A SUPPORT group set up by the Catholic Church to counsel victims of clerical sexual abuse is being investigated over allegations of mistreatment and breaches of patient confidentiality.
At least seven victims of sexual assaults by Catholic priests are believed to have lodged formal complaints against staff of the group, Carelink, with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.
Carelink was established by the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne as part of its Melbourne Response in 1996, which was the church’s internal structure to deal with hundreds of sexual assault cases across Victoria.
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A letter seen by The Sunday Age confirms that Carelink is the subject of an investigation by the Psychology Board of Australia on behalf of the regulator.
Some victims have claimed Carelink counsellors failed to deliver the psychological and pastoral support they required, which in some cases had exacerbated their suffering. The Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne ”categorically rejects” the allegations.
Jim Boyle, 71, has filed a complaint on behalf of himself and his deceased brother Gavan Boyle, who was raped at a Shoreham camp by Monsignor Penn Jones, a former chaplain of the Archdiocese of Melbourne who died in 1995. Gavan Boyle died in 2005 from a combination of alcohol abuse, starvation and undiagnosed cancer, while Jim Boyle has battled poor health and the mental anguish of witnessing his brother’s struggle.
Mr Boyle says Carelink staff had blamed Gavan for his inability to cope with the psychological trauma caused by sexual abuse. He says Carelink also failed to offer him appropriate support after his brother’s death. In his complaint, Mr Boyle claims he was discriminated against when he began to investigate the treatment of his brother.
He also alleges that Carelink breached professional confidentiality when it referred private information to the archdiocese’s lawyer. Mr Boyle says he has never threatened legal action against Carelink or the church.
Another victim, who asked not to be named, has also filed a complaint with the regulator, after suffering chronic depression for decades. The 66-year-old woman says she was raped by a Jesuit brother in 1978 while undergoing treatment for anorexia at a Melbourne hospital. She claims Carelink had ignored her since June last year, when she severed ties with a psychologist who was appointed and paid for by the support agency.
”I wish I’d never gone to them [Carelink]. I feel like I’ve been betrayed by the church again,” the woman said.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Melbourne rejected the specific allegations made by Mr Boyle and the unnamed victim. The spokesman said similar claims by Mr Boyle had been investigated and dismissed by the former Psychologists Registration Board of Victoria. Mr Boyle does not deny this.
”The services provided by Carelink are of the highest professional standard,” the archdiocese spokesman said. ”The majority of victims are satisfied with the assistance they receive, whilst it is acknowledged that no amount of support can ever wholly undo the wrongs perpetrated upon them. It is inevitable that a small number of victims will be dissatisfied with and be critical of the archdiocese’s attempts to help them.
”On various occasions in the past, allegations have been made against the Melbourne Response and Carelink in particular which have been examined by various external bodies and rejected.”
The spokesman said the church’s lawyers only became involved when Carelink had to respond to legal threats or demands by clients or their lawyers.
Helen Last, director of victim advocacy group In Good Faith, said some victims were reluctant to seek help through Carelink but had to because they could not afford private psychologists.
A spokeswoman for the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency said it could not comment on any ongoing investigations.
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