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Australian bishop unsuccessfully tries to deny dozens of child rape cases.
A survivor of sex abuse has slammed a bishop in Victoria’s north-east for statements he says deny the past and minimise the consequences of institutional abuse.
Australian Education Union vice-president Greg Barclay, who was abused by Catholic Marist brother John Skehan as a schoolboy, accused Bishop Leslie Tomlinson of manipulating statistics from the Royal Commission to minimise the impact of abuse.
The commission released statistics in February that put the Sandhurst Diocese, which includes Bendigo, as having the second-highest proportion of priests subject to abuse allegations in Australia.
Bishop Tomlinson, who presides over the diocese, recognised the massive failure of the church to protect children, but went on to say the figures needed to be read in the “correct context”.
“Over a 60-year period, the Sandhurst Diocese had a total of 27 claims of abuse, of which 14 were substantiated,” he wrote in a statement published on the diocese websites and in school newsletters.
He said given the report identified 1880 perpetrators, of which 384 were diocesan priests, it meant there were 16 Sandhurst priests accused of abuse.
“The last report of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest in this diocese was 26 years ago in 1991,” he wrote.
Mr Barclay said the bishop’s statement infers accusations were made with no substance.
“This is a large institution that’s on about protecting its brand and reputation. Of course they attempt to deny the past or minimise any of the consequences,” he said.
It follows another statement made by the bishop during the Victorian parliamentary inquiry where he wrote of the “burden” of witnesses to make assertions at the inquiry, “without the need to substantiate them or face any cross-examination”.
Bishop Tomlinson also goes on to say the condemnation of the church may be unrelenting, “particularly from a few quarters of the media”, but others seemed to have “moved on or recognised this evil is confined to a small part of the church and is being addressed”.
Shepparton Catholic Catherine Dooley, who started Supporters of Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse Sandhurst, says the statements set the tenor for Bishop Tomlinson’s leadership.
“It went to all the parishes and it went to all the schools … I’m just appalled,” she said.
Parishioner and former priest Frank Purcell said he understood why the bishop challenged the figures, but there was now a need to support victims to come forward.
“The main challenge for us here is to find out if there are very many people who do believe they were abused, but have never come forward,” he said.
“There may well be a hidden problem.”
Bishop Tomlinson’s office said he had nothing further to add from the February statement, in which he apologised again to victims and survivors. He said he remained committed to working with them and to ensure a positive future for young people in their care. He said the diocese recruited a child safety officer and encouraged anyone who has suffered abuse to report it to police.