ACT News

Save
Print

Tumut parishioners close ranks around ex-priest stood down over improper behaviour

Catholic parishioners in Tumut have leapt to the defence of their ex-priest who was stood down after an archdiocese investigation found he had touched a child inappropriately.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn admitted Father Brian Hassett had been the subject of "sustained complaints" during his time as the parish priest of Tumut.

A church investigation into the complaints began in 2013 and was overseen by the NSW Ombudsman.

Mr Hassett was temporarily moved to Lanigan House in early 2014, "in response to the preliminary findings of the investigation", director of the Institute for Professional Standards Matt Casey said.

Later that year, the investigation substantiated two complaints of improper behaviour towards children but the priest appealed. 

NSW Police never charged the former priest, although one complaint was referred to them.

Advertisement

In August 2015, Mr Hassett resigned but remained at Lanigan House until this week.

The revelations prompted community outcry, given Lanigan House sits between two Canberra primary schools.

But, despite the archdiocese confirming the accusations had been substantiated, a former altar server told Wagga Wagga newspaper The Daily Advertiser she was regularly alone with him and never suspected anything untoward.

"A lot of people are upset about how ridiculous it is that one or two people can complain and ruin his reputation," she said.

The 2013 school captain of the Tumut school Mr Hassett served at told the newspaper the ex-priest epitomised the characteristics of the Christian faith.

Griffith university's Professor Patrick O'Leary, who co-authored a paper on grooming for the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, was not surprised to hear the community's reaction.

"Part of grooming is create this credibility to make is seem impossible that this abuse could occur. It does put the community in a tricky position," Professor O'Leary said.

"The motivation behind that is to conceal, so that people won't believe this abuse is taking place. In many cases this creates great difficulty for victims coming forward because this guy is put on a pedestal.

"There's incidences documented where victims and parishioners have continued to visit the offender in prison, this has been documented to occur which speaks to the sophisticated level an offender can go to in the grooming process. 

"You can see this in the Royal Commission where case studies come up, whether it's a priest or a former scout master and people say we believe this person was good, we were tricked as well. 

"There's almost this shame that people have been tricked, and that leads to denial or the need to defend the offender because to acknowledge it occurred would be to recognise they had also been tricked."

Fairfax Media is not suggesting the ex-priest groomed the women who spoke in his defence.

Late on Thursday, the archdiocese confirmed Mr Hassett and two other expelled priests had been removed from the home for retired clergy.

"Based on recent community concern and acting on my advice, today the archbishop relocated two other priests from Lanigan House.  Both men were removed from ministry for other matters. I reiterate that the safety of children was not compromised at any time," Mr Casey said.

So far the archdiocese has declined to say why the two priests were kicked out of the ministry and why they felt they had to remove them from Lanigan House.

Two priests remain at Lanigan House, one who retired for health reasons and another who resigned.

"Both men are in good standing and exercise their priestly faculties," Mr Casey said.

with the Daily Advertiser