Police scathing of Church's handling of abuse
19th October 2012
Updated 19th October 2012
Victoria Police says the Catholic Church has exacerbated the scourge of sexual abuse in the community by protecting clergy accused of abuse and not referring victims' reports to police.
Deputy Police commissioner Graham Ashton was one of the first people to give testimony at the first hearing of the state inquiry into the handling of sexual abuse by religious and other organisations today.
"Sexual offending in our community is increasing ... in any large cross-section of any community you will get sexual offending," he said.
"The fact that there are then processes that then wrap around an offender in the church cohort only exacerbates that likelihood of offending rather than actually preventing it."
"Victoria Police has concerns that existing protocols within religious organisations may be more focused on internal church issues such as legal liability and public relations rather than long-term interest of victims."
He was sceptical of the Church's submission to the inquiry, which stated it had reversed its long-held position against mandatory reporting of abuse, except in circumstances where it needed to uphold the sanctity of the confessional.
"The Catholic Church have said that their protocols have changed ... if they're serious then they should be reporting rather than waiting for victims to come forward."
Mr Ashton said the Church's current protocol for handling child sexual allegations - its internal complaints systems Towards Healing and the Melbourne Archdiocese's Melbourne Response - lacked transparency and drove under-reporting of sexual abuse, as well as heightening adult impacts of abuse.
He questioned the need for either internal process to exist, saying the Church's protocols are "based on a flawed notion of independence" with Melbourne Response's independent commissioner Peter O'Callaghan appointed and paid for by the church.
"If a stranger were to enter the grounds of a church and rape the child then that rape would be reported to police and action expected," Mr Ashton said.
"But if that stranger happens to be a member of the clergy, such as a priest, the matter would not be ... a special process is wrapped around him which discourages a victim to complain to police, seeks to ensure the offending clergy member is not only not prosecuted and jailed, but never entered on the sex offenders register."
He told the committee that Victoria Police had conducted its largest analysis of child sexual abuse in religious organisations, taking in cases reported to it since 1956, but had not had a single referral from the Church in that time.
Mr Ashton's testimony ended with a small round of applause from some members of the audience of about 50 people, which included victims, victims' advocates and journalists.