MORE than seven months after it was established, Victoria’s parliamentary inquiry into child sexual abuse by members of religious organisations will hold its first regional hearings in Ballarat today.
Witnesses will tell the inquiry of the tragic legacy of abuse by Catholic priests and brothers in the Ballarat region as well instances of mishandled allegations which saw one priest offend against further victims in the United States.
Calls for an official inquiry grew too loud to be ignored after an internal Victoria Police report was leaked in April, linking as many as 40 suicides in Ballarat to abuse by Catholic clergy.
Witness Helen Watson will tell the inquiry that a Catholic priest who abused her son Peter in the early 1990s was moved around the Diocese of Ballarat before he abused children in the United States.
She will present new declarations from American victims as part of her evidence in public hearings at the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute.
“The impact of the abuse in Ballarat is huge even today,” she said.
“It was a pot of paedophiles and the Catholic Church knew what was going on but continued to move priests from place to place. It is time that the church hierarchy is held accountable for their actions.”
Peter Watson took his own life after disappearing, aged 24, with his body only discovered by police in late 1999.
Mrs Watson said she had decided to speak up to help save the lives of other victims and families impacted by abuse.
The inquiry is expected to hear from at least three witnesses today, before returning to Ballarat early next year to hear from representatives of a group of more than 25 victims who made a combined submission.
Ballarat’s Catholic Bishop Paul Bird this week reaffirmed his support for the inquiry and upcoming national royal commission into institutional child sexual abuse and said the Diocese of Ballarat was preparing to provide documents requested by the inquiry.
Senior Catholic clerics including Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell are expected to give evidence in coming months.
Terms of reference for the inquiry, which is considering abuse by members of all non-government organisations, call for a report to be presented to the Victorian Parliament by April 30.