Assessment for clergy candidates flawed, sex inquiry hears

Clergy sexual abuse victims Gordon Hill and Emma Furness at the child abuse hearing in Sydney.

Clergy sexual abuse victims Gordon Hill and Emma Furness at the child abuse hearing in Sydney.

A lack of understanding and compassion may have caused Catholic priests to hear the confessions of clergy committing child sex crimes and allow them to continue to abuse, an inquiry heard.

David Leary, an academic and Franciscan friar told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Tuesday, the Catholic Church still failed to fully comprehend how its systems allowed a culture of child sexual abuse to flourish. 

He said assessment for clergy candidates was fundamentally flawed because it tested homosexual tendencies ahead of whether or not the applicant was a compassionate person.  

Dr Leary also said the Catholic Church still did not fully understand how civil society works. 

“I don't think we understand the psychology that underpins our modern understanding of child sexual abuse. As a result, we fluff around the edges and we try to negotiate,” he said.  

“It's really clear in every other jurisdiction except the church: if somebody reports something to you, you have an obligation to report that.” 

Dr Leary said in his experience, the sexuality of clergy is irrelevant, unless it is discerned they are emotionally immature.

The inquiry also heard under rules and regulations outlined in the Catholic Church’s seal of the confessional, clergy who confessed to sexually abusing children may be given “absolution” on numerous occasions if they were “sincerely sorry” for offending.

In his evidence to the commission, Father John Hogan, rector at the Holy Spirit Seminary in Parramatta said a priest could encourage an offending clergyman to hand themselves to authorities.

However, he believed priests were bound by the confidentiality of the confessional seal and could not report it to police. 

Father Hogan told the inquiry under canon law, if the priest administering the confession had any doubt an offending priest was sorry, then he could withhold absolution.

The inquiry’s final hearing into the Australian Catholic Church, is examining how systemic institutional factors, including structure, governance and culture prevailed over the safety of children and allowed paedophile clergy to offend for decades.

The inquiry was also told there was no requirement for the Catholic clergy to be screened for paedophilia, however, the Vatican does have a detailed assessment procedure for homosexuality. 

SEEKING ANSWERS: Gordon " Bushman Hilly" Hill, was an orphan at St Joseph’s Home at Sebastopol between 1943 to 1959. Picture: Lachlan Bence

SEEKING ANSWERS: Gordon " Bushman Hilly" Hill, was an orphan at St Joseph’s Home at Sebastopol between 1943 to 1959. Picture: Lachlan Bence

Survivor’s long journey for truth   

Gordon "Bushman Hilly" Hill drove 4252 kilometres for the truth.

Mr Hill was an orphan at St Joseph’s Home at Sebastopol between 1943 to 1959.

He was raped and beaten by priests almost daily during his childhood. His body is rippled with the physical scars of his past.

Mr Hill now lives in Geraldton, a coastal city in Western Australia.

But he packed his bags last Friday evening and drove all the way to Sydney to bear witness to the second week of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’s final hearing into the Australian Catholic Church. 

The journey which spanned thousands of kilometres took him three nights in total.

“It’s about closure for me,” Mr Hill said. 

“I want to hear for myself what these bishops and senior church hierarchy are going to do about protecting children in the future.”

Unable to pay for accommodation, Mr Hill had planned sleeping inside his car for the week.

 But he met another clergy sexual abuse survivor Emma Furness who offered him a bed at her house.

“Once again, it is the victims helping the victims,” she said. 

Mr Hill previously told the inquiry about being raped by a priest at the age of five which escalated into repeated  “dungeon type” assaults when he was moved to the farm boys’ dormitory.  

Mr Hill said he was at the hearing representing his two sisters who were orphans at Ballarat’s Nazareth House Girls’ Home.

“They both died of broken hearts long before their time,” Mr Hill said.

“They couldn’t cope with the abuse they went through at the orphanage.”

Mr Hill said he wanted to see the Catholic Church commit to changing canon law, amid claims clergy repeatedly misused it to conceal and excuse alleged child sex abuse.  

He also want laws in place which compelled Catholic priests to break the confessional seal if clergy confessed to sexually abusing children.

• To contact the Centre Against Sexual Assault located on the corner of Vale and Edwards streets, Sebastopol, call 5320 3933 or free call 24 hours 1800 806 292. Lifeline can be accessed on 13 11 14.