Church wont hide away from sex abuse inquiry
15th March 2012
THE Catholic Church in Melbourne has nothing to hide from an independent inquiry into its handling of sexual abuse allegations under the Melbourne Response, the city's Archbishop, Denis Hart, said yesterday.
Archbishop Hart said he was confident any independent inquiry into its Melbourne Response protocol would confirm this.
But he declined to welcome an inquiry - saying he could not do so until he saw the terms of reference - or to comment on the handling of complaints before the protocol was introduced in 1996.
''We are not dodging for cover and hiding,'' he said.
''The archdiocese has always been very open and transparent in these matters.''
Archbishop Hart was responding to recommendations in last month's Protecting Victoria's Vulnerable Children report.
Justice Philip Cummins said the state government should hold a formal inquiry into how religious organisations handled abuse and apply mandatory reporting to priests and church workers, apart from the confessional.
Attorney-General Robert Clark has been under considerable pressure from victims and advocates to hold an independent inquiry. He has yet to announce a decision.
Archbishop Hart said he welcomed the opportunity to engage with the government on the important issues raised in the report. Any investigation would show that ''all except a handful of complainants have had their complaints upheld, received an apology and accepted the compensation offered to them''.
He said he agreed with Justice Cummins that it was for the state to investigate and prosecute crimes and that crime was a public and not a private matter.
The church encouraged victims to report criminal conduct to the police. Many complaints were beyond police investigation because the offender had died or already been convicted but their victims would still be entitled to have their complaints dealt with by the church, Archbishop Hart said.
Another problem was that an investigation might require victims to give evidence, thereby losing their anonymity, which many would find very painful.
He said compensation was a different issue and he would oppose any move that deprived victims of choosing between state and church systems.
Melbourne Response compensation had a higher limit than the government's own compensation scheme under victims of crime laws.
On mandatory reporting, he said the report proposed a new duty under the Crimes Act with an obligation to report suspicions of abuse.