VICTORIA’S state inquiry into the handling of child sexual abuse by members of religious organisations will hold its first regional hearing in Ballarat next week.
The Courier can reveal the Victorian Parliament’s Family and Community Development Committee will hear evidence from family members affected by sexual abuse at the Ballarat Mechanics’ Institute on December 7.
More than 20 survivors of clergy sexual abuse who formed a group submission to the inquiry are expected to give evidence at a second Ballarat hearing in February.
Mother Helen Watson will tell the hearing that the Catholic Church moved a priest who abused her son Peter to the United States, where he offended again.
“The Catholic Church knew of the concerning behaviour of this priest in the seminary, and yet the church ordained him and knowingly moved him around,” she said.
“I plan to tell the hearing that implementation of mandatory reporting is a must, that legislation should be brought in to stop the church investigating itself and that offending priests must be immediately removed from ministry.”
Mrs Watson said her son Peter took his own life as a result of the abuse.
“There needs to be justice and accountability for the Catholic Church. Too many people have died,” she said.
Catholic leaders including Ballarat Bishop Paul Bird have offered full co-operation with the inquiry, and the Diocese of Ballarat will give the committee access to all its records of abuse.
The regional hearings come after advocate and president of the international Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), Barbara Blaine, visited Ballarat yesterday.
Ms Blaine and Australian SNAP director Nicky Davis met with survivors and family members to recognise as many as 45 Ballarat victims have taken their own lives following abuse.
“We remember and acknowledge those who took their own lives and those who should still be with us today,” Ms Blaine said.
“Their presence, spirit and memory is here with us today and we remember everyone who has endured pain, often overwhelming, on their behalf.”
On Monday, Ms Blaine told the inquiry that similar processes in Ireland and the United States found reform processes had been ineffective, with 37 priests in the Catholic Diocese of Philadelphia remaining in ministry after involvement in sexual abuse.
If you or a family member requires professional assistance, call the Ballarat Centre Against Sexual Abuse on 5320 3933.