Top cop taken off abuse inquiry
Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker
2nd October 2012
Updated 10th October 2012
A SENIOR Victoria Police investigator has told victims of a suspected Catholic paedophile of his ''grave'' concerns that his investigation into their alleged abuser is being derailed and that ''pro-church police members'' may have interfered in his inquiry.
In a letter sent last month to one of the alleged victims of Brother Bernard Hartman - who is accused of raping several young Victorian children and teenagers in the 1970s - the police sergeant leading the investigation into Hartman says he was removed from the case after a complaint from a high-ranking Catholic official in the US, where Hartman is on the run.
He also accuses church officials in America of ''actively hindering'' his inquiry.
The 26-year veteran of the police force, whom The Age has decided not to name, was removed from the Hartman case by a more senior officer last month, only days after the sergeant initiated proceedings to have the Marianist brother extradited to Australia.
''I fail to see why anyone would move such a sensitive investigation from a very experienced investigator of 26 years to … [a person who will most likely be] a young inexperienced member. One can only speculate on the motive,'' the sergeant states in his letter to one of Hartman's victims.
''I know there are many 'pro-church' police members throughout our organisation and I hope [the senior US Catholic official] is not canvassing them and pulling strings to derail the investigation.''
The sergeant says in his letter that he has a ''grave concern'' that someone in the church and ''possibly the police force may be trying to stifle this investigation'' as it nears completion. The officer also states that he is considering reporting the matter to the police watchdog, the Office of Police Integrity.
The letter identifies the church official who complained about the sergeant to the force's Ethical Standards Department as one of the Marianist order's most powerful US officials,
Brother Joseph Kamis. ''I do not know exactly why [Kamis has complained], except perhaps to try to intimidate me in my determined pursuit of Hartman.''
The letter also reveals that Hartman is refusing to co-operate with authorities, based on the advice of a lawyer who ''has been less than co-operative and is actively hindering the investigation, seemingly on the instructions of the church''.
''I believe this person [Hartman] needs to be brought to justice as soon as possible and these developments are of great concern.''
In his letter to the victim, the sergeant also reveals his concerns about the church's ''very long tentacles of influence''.
Hartman, 73, is a former Melbourne-based Marianist brother who returned to his native United States after working in Catholic schools in Australia in the 1970s.
US law enforcement agencies were asked earlier this year by Victoria Police to arrest and question Hartman.
That request came after several more alleged victims and a witness came forward following a report by The Age in December that revealed Hartman's 1999 written admission to Melbourne woman, Mairead Ashcroft, whom he allegedly abused when she was aged between eight and 11 years old.
However, Hartman refused to answer questions.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati this year admitted Brother Hartman was performing clerical work in a job where he operated under a ''safety plan'' that ensured he had no contact with young people or vulnerable women.
The latest development comes after The Age revealed earlier this year that another senior police officer had written a confidential memo outlining his concerns about the way the Catholic Church has handled sexual abuse cases in Victoria.
Victoria Police declined to comment when contacted by The Age yesterday, while Brother Kamis could not be reached.