The archdiocese of Melbourne funnelled nearly $200,000 to a suspected paedophile after he fled overseas, funding his "retirement" for nearly a decade while he was hiding from authorities.
Father Ronald Pickering, who is known to have abused at least 16 children, successfully evaded justice in Australia and died in Britain in 2009.
In early 1993, Pickering "retired" from his Melbourne parish and fled to England in the face of mounting allegations of sexual abuse.
Despite being personally aware of complaints as early as 1986, then Melbourne Archbishop Frank Little ordered Pickering's retirement entitlements be boosted in the wake of his impromptu departure.
"At this time the Archbishop does not intend appointing Father Pickering as Pastor Emeritus. However, he would appreciate your regarding Father Pickering, in this exceptional case, as qualifying for receipt of those monies which would normally be granted to PEs," the Priests Retirement Foundation was instructed.
The prestigious honour entitled a retired priest to additional remuneration and allowances because of its prestige.
Documents tendered to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse show that a Pastor Emeritus received a pension and housing stipend worth $21,000 a year (circa 1998).
But church leadership in Melbourne, including then Bishop George Pell, soon faced a new problem when they were notified by a bishop in Britain that Pickering was seeking work as a priest in a local parish.
"Discussion focused on the need to protect the Archbishop [Little] and the diocese," notes from the 1993 meeting say.
The leadership moved quickly to strip Pickering of his priestly faculties and to notify the British bishop that he was no longer in "good standing".
But the church was also denying it had any financial or moral responsibility for him as victims began to press their claims against the church.
"Your client should look to Reverend Pickering for compensation for any injuries he may have sustained", church law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth told the representative of one victim in 1994.
The payments to Pickering, which were delivered via two intermediaries in Melbourne and England, continued even as the Archdiocese of Melbourne began compensating his victims through the Melbourne Response program.
A series of criminal complaints about abuse were also filed with Victoria Police in 1995, 1996 and 1998 but the investigation was never actively pursued.
The Sunday Age estimates the Archdiocese paid about $188,000 to Pickering over the first nine years of his flight.
It wasn't until 2002 that the archdiocese of Melbourne, now under Archbishop Denis Hart, decided it was time to stop the payments, which were being processed through the Priests Retirement Foundation.
"We want to know his address so we can write to him and insist that he returns to Melbourne and 'face the music' regarding allegations of sexual abuse in his ministry here in Melbourne," a confidential file note from 2002 states.
But even then the church indicated it was willing to resume support payments if he returned to Australia.
Pickering died in 2009. It is unknown whether he received any financial support from the church after 2002.
All told, 19 people made allegations of sexual abuse against Pickering relating to incidents between 1960 and 1989. The Melbourne Response made an average compensation payment of $37,000 each to 16 victims.
The Archdiocese of Melbourne declined to comment because the matter was the subject of the current hearing by the royal commission.