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Catholic bishop says pedophilia is a centuries-old problem for the church.
The Catholic Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle, Bill Wright, finished giving his evidence on Friday afternoon and left the hearings while a survivor, CQW, was telling of his abuse at Marist Brothers Maitland in the 1960s.
The Royal Commission resumed after lunch with its chairman, Justice Peter McClellan, asking why paedophilia had been a particular problem for the church for many centuries.
Justice McClellan said this was “reflected in the whole history of the confessional [and] reflected in provisions in canon law”.
When Bishop Wright said it was “an enduring problem in our societies, as far as I know”, Justice McClellan said “that may be true but it’s also been a particular problem for the church”.
Justice McClellan said Bishop Malone had acknowledged the church had covered up,and he asked the bishop what it was now doing to address its issues.
Bishop Wright said the church had dedicated a good deal of money and resources to the problem and had “done some good work” in responding to the commission.
Justice McClellan said there was a view that “clericalism” had contributed to the problem, and he asked Bishop Wright what he thought about that view.
Bishop Wright said the realities of seminary priestly training and had changed and studies were more likely to be with lay students and in other academic situations rather than in closed institutions.
“It’s not as tight a monastic clerical formation as it used to be,” Bishop Wright said.
He said attitudes towards matters such as clerical titles and dress were “much looser than they were”.
“The old thing that ‘you cant say that to me I am a priest’ would now incite derision . . . “ Bishop Wright said.
“By circumstance and design there’s been a change in that clerical culture.
When Justice McClellan asked whether the church was unable to properly vet people who should not have entered the church and who ended up as abusers, Bishop Wright said he accepted that.
Asked about today, he said: “It’s still difficult.”
He said he had been involved in seminary training and said psychological tests were done on people expressing an interest in being priests but “it’s still difficult”.
“If I may indulge myself we’ve been talking about this a bit locally and the need for a more comprehensive group in the diocese concerned with people in ministry who would have a matter of oversight in this area so that they would have a broad awareness of the issues around clergy as well as a watching brief on the people applying and their seminary time and their pastoral appointments.
He said getting hard reliable assessments of people when they were coming into the system was still tricky.
He said that in the old days even though you were there for seven years but they were big institutions and if you did alright in your morning prayers you would get through.
Nowadays with smaller intakes, trainee priests got closer attention.
Justice McClellan said that academically gifted but emotionally mature people might still be attracted to the church because it would give them an institution to protect them without a need to integrate with society.
Bishop Wright said the church now wanted people to be “out and about a bit in the world” before they became priests.
He spoke about his time at the Manly seminary where he encountered people who thought God wanted them to be a priest and that this was a red flag.
Asked about the church’s attitudes to women in the church, Bishop Wright said there were many more women in the Catholic church now, but he said it was beyond his capacity to do anything about women and Holy Orders.
Justice McClellan said that once Sister Evelyn Woodward raised the problem of Ryan it was taken over by the men who acted inappropriately.
He said the question was how to get women into broader roles in the church, because even now, if sexual abuse is raised it is still up to the bishop.
Bishop Wright agreed with Justice McClellan that the church could do more to bring women into the church.
Returning to the church’s knowledge of serial paedophile Vince Ryan, counsel assisting Stephen Free took him to a document that dated from about 1997 in which Bishop Leo Clarke was asked about Ryan’s year in Melbourne.
In his statement, Bishop Clarke said Monsignor Patrick Cotter had never told him anything, even in the vaguest terms, about Ryan, and if he had he would never have appointed him to a neighbouring parish and put him in charge of a marriage tribunal.
Bishop Clarke said Monsignor Cotter might say that he had told him, but he had not.
In this document, Bishop Clarke was asked if he had have appointed Ryan again if he had known about his offences, he said: “That’s a tough question looking back over 20 years ago, I possibly would have.”
Bishop Wright said that was not necessarily because he tolerated the behaviour but because he could have believed Ryan had been cured.
Asked by Mr Free about the reference to a “neighbouring” parish, Bishop Wright agreed the implication was that if he had known about his offending, he would have appointed him to a distant parish.
Questioned by counsel for the diocese and by Justice McClellan, Bishop Wright said there was a system in place in which the NSW Ombudsman was advised of a reportable allegation within 30 days.
He said the Ombudsman Act also required the diocese to have systems in place for investigating and responding to reportable allegations.
Bishop Wright said there was a national approach being taken by the church into child abuse, which was unusual given the historic independence that individual diocese’s had tended to want to keep.
He said the Toward Healing protocols had sometimes been applied differently in different places so the various dioceses had signed up to a new national agreement.
He said they knew it was so important that it overcame the deeply embedded independence of individual dioceses.
Speaking about the church’s data collection project he said that for the first time there would be national data about child sex abuse. It had been an enormously challenging exercise especially for small dioceses and it was a fruit of the royal commission that the church would now have the best possible awareness of the scale of the issue.
“My own people in Zimmerman Services have been taxed in responding to that . . . but it’s been a very valuable exercise,” Bishop Wright said.
Justice McClellan said the Anglican Church was in the midst of a similar undertaking.
Bishop Wright finished his evidence just before 3pm.