ACT News


Priest accused of inappropriately touching children living next to Canberra primary schools

Catholic Archbishop Christopher Prowse moved a priest who was investigated for inappropriately touching children to live next to two Canberra primary schools because there was nowhere else to put him, the archbishop has revealed.

Father Brian Hassett has been living at Lanigan House in Garran, next to Sts Peter and Paul Primary School, for about two years, Fairfax Media has learnt.

He was moved into the home for retired clergy, which also sits close to the Malkara School, after complaints about inappropriate behaviour towards children were made against him.

The claims related to his 30-year tenure in Tumut, about 130 kilometres west of Canberra.

A spokesman for the church said one complaint related to a boundary violation and one to inappropriate touching.

The claims were investigated by the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn under the NSW Reportable Conduct Scheme and were substantiated, the spokesman said.


One claim was referred to police but after consultation the matter was dealt with internally, with oversight from the NSW Ombudsman's office, Archbishop Prowse said.

NSW Police confirmed Tumut police were not aware of any active investigations into the former priest. It is understood the two complainants did not want to press charges.

"Following the investigation the priest was removed from his position as parish priest," Archbishop Prowse said.

"Meetings were held with parishioners in the Tumut parish who were advised of the reasons for this clergy member's move."

Archbishop Prowse said the priest was only moved to Lanigan House because there was no other accommodation available.

"However due to a significant deterioration of his health he has remained at Lanigan House where his medical needs can be met," he said.

Archbishop Prowse said no children were permitted to visit Lanigan House and Father Brian had no contact with students at the neighbouring schools.

"Prior to me making the decision to move this clergy member to Lanigan House, a thorough risk assessment was conducted by staff within the Institute for Professional Standards and Safeguarding and the principal at the nearby Catholic school consulted," he said.

"I do acknowledge the concerns of this community and in moving forward, I am seeking alternative accommodation which addresses the community concerns and meets the medical needs of this retired priest."

Father Brian was the parish priest at McAuley Catholic Central School in Tumut until 2013.

After Father Brian was moved on, the congregation in Tumut was told he was sick and prayed for him for about a year.

When Fairfax Media called the archdiocese on Monday night after speaking to Father Brian at Lanigan House, a spokesman said he was "not even going to pretend it's a good look".

The revelations come a week after Archbishop Prowse told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that he had heralded in a new era of transparency and accountability in the Canberra archdiocese.

"It has been heartbreaking to see these statistics nationally, but at the very same time to be able to say, well, let us go forward in a completely different way that is a way that we can hold our head up high and be able to say we're learning from this. We have a long way to go, but we're on the way," Archbishop Prowse told the royal commission.

He had said the days of the church examining these issues in-house were gone.

"I think the gravity of the sex abuse is really starting to dawn on us, and we can see that, no, no, we simply don't have the resources on our own to be able to cope properly with this. And even if we did, it's not appropriate," Archbishop Prowse said.

Sts Peter and Paul Primary School principal Margaret Pollard has been approached for comment.

ACT education minister Yvette Berry said she had sought urgent advice about how the government should respond and had asked the Education Directorate to contact the Catholic Archdiocese. 

"Clearly these issues are extremely sensitive and it's not appropriate for me to comment on the specifics," Ms Berry said. 

"The safety of children in our schools and the community is critically important."

Since this article was published, Archbishop Christopher Prowse has corrected the record to state Sts Peter and Paul Primary School principal Margaret Pollard was not told about Father Brian Hassett's placement at Lanigan House.