A senior Catholic official who was found to be protecting the church from legal action by not taking notes in interviews with alleged sex abusers has defended his actions.
Father Brian Lucas, the general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference told the child abuse royal commission he could not remember a meeting in 1993 with child sex abuser John Chute and the Australian provincial of the Marist Brothers, Alexis Turton.
Fr Lucas, a lawyer, said he accepted the meeting had taken place but, as was his practice, he had not taken notes.
The commission is looking at how the Marist Brothers handled accusations against two men later jailed for multiple child sex abuse offences – Chute and Gregory Sutton.
Fr Lucas was at the meeting with the Marists because he was on the bishops’ special issues committee set up in 1992 to provide resources for bishops and religious orders dealing with sex-abuse allegations.
He repeated several times that he had not taken notes because Chute would not have been open with him. He said he did not make notes afterwards because of confidentiality.
‘The simple fact is that he is not going to say anything if notes are taken, and in any case, the system of law provides he has his right to silence,’ Fr Lucas said when he was challenged by lawyer Peter O’Brien.
Mr O’Brien represents Damian De Marco, who was abused by Chute as an 11-year-old at a Marist school in Canberra.
He was reminded of the finding of the Cuneen inquiry in NSW that not taking notes was to avoid ‘the creation of documentary records’ that could later be used in criminal or civil litigation.
He said the finding was not accurate and it was not his intention to frustrate the process of the law.
He asked to make a statement about the ‘extensive use’ of the word ‘cover-up’ in relation to the church’s conduct.
People did not understand the dilemma the church had; it was dealing with adult victims, many of whom wanted confidentiality and did not want to go to police, he said.
‘You can’t do nothing, but suggesting that respecting the right of a victim not to go to the police amounts to a cover-up is something I completely reject,’ he said.
When asked if his approach was still the same, he said those types of interviews would no longer be held.
On Tuesday, the former superior of a Marist Brothers community and deputy principal of a school for 600 students told the inquiry he did not associate child sexual abuse with crime in the ’80s.
Br Anthony Hunt led the Lismore Marist community to which Sutton was attached.
He had not reported Sutton to authorities despite repeated indications that his behaviour with children at a primary school was ‘inappropriate’.
He said he thought inappropriate behaviour was ‘excessive expressions of affection’ and had not heard the word pedophile.
Commissioner Justice Jennifer Coate asked him: ‘When you give that answer that, as the deputy principal of that Catholic college in the mid to late 80s in this nation, (were you saying) you did not understand that the sexual assault of children was a crime?’
Br Hunt: ‘I would have to say that’s correct at the time’.