are criminal or not, that’s what investigations do,” he said.
“We need the opportunity to make those investigations. We can’t just wait for victims of their own volition to come to us. We’ve had victims turn up in different location that appear to have been the subject of the same offender who has moved locations.”
Mitchell said the Catholic Church were effectively frustrating police attempts to investigate and prosecute pedophiles within their system.
“That they are not coming forward with cases that they know of, they’re dealing with them internally. They’re not helping the police with it, and it’s only when the victims come forward that these pedophiles face the prospect of justice,” Mitchell said.
“This is an organisation that will get into the pulpit and tell you how to live your life. It has got the inherent immorality to protect pedophiles within its own system. Not in the 60s, not in the 70s, now. Today.”
Lawyer Vivian Waller said that the Church has adopted the approach of making each victim feel they are the only one making allegations “when in fact a basic line of inquiry will uncover a systemic pattern of abuse in a number of Catholic clergy organisations.”
The inquiry will have the power to compel witnesses and subpoena documents. Anyone refusing could be in contempt of Parliament. It will also hear evidence from Melbourne’s Jewish community about allegations of child abuse within the ultra-orthodox Yeshiva College.
Victims groups have demanded that the Church surrender decades of confidential records on child sex abuse.
The Catholic Church in Victoria said they are prepared to cooperate and welcomed the inquiry as “an opportunity to clear the air.”
Following the announcement of the Victorian inquiry, there have been calls for a national inquiry into child sex abuse in churches that would focus on the Catholic Church’s repeated failure to report allegations to police.
The Australian Lawyers Alliance spokesman Andrew Morrison said that people who have been sexually abused by Catholic clergy in Australia face difficulties seeking compensation because of a High Court ruling, which limits liability for past abuse.
‘‘In Australia the Catholic Church has sought to avoid liability for the conduct of its priests,’’ he said.
“The Catholic Church is liable for the conduct of its priests in the United States, Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom, but it’s only in Australia that it can hide behind a structure that avoids liability for priests’ misconduct.’’
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