Catholic Church officials have been likened to outlaw motorcycle gangs, drug cartels and people smugglers in an explosive speech delivered at a legal conference in Victoria.
Lawyer and lobbyist Bryan Keon-Cohen said the church, currently at the centre of a royal commission into the handling of child sex abuse complaints, saw itself as above the law and resisted governmental responses to child sex abuse.
Dr Keon-Cohen, the president of community lobby group COIN (Commission of Inquiry Now), said the church's own mechanisms for investigating abuse, such as Towards Healing and the Melbourne Response, were insufficient and objectionable.
"They seek to replace due process of civil and criminal law, while not being open for public scrutiny and accountability," he said.
Dr Keon-Cohen said the church's refusal to recognise assault as a crime first and not merely a sin amounted to it putting Catholic doctrine before the law of the land.
"(This) places these officials ... in the same smelly bed as outlaw motorcycle gangs, the mafia, drug cartels and people smugglers," he said.
In the speech at the Australian Lawyers Alliance Victorian State Conference on Friday, Dr Keon-Cohen also said wealthy organisations should help pay for the royal commission where it could be proven they were responsible for offences.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse had already cost $22 million by April and was expected to run long past its current deadline of December 2015, Dr Keon-Cohen said.
He estimated it could cost "in the order of $500 million" based on the reported $50 million bill for the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.
In budget papers delivered earlier this week, the Victorian government allocated $434.1 million over four years for the wide-reaching inquiry.
The royal commission should explore whether organisations it was investigating could help cover the cost, Dr Keon-Cohen said.
"I suggest that the [inquiry] be required to examine a further source of funds, i.e. wealthy organisations found, on the evidence, to have substantially contributed, due to their derelict practices, to the sexual abuse scandal," Dr Keon-Cohen said.
Such contributions should reflect their assets and "degree of culpability", he said.
Institutional cover-ups of the primary crime, the criminal assault, constituted a second level of abuse, Dr Keon-Cohen said.
"Such callous disregard for the victim's plight ...amounts to not merely rank hypocrisy, but a second round of abuse," he said.
Chief executive officer of the Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council Francis Sullivan said the church had put in place procedures in the mid-1990s designed to prevent sexual abuse and to ensure past victims and survivors were treated with dignity and respect.
‘‘These improvements and procedures will be built upon as we learn more from victims and survivors who come forward to the Royal Commission and as the Council undertakes its own research and policy development,’’ he said.