Church's abuse response 'heartless', says priest
Father Kevin Dillon at St Mary's Church in Geelong. Photo: John Woudstra
One of Victoria's most senior Catholic priests says the church's abuse procedures have failed and must be closed down.
"Time is up, the church has had more than a fair chance. The Melbourne Response and Towards Healing have lost all credibility and are beyond repair," Father Kevin Dillon told the Victorian inquiry into clergy sex abuse, meeting in Geelong on Friday.
Father Dillon of St Mary's Basilica, who was given a standing ovation by the gallery after his testimony, said the church response had been heartless, adversarial, and showed "a culture of denial" about the impact on victims.
A noted campaigner within the church on behalf of victims, Father Dillon said he had consistent contact with 30 victims. "Sadly but importantly, I have yet to hear one victim speak positively of their experience with either church process" (Melbourne or national), he said
Chairwoman Georgie Crozier announced that the inquiry deadline had been extended from April 30 to September 30 to allow it to finish its research. "The committee focused on a thorough inquiry, not a hasty one," she said.
The inquiry had heard from more than 60 public witnesses plus many more in private, had received several hundred submissions, played a role in bringing about the royal commission, and led to fresh arrests last week, through the police task force attached to the inquiry, Ms Crozier said. It had much more work to do.
Father Dillon said the church should be forced to set up a pastoral fund for victims, administered by an independent committee. Paid for by compulsory contributions from each parish of $20 to $50 a week for two years, this would raise up to $400,000.
"We can run raffles. We Catholics are pretty good at raising money," he said. Asked by committee member Andrea Coote whether the church would pay, Father Dillon replied it should not be given a choice.
He said he suggested the idea to several diocesan leaders but was ignored. Finally he was given a meeting with the Vicar-General, but it was the day the parliamentary inquiry was announced and he was told the fund idea would not proceed.
He criticised church leadership for "not once" ever contacting former victims to see how they were getting on, and advocated a support group similar to Alcoholics Anonymous.
Asked by committee member Bronwyn Halfpenny whether other priests were doing what he did, Father Dillon said: "Well, I'm probably the noisiest."
He criticised a speech given by Sydney Archbishop George Pell in Scotland in 2011, in which Cardinal Pell said the church realised in 1996 it would have to act or "the scandals will bleed us dry". Father Dillon asked, "does that mean it really is all about the money?"
He said church leadership did not value "the ordinary person in the church, yet they are 99.5 per cent of the people". He observed that most candidates to replace Benedict XVI as pope had not been parish priests, or if they were it was a very long time ago.
Friday was the second day of hearings in Geelong, but Thursday's testimony was in private. Besides Father Dillon, four victims gave their stories of being abused, and how the church dealt with them.