Archbishop says suicide report should be given to the Coroner, and responds to police criticism
Friday 13 April 2012
Further to this morning’s report 'Church’s Suicide Victims' in The Age, (the updated report can be read at The Age) about confidential police reports in which the police link at least 40 deaths to sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in Victoria, and comments today on radio made by Deputy Commissioner of Police, Graham Ashton, Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart has released the following statement to the media.
I was deeply saddened today to read reports in the media of the suicides of at least 40 people linked to sexual abuse and I extend my heart-felt sympathy to the relatives of those who have died.
It appears that a confidential police report has been given to the media. I think that Victoria Police should give the report to the Coroner. There needs to be a proper investigation of any suicides.
I want to respond to comments in the media today about the Church’s relationship with Victoria Police. I believe that we have a good working relationship with Victoria Police. In establishing the Melbourne Response in 1996, we had extensive discussions with the police which continue at a senior level.
Most recently, there was a meeting with Graham Ashton in September last year. After that meeting, Mr Ashton wrote acknowledging that the reporting and recording of any crime committed by a member of my staff is a matter for us to manage in accordance with the law and natural justice. He went on to say that his expectation is that those matters are reported to police at the first available opportunity. He said he fully supported the Archdiocese’s ongoing relationship with the Sexual Crimes Squad.
I want to make it clear that I emphatically agree that the investigation of crimes is a matter for the police. All crimes should be investigated by the police. That is the role of the police. When victims come to us we advise them through the Independent Commissioner of their right to go to the police and they are encouraged to do so.
However it has been our understanding that for the great majority of victims, they do not want to go to the police. There are at least two reasons for this. One, for many victims, a police investigation is not possible because the offender is dead or because the matter has been reported to the police previously. Two, some victims simply do not want to go to the police. It is our experience that some victims of abuse find the process of a police investigation and the prospect of a public court trial too traumatic to contemplate.
While understandably the police want all crimes reported to them, this important factor must be balanced against the right of each victim to make their own decision. Since 1996, the Archdiocese of Melbourne has offered an alternative to victims who do not want to go to the police. This includes an investigation by an Independent Commissioner, Mr Peter O’Callaghan QC, and through Carelink and the Compensation Panel the availability of free counselling, treatment, support and compensation.
Since 1996, the Independent Commissioner has received around 330 complaints, and he has upheld over 320 of them. 16 Melbourne priests have been convicted. There has been no cover up. For each one of those victims, free counselling, treatment and support has been made available, as has compensation.
There is no doubt that in the past, the Church failed some victims terribly.Let me say my primary pastoral concern is for victims. We cannot undo the sins of the past, and I fully accept that for some victims, no amount of compensation, counselling or apology will undo the harm that has been done to them or address their sense of grievance.
If and when the Government responds to calls for a public inquiry, I say this. As Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne for the past 11 years, we have nothing to hide. I remain very concerned about the rights of victims to privacy and I remain very concerned to protect the welfare and wellbeing of victims.
If there is to be an inquiry, it is a matter for Government to determine how that inquiry can protect the wellbeing of victims and their right to privacy. This has been one of my concerns from the outset and it remains a serious concern. As I have also said before, we will co-operate with any inquiry.
Some very serious issues have emerged in the media today, and they do need to be explored.
I reject absolutely the allegations that the Melbourne Archdiocese has covered up crimes. If the Government decides to proceed with a public inquiry, I have every confidence that this will be confirmed and it will be found that we have dealt with this very difficult issue fairly, reasonably and appropriately.