New calls for inquiry on church abuse
THE Australian public would be horrified at the extent of sexual abuse likely to be revealed by an inquiry into the Catholic clergy, says a lawyer mounting a case for compensation against the church.
Vivian Waller, who represents 45 victims who are suing the church, has joined the call for an inquiry following a police report linking dozens of suicides to sexual abuse by clergymen.
Victims in the civil suit include former students of four Catholic schools in Victoria and a Melbourne church orphanage.
Most of the cases concern assaults committed by convicted Catholic clergymen Robert Charles Best and former priest Gerald Ridsdale.
"An inquiry would horrify the community," Dr Waller said.
"There has been an epidemic of abuse going on for a long time and the church has shown a great reluctance to do anything about it.
"The Christian Brothers were aware of the problem and they did nothing about it."
Fresh calls for an inquiry have accompanied confirmation by police today of a report detailing at least 40 suicides among victims of Best, Ridsdale and other clergy.
But Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu says he is not yet ready to order an inquiry into the "very disturbing claims".
Mr Baillieu said some of the issues referred to in the police dossier had already been examined in the inquiry into vulnerable children headed by former Supreme Court judge Phillip Cummins which reported this year.
Among its recommendations, the Cummins inquiry called for further investigation of a variety of sexual abuse issues.
"The government has that on the agenda at the moment," Mr Baillieu said.
The police report - compiled by Ballarat detective-sergeant Kevin Carson, who led the inquiry into Best - is to be passed onto the state coroner for further investigation.
The report lists the cases of at least 40 boys and young men who committed suicide after being abused, the majority by Best when he taught at St Alipius school in East Ballarat, St Leo's in Box Hill and St Joseph's in Geelong. When Best taught at St Alipius, Father Ridsdale was the school's chaplain.
Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton said a submission based on those reports would recommend that the coroner examine the suicides and the response of the church to both the abuse and its aftermath.
Mr Ashton said police were compiling more detailed documents for consideration by the coroner.
"The coroner will examine the broader nature of those suicides and their relevance in relation to the Catholic Church," he told reporters in Melbourne.
"It will be a matter for the coroner as to what she does."
Mr Ashton said the Catholic Church appeared to have failed in its duty to report allegations of sexual abuse as soon as it became aware of them.
"It's not fair to say they've been holding things back in terms of things we've asked for, but we believe there's also an onus on the church that when they see matters to let us know about them," he said.
Best was jailed in 2011 for 15 years on 27 charges relating to 11 boys and Ridsdale was sentenced to 18 years in 1994 after pleading guilty to 46 counts of indecent assault against 21 children.
Representatives of the Christian Brothers movement were unavailable for comment.