Melbourne’s most senior Catholic has admitted child sexual abuse was covered up and the church was slow to act against pedophile priests.
Archbishop Denis Hart says a knighted former archbishop kept reports of sexual abuse to himself and that the church was keen to look after itself when addressing complaints, placing its reputation ahead of victims.
“The question of confidentiality of these matters was probably kept in one sense too much in that the church was too keen to look after herself and her good name and not keen enough to address the terrible anguish of the victims,” Archbishop Hart told a Victorian parliamentary inquiry yesterday.
He said Archbishop Sir Thomas Francis “Frank” Little had covered up abuse reports.
“Archbishop Little kept all these things to himself and there were no records,” Archbishop Hart said.
Pressed on whether there had been a cover-up he said: “Well I have to agree with that.”
He added: “The only person who’s ultimately responsible is the archbishop at the time.
“We were too slow to realise what was going on.
“These awful criminals are secretive and cunning.
“I’m not making excuses for any of my predecessors.”
Archbishop Hart, who has been the Melbourne archbishop since 2001 and was previously a vicar general from 1996, agreed the crimes should have been dealt with upfront and revealed to the police.
Asked if the church was protecting its treasure – its good name, reputation and money – Archbishop Hart said he believed that was true but that had changed since the early 1990s.
“Slowly, sometimes with agony, but it has changed,” he said.
Archbishop Hart also said things had changed since 1996.
“I would certainly say that the church has been slow to act,” he said.
“I would stand by what we’ve done since 1996 by pulling them straight out of ministry.”
Archbishop Hart admitted in the past child sex abuse had been endemic in the Catholic Church in Victoria.
Twelve out of 50 priests identified by the Church were responsible for more than half of the offences committed, Archbishop Hart told the child abuse inquiry.
“There were priests who did heinous crimes and went on doing it,” he said.
Archbishop Hart said he was prepared to work with the community to carry the “eradication of this awful evil forward”.
But his statements were questioned by inquiry committee members who pointed out the church spent more money on the annual salary of its communications manager than it paid victims.
The Melbourne archdiocese pays its communications manager between $150,000 and $180,000 annually, executive administrative director Francis Moore told the inquiry.
Pressed on how this amount compared with compensation payments made “under the best case circumstances” of $75,000, Archbishop Hart said the church was generous when compared with the state compensation.
Cardinal George Pell will give evidence at the inquiry next Monday.
Cardinal Pell was living in Ballarat at the same time as convicted paedophiles Gerald Ridsdale, Robert Best, Edward Dowlan and Stephen Farrell.
It will be the final day of public hearings before the committee begins deliberations, with the reporting deadline due September 30.