BALLARAT Bishop Peter Connors says many Catholic parishioners remain concerned about clergy sexual abuse in the region, but the establishment of an inquiry remains a matter for government.
Victoria Police will recommend the state’s coroner examine potential links in as many as 40 cases of suicide among students sexually abused by paedophile Catholic priests and teachers including former students of St Alipius Christian Brothers School in Ballarat.
Two leaked reports written by Ballarat Detective Kevin Carson said the church seems to have known about high rates of suicides over the last 50 years but has remained silent.
The reports listed at least 40 boys and young men who took their own lives following abuse by convicted paedophiles Brother Robert Charles Best and Father Gerald Ridsdale.
Bishop Connors said the Ballarat Diocese would co-operate with an inquiry if established.
“I believe (Ballarat parishioners) are naturally concerned about what has happened here,” he said.
“An inquiry is a matter for the government. The Diocese does not have a position on an inquiry being established.”
Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton said a submission to the coroner would recommend an examination of suicides “in relation to the Catholic Church”. He said an investigation could also look more broadly at the internal processes of the church once it becomes aware of the allegations of abuse.
“We need to provide the coroner with more detail. We’re in the process of doing that at the moment,” Mr Ashton said.
“Those reports will find their way to the coroner and it will be a matter for the coroner as to what she does.”
Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart defended the Catholic Church’s reponse to the abuse allegations and denied any cover-up had taken place.
He did concede that “in the past there have been some failures”.
Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu yesterday said the Attorney-General Robert Clark was looking into the matter.
However, he did not want to pre-empt any announcement.
Br Best is currently appealing part of his 2011 conviction on 27 abuse charges related to 11 boys.
Meanwhile, A VICTIM of Robert Best’s campaign of sexual abuse against students has expressed his horror at the number of reported suicides linked to abuse from Catholic clergy in Victoria.
Paul Lyons was just nine years old when Brother Best sexually abused him, which then started his life spiralling out of control.
Mr Lyons yesterday told The Courier he spent 15 years as an alcoholic as a result, and was transformed from a student with a thirst for knowledge to an empty shell.
“It looked like me, it sounded like me, but it wasn’t me,” he said.
Mr Lyons’ comments come after an internal police report was leaked to the media, claiming that at least 40 males had committed suicide following sexual abuse at the hands of a small number of paedophile clergy, including Gerald Ridsdale, Bryan Coffey, Paul Ryan, Robert Best and Edward Dowlan.
“What really hurts me is how many people are affected by this, how many people have taken their lives, some were so young,” Mr Lyons said.
“When I was about 18 ... I put a gun in my mouth wanting to blow my head off. I didn’t want to live any more, I’d had enough.
“Just the memory, the pain, the nightmares. I don’t know how the hell I got out. I’m still surprised I’m here now.”
Stephen Woods was also a student at St Alipius Christian Brothers School in the 1970s and testified in the trial against Best last year.
Mr Woods said the victims wanted a royal commission into the offending.
“The government really need to make sure it’s a statewide inquiry that has the powers to subpoena witnesses and evidence and I recommend every victim and their family to take full advantage of it,” he said. “When a victim is believed by the authorities there is such a relief of stress and pressure, you feel justified in going to the police.”
Mr Woods said he knew of “quite a number” of his former school mates who had committed suicide because of the abuse.
“The despair that it caused the individual victims and then the trauma of the family having to cope with that, it is incredible,” he said.
“(The offending) sets up a time bomb in somebody’s life that could destroy their work, any relationships they have, but mainly their self-esteem and their capacity as a person.
“I know the trauma that Best left in my life, I’ve had to deal with potential substance abuse and suicide and I know that (another Brother) set up that sort of trauma in my brother’s life.”
In August last year Best was sentenced to 14 years and nine months in jail, with a minimum term of 11 years and three months.
If you or someone you know is facing difficulties contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.