ACT News

Priest defends failure to mandate abuse reporting - commission wrap

A senior Catholic priest has defended the church's failure to mandate the reporting of alleged criminal activity by clergy in the early 1990s.

Father Brian Lucas, the general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, also defended the practice of not taking notes during meetings with clergy accused of sexual assault and other crimes.

He said he has no recollection of a meeting between himself, Brother Alexis Turton and serial paedophile Kostka Chute in 1993 as he took no notes.

When asked on Tuesday at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Canberra what advice he might have given at the meeting he cannot remember, counsel assisting the royal commission Simeon Beckett interjected "we're tilting at windmills".

Father Lucas was testifying under oath.

Then Brother Kostka had been teaching at Marist College Canberra in 1993, and the meeting had been called after former student Damian De Marco had come forward to allege he had been abused by the brother in 1981.

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Father Lucas, who has extensive legal training, denied suggestions by Mr Beckett and Peter O'Brien, who is representing Mr De Marco, that notes were not kept to ensure there was no paper trail and to facilitate a cover-up.

"I did not take any note of the meeting with the provincial [Brother Turton] and Brother Kostka," he said.

"I certainly did not take any note of my conversation with Brother Kostka. If there was going to be note-taking at that meeting Brother Kostka would not have said anything anyway."

Father Lucas said the decision not to take notes at meetings such as this was "deliberate policy" but had a special purpose.

"There won't be a disclosure if he [the accused] thinks you are taking a note – he would not say anything, there would not be anything to write down, nothing to report and nothing that would later be useful to the prosecution," he said.

Father Lucas said the "no note" policy had been intended to "break the impasse between the allegation and the denial, to see whether we could move to some sort of acknowledgement of a problem".

Mr O'Brien disagreed. "Some might suggest the approach was designed for one purpose – to cover up the conversation such that should it ever come to air, it can be denied," he said.

"I reject that," Father Lucas said before saying that such off the record conversations no longer take place.

He also rejected the assertion that not mandating the reporting of allegations against clergy to the police was another form of cover-up.

"To suggest [that] respecting the right of a victim not to go to the police amounts to a cover-up is something I totally reject," he said.

Father Lucas said the relationship with police had later evolved to a point where it was possible to implement a "blind reporting" process. Complaints against individuals were reported but the names of the victims were held back.

Asked if reports had been made to police under this process, he replied: "Yes. Is."

The commission also heard that when the superior of the Lismore monastery of serial paedophile Gregory Sutton learnt he had taken an overnight trip with a young boy in 1986, it never occurred to him sexual abuse might be the motive.

Brother Anthony Hunt, 72, said it had also failed to occur to him that a diary entry in which Sutton had written "Picked up AC. What an afternoon, she is magnificent" may also be linked to sexual abuse.

He told the commission he was not aware sexually abusing a child was a criminal act at that time (1986-87).

Brother Hunt, who is now retired from teaching and living in a Marist Brothers' community in Victoria, denied ever being told of specific allegations against Sutton by other teachers at St Carthage's in Lismore.

"I feel sorrow for the great harm done to children," he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said Father Brian Lucas interjected about "tilting at windmills". This was wrong, and has been corrected.

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