The lives of dozens of children and their families have been devastated by the Catholic Church’s catastrophic and inexcusable failure to deal with pedophile clergy in a Victorian diocese, an inquiry has found.
Protecting the church’s reputation and avoiding scandal drove the Diocese of Ballarat’s handling of abuse complaints over at least three decades, the child abuse royal commission concluded.
“That failure led to the suffering and often irreparable harm to children, their families and the wider community,” the commission said.
“That harm could have been avoided if the church had acted in the interests of children rather than its own interests.”
The findings echo the royal commission’s conclusions about the handling of child abuse complaints in the Melbourne archdiocese under its 1974-1996 archbishop Frank Little, when a culture of secrecy prevailed in a bid to protect the church’s reputation.
Ballarat abuse survivor Phil Nagle said the commission’s findings validated what victims have been saying all along – that the church hierarchy covered up abuse and protected pedophile clergy.
“It’s just a horrible, horrible thing that the Catholic hierarchy did trying to protect their brand,” Mr Nagle said.
“Protecting a brand is no reason to create more victims and to move your pedophile clergy and members around to let them sexually abuse more kids. That’s as evil as doing the crime yourself.”
Mr Nagle, who was abused by a Christian Brother at Ballarat’s St Alipius primary school in 1974, hopes those involved in concealing abuse are prosecuted.
Ballarat Bishop Paul Bird said the mishandling of allegations against priests and church personnel and a lack of response to complaints led to unnecessary suffering for many victims and their families.
He said it also brought distress to communities throughout the Ballarat diocese, which covers the western third of Victoria.
“Where the failures of my predecessors allowed abuse to occur, I offer my heartfelt apology,” Bishop Bird said.
The commission also found the Christian Brothers leadership’s response to abuse complaints and widespread rumours of brothers’ sexual misconduct at St Alipius and Ballarat’s St Patrick’s College was grossly inadequate.
The Christian Brothers Oceania Province again apologised and said it remained committed to working with those affected to bring some healing.
“It is a matter of profound regret that these events, which have had a devastating impact on individuals and on the community, ever took place,” it said.
Other commission findings into the Catholic and Anglican churches in Newcastle may be released in coming days, ahead of the five-year inquiry’s final report being made public on December 15.