Clergy could face charges over alleged sex cover up
Tom Allard, Josephine Tovey, Lisa Davies
Sydney Morning Herald
5th July 2012
Updated 5th July 2012
THREE senior Catholic clergy allegedly told by a priest that he had molested young boys could face criminal charges for failing to report the offences to police, legal experts say.
As the archdiocese of Armidale launched a ''full investigation'' into the scandal, NSW police also said it was assessing the claims, which were aired on the ABC's Four Corners program on Monday.
The case involves a priest, since defrocked but now living in Armidale and a prominent member of the community, accused of repeatedly sexually abusing boys since the early 1980s in parishes from Moree to Parramatta.
Dubbed Father F, the alleged paedophile testified under oath in a 2004 court case that he confessed to performing oral sex on young boys at a meeting in 1992 with Fathers Brian Lucas, John Usher and Wayne Peters.
All three are senior members of the Catholic hierarchy.
The former NSW director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery told the Herald there were grounds to pursue the three men under section 316 of the NSW Crimes Act.
''I can't, frankly, see any reason why it would not proceed,'' said Mr Cowdery.
Under section 316, those withholding information about an indictable offence can face two years in prison.
However, the NSW Attorney-General, Greg Smith, has to endorse any prosecution because priests are among a cohort of professionals considered as special cases.
All three, and the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, denied there was any cover-up. Cardinal Pell told Four Corners that a ''file note … does not show that he made any admission''.
But that account was undermined not only by Father F's court admission but also by a letter sent by Father Peters eight days after that meeting on September 3 at St Mary's Cathedral.
The letter to the then Bishop of Armidale says Father F was eager to admit he had ''sexually interfered'' with boys aged between 10 and 11 in the early 1980s, including oral sex.
Father F was forced to stop his priestly duties but the information of his sexual abuse was never provided to police.
Last night the Archdiocese of Sydney dismissed the highly detailed account, written immediately after the meeting by Father Peters, as a ''private report'' and ''not an official record of the 1992 meeting''.
Mr Cowdery said police and the judge in the 2004 case where Father F admitted to sexual molestation should have immediately begun preparing to charge him criminally.
The case came about after Father F accused one of his alleged victims, Daniel Powell, of trying to extort money from him.
Mr Powell, who later committed suicide, was found not guilty, in part because Father F made the extraordinary admission that he had abused children and had told the church hierarchy about it.
The judge never referred the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The police are understood to have tried to investigate, but only after Mr Powell made a complaint.
The saga, which comes on top of multiple scandals involving sexual abuse by clergy members, has prompted renewed calls for a royal commission.
Both the federal and NSW attorneys-general refused to comment yesterday about whether they would launch any kind of inquiry.
The Bishop of Armidale, Michael Kennedy, said he was deeply disturbed by the allegations and would arrange a full and independent investigation.