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Premier orders inquiry into church child sex 'cover-up'

The senior police officer alleging widespread cover-ups by the Catholic church over child sexual abuse has labelled the response by the state government as a "slap in the face" for victims.

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell on Friday announced a special commission of inquiry into police investigations of alleged paedophile priests in the Hunter region.

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Paedophilia inquiry to focus on Hunter

RAW VISION: NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell says the commission of inquiry into alleged child sex abuse in the Catholic church is likely to focus on the Hunter region.

The inquiry will be into allegations of cover-ups and church interference in police investigations, which were raised in a letter to the Premier by Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox.

Mr Fox had called for a state-wide royal commission into sex abuse and the church, and on Friday afternoon said Mr O'Farrell's plan for a limited special commission focusing on one region was an "insult".

"If we're going to do it, let’s do it properly. These kids and these families deserve much more than that... don’t slap them in the face and walk away with a half answer," he said.

The problem was not confined to the Hunter, he said, so neither should the inquiry be.


Earlier on Friday afternoon, Mr O'Farrell announced the inquiry would be headed by the NSW Deputy Senior Crown Prosecutor, Margaret Cunneen, SC.

''These matters have been raised by a senior serving officer and deserve to be fully investigated,'' Mr O'Farrell said.

''I believe a special commission of inquiry is the most appropriate way to do it.''

Mr O'Farrell said he would discuss draft terms of reference for the inquiry with Ms Cunneen.

He said he expected the inquiry would focus on the Hunter region, but that he would be guided by Ms Cunneen as to whether the inquiry needed to be broader.

Both the opposition and the NSW Greens said the inquiry should be far-reaching.

If we're going to do it, let’s do it properly. These kids and these families deserve much more than that

The Opposition Leader, John Robertson, said Mr O'Farrell should extend the inquiry to cover all of the state.

"The NSW Labor Opposition supports the establishment of a special commission of inquiry into sexual abuse impacting on children and young people across NSW," Mr Robertson said.

"The inquiry should be given the powers and scope to examine how child sexual abuse is dealt with and reported, no matter where it occurs."

Greens MP David Shoebridge said the inquiry was "deliberately narrow" and needed to be into the church, not the police.

"If the Premier wanted to design an inquiry to protect the church leadership, including Cardinal Pell, and limit the short-term damage to the church, then the inquiry's terms of reference would look exactly like this," Mr Shoebridge said.

In his letter to the Premier, Inspector Fox said police were continually frustrated by the "sinister" behaviour of the church.

"I can testify from my own experience that the church covers up, silences victims, hinders police investigations, alerts offenders, destroys evidence and moves priests to protect the good name of the church," he wrote.

"Convicted priest Vincent Ryan was sent to Victoria when the church learnt of his abuse, returning the following year after things cooled down to pick up where he left off.

"Many priests don't want a royal commission nor does the hierarchy of the church, but God knows we need one."

Earlier today, NSW Nationals MP Troy Grant, a former police officer who led the watershed paedophilia investigation of priest Vincent Ryan, said it was time for Cardinal George Pell to "fall on his sword" as Archbishop of Sydney, because the church had never managed to put the interests of victims before its clergymen.

Mr Grant said the leadership of the church had shown an inability to deal with the issue.

"If Pell hasn't got the capacity or courage to tackle this front-on then he should step aside and let somebody in there that does," Mr Grant told Fairfax Media on Friday.

"If he's not prepared to do that he should get out of the road and let someone who is for the betterment of the church take his place."

Mr Grant said the issue would be better dealt with by a national royal commission, as it was not confined to a single state.

"None of the states own this issue, [the church] shifts priests across the country, across the world . . . I think it would be less successful – a state-led inquiry – than a national one, " he said.

"If we're going to do this we need to do it properly, and the individual resources that a state has are much less than a national effort could be."

Mr Grant said the Catholic church was his family's church, which made the issue a personal one for him.

"This is a blight on the faith and an institution that does so much good," he said.

"We must put the victims' welfare and interests first, and that's what the church has never done."

A response is being sought from Cardinal Pell.