ONE of the most senior clergymen in the Australian Catholic Church says it was not the church's responsibility to tell police about a priest who admitted to repeatedly sexually abusing five children as young as 10.
After returning from overseas this week, the general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Father Brian Lucas, told the Herald yesterday admissions from a priest in a 1992 meeting with him and two other senior clergy did not include ''sufficient specific detail'' to report him to secular authorities.
''The first responsibility to report crime is by the victim. Our responsibility is to get him out of ministry, which is what we did,'' Father Lucas said. ''We did not have the detail that would be useful to the police.''
Father Lucas's comments are at odds with a report written eight days after that meeting by the Vicar-General of the Armidale diocese, Wayne Peters, which said ''Father F'' had ''wished to make certain admissions''.
That letter said Father F, who cannot be named for legal reasons, admitted to ''sexually interfering'' with five boys aged about 10 or 11 between 1982 to 1984 while he was an assistant priest at Moree. In two cases, the abuse had continued monthly for 12 months.
Father Lucas told the Herald that his recollection was that ''in acknowledging wrongdoing'' Father F did not provide the names of any victims to be taken to police.
''I did not consider at that time that reporting to the police would assist in any prosecution since we did not have any details of the victims,'' he said.
But the 1992 letter makes reference to ''the boy who eventually brought criminal charges'' - these were brought by a former Moree altar boy, Damian Jurd, in 1987, of which the church was aware.
That case had been dismissed by a magistrate as Mr Jurd, then 15, was judged as a less credible witness than Father F.
The church allowed Father F to continue in public ministry in Parramatta before further reports of sexual assault prompted the 1992 meeting with the three senior priests.
The Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, told Four Corners this week that a file note showed Father F made no admissions to the three priests at the meeting.
A statement this week from the Archdiocese of Sydney described the letter as a ''private report'', rather than an ''official record'' of the meeting, that ''does not reflect … notes of the meeting held by the church's professional standards office''. But Father Lucas said he had not seen any record of the meeting, other than the 1992 letter. ''You've got to talk to Sydney about that, if that's in their file, but I haven't seen it,'' he said.
He had this week read the 1992 letter which says Father F began the meeting with a series of specific admissions including groping and oral sex.
''I think that the level of detail that's in that letter, I don't recall,'' Father Lucas said.
Mr Jurd later committed suicide, but his mother, Claire Jurd, said yesterday the church had a responsibility to report an admission by a priest that he had been sexually abusing children.
''Without a doubt, I think for their own conscience they should,'' she said.