Professor says church suppressed child abuse report

A LEADING child protection expert has urged the Victorian government to hold a public inquiry into the handling of child-sex cases by a Catholic religious order after the Catholic Church suppressed a report it asked him to write.

Sydney University law professor Patrick Parkinson wrote yesterday to the Victorian Attorney-General, Robert Clark, and Police Minister, Peter Ryan, seeking an inquiry into the behaviour of the Salesians of Don Bosco.

In his letter, Professor Parkinson says the church’s actions have cast doubt on its commitment to protect children before it protects itself.
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Professor Parkinson, who chaired a review of child protection laws in NSW and twice helped the church review its system for dealing with abuse complaints, said he wrote the report for the church’s professional standards committee on condition it be made public. But more than a year later this had not happened, due to strong lobbying to suppress it by the Australian head of the Salesians, Father Frank Moloney.

Professor Parkinson told the Herald the issue was no longer his report but the protection by the Salesians of three priests – Fathers Frank Klep, Jack Ayers and Julian Fox – which could be resolved only by a public inquiry.

The Salesians moved Father Klep to Samoa in 1998 just before he was to face court on five charges of indecent assault, having served nine months doing community work in 1994. He returned to Australia in 2004 and was jailed in 2006 for five years and 10 months.

In 2000, the order made a settlement with a Melbourne man who said Father Fox – a former Australian head of the order – abused him at the Salesian College in Rupertswood, Sunbury, in 1978-79.

A later Australian head wanted Father Fox, now in Rome and still a Salesian priest, to return to Australia to face questions at the request of Victoria Police, but he was overruled.

The same year, the Salesians paid to settle a complaint from a Melbourne man who said he was abused at Rupertswood in 1967-68. Father Ayers, who has lived for many years in Samoa, is still a Salesian priest.

In his letter, Professor Parkinson said the cases raised questions about the responsibility of religious orders to co-operate with police and about conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

“What has taken place in seeking to suppress this report since August 2010 has raised further serious concerns in my mind about the commitment of the church to place the protection of children above the protection of itself,” he said.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said Professor Parkinson was engaged to review its Towards Healing abuse protocol, and inquired into the Salesian cases as part of that on his own initiative.

Professor Parkinson and the Salesians tried to reach an agreed understanding of what happened, but “unfortunately Professor Parkinson insisted on maintaining positions which the Salesians claim were incorrect”.

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