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May 7, 2021

Lawyers call for Royal Commission into Catholics’ treatment of abuse claims

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The Australian Lawyers Alliance is calling for a national Royal Commission into abuse of children in the care of the Catholic Church, following an ABC Four Corners program on Monday night that has brought the issue back into the spotlight.

‘The ALA has been calling for a national inquiry into this issue for quite some time, has written to Cardinal George Pell calling for action, but despite decades of abuse only the state of Victoria is now finally doing something,’ ALA NSW spokesperson Dr Andrew Morrison SC said yesterday.

Dr Morrison said abuse didn’t stop at state borders, which was why the Victorian inquiry, launched in April, was insufficient.

The ALA today also forwarded to the NSW Police an investigation report produced for the Christian Brothers on 2 August last year. The report compiled by NSW retired Assistant Police Commissioner, Norm Maroney, details a complaint against a teacher at St Patrick’s College, Sutherland for sexual and indecent assaults allegedly committed at the school from 1976 to 1977.

‘The ALA understands that the police have not been informed of any of the complaints that are the subject of this report and so the ALA is now also forwarding the document in accordance with its obligations under s316 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW),’ Dr Morrison said.

‘No more time should be wasted – too many lives have been lost or irreparably damaged by paedophile Catholic priests. The church needs to adequately compensate survivors and their families to ensure true healing mechanisms are put in place. The problem is that the Catholic Church has been more concerned about protecting its own and avoiding financial responsibility than in ensuring justice for victims,’ he said.

Dr Morrison said while a problem existed in many religious institutions, it was particularly apparent in the Catholic Church due to its longstanding practice of not complying with its legal obligations to report abuse by its priests under Section 316 of the Crimes Act.

‘When complaints are made about priests or teachers in parochial schools, the Catholic Church’s response has all too frequently been to move alleged perpetrators on. Frequently, it is found that further abuse is then committed in other places.

‘I have seen convincing and unchallenged evidence of such conduct in a considerable number of Catholic Church cases and the devastating effect this has had on people’s lives. This is simply unacceptable in our society.’

He said the Catholic Church in Australia had been trying to avoid legal responsibility for decades despite its being held liable in the United States, Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

‘Only in Australia can the church hide behind a structure that avoids liability for priests’ misconduct.’

Dr Morrison said a Private Members Bill, to rectify this legal anomaly, was being put before the NSW Legislative Council later this year by David Shoebridge MLC and should be supported.

‘But this will not solve the problem for the rest of Australia. Now is the time for a national Royal Commission into this problem – nothing less,’ Dr Morrison said.

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