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Catholic official released from vow to give abuse evidence

Francis Sullivan (left), the CEO of the Catholic Church's Truth Justice Healing Council, accompanies Raymond Brazil, facilitator of the Professional Standards Office, after he finished giving evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney on Thursday. AAP Image/Paul Miller

Francis Sullivan (left), the CEO of the Catholic Church’s Truth Justice Healing Council, accompanies Raymond Brazil, facilitator of the Professional Standards Office, after he finished giving evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney on Thursday. AAP Image/Paul Miller

Annette Blackwell, AAP

A senior Catholic official had to be released from a vow of secrecy before he could freely give evidence to the royal commission into child sexual abuse.

Monsignor Brian Rayner was chancellor and vicar-general in the Archdiocese of Sydney when abuse victim John Ellis sought redress for abuse suffered when he was an altar boy at Bass Hill, in Sydney between 1974 and 1979.

Monsignor Rayner told counsel assisting the commission, Gail Furness SC, that he had gone to the Papal Nuncio to be released from a vow of secrecy he took when he held the chancellor’s position in Sydney.

The nuncio, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Pope’s diplomat in Australia, is based in Canberra.

Monsignor Rayner said the nuncio advised him to give ‘whatever evidence was required by the royal commission’.

Ms Furness: ‘By that do you understand to tell the truth?’

Monsignor Rayner :’That’s correct’.

He said had he not spoken to the nuncio he would have been in a dilemma as to what would be appropriate to reveal to the commission and ‘perhaps what should be kept private’.

There would be certain things in the church he would be familiar with which would probably not be appropriate for him to reveal elsewhere and the nuncio clarified for him that he should answer questions put to him regardless of the vow, he said.

The Monsignor who is now parish priest at Gymea said for two years he was Archbishop Pell’s second-in-command in administrative matters.

He said the archbishop had a lot of ‘right-hand men’.

Earlier on Thursday the commission heard that Monsignor Rayner played a central role in the internal church process for abuse victims in the case of John Ellis.

He was central to negotiating a financial offer to Mr Ellis who rejected $30,000 because it came with the requirement that he sign a deed of release.

Mr Ellis lost his litigation when the court ruled the church was not a legal entity which could be sued and Archbishop Pell also could not be sued because he was not in charge at the time of the abuse.

The commission has heard that when the case came to court the Sydney Archdiocese ‘vigorously defended’ Mr Ellis’s claim and disputed whether sexual abuse had occurred.

On Thursday, Raymond Brazil who facilitated the church mediation attended by Monsignor Rayner and Mr Ellis and his wife Nicola in 2003 said he understood the church authority had accepted Mr Ellis’s claim that the abuse had occurred.

The commission heard that Nicola Ellis had taken notes of that meeting and recorded that the Monsignor said ‘he never had any reason to doubt what JAE (John Andrew Ellis) has said’.

Mr Brazil said his ‘own notes from the time recorded a similar comment’.

Mr Ellis has said when the Towards Healing process failed the Melbourne law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth disputed the fact the sexual abuse had ever happened.

One of the issues the commission is investigating is why the church denied the abuse after initially accepting it had happened.

The hearing continues on Monday when Monsignor Rayner continues his evidence.


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