A Catholic priest stood down amid child sexual abuse allegations has declined to comment about the case, while his parishioners say they are in disbelief.
Father Peter Grasby, parish priest of St Mary Magdalen, Jordanville, near Chadstone, told The Age this morning that he did not want to discuss the alleged incidents involving a boy aged 10 to 14 in another parish more than 30 years ago.
"No, I don't want to talk about it with anybody, sorry," Father Grasby said, before hanging up.
Earlier, six people gathered for mass in his church, which borders St Mary Magdalen primary school.
Most in attendance declined to comment on Father Grasby, who was put on administrative leave on August 31.
"We liked him as he was," one man said.
"It's all a bit hard to believe."
Monsignor Greg Bennet, vicar-general of the Melbourne archdiocese, said that Father Grasby was helping independent commissioner Jeff Gleeson, SC, in his inquiries, and that he denied the allegations.
The allegations had not been reported to the police, despite the church urging the alleged victim to do so, because he explicitly did not want to go to the police and signed a document confirming that, Monsignor Bennet said.
The complaint comes as the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the handling of child-sex cases by churches and non-government organisations begins public hearings tomorrow. With the inquiry receiving wide media attention, many victims have come forward, to the church, to police or merely to make submissions.
In the letter to Jordanville parishioners, Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart said that until Mr Gleeson completed his inquiries, "we must neither rush to judgment, nor make any judgment … The presumption of innocence applies to Father Grasby."
He wrote that the archdiocese established the independent commissioner in 1996 as part of the Melbourne Response to be the first contact point for anyone wanting to make complaints about priests and church workers.
"The independent commissioner is empowered by the archbishop to require the attendance before him of all Catholic priests who are the subject of complaints.
"The independent commissioner may interview the complainant, the accused and relevant witnesses, conduct hearings and provide the archbishop with both interim and final recommendations for appropriate action."
In its submission to the parliamentary inquiry, the Catholic Church admitted that it had upheld 618 cases of criminal child abuse in Victoria since the Melbourne Response and Towards Healing protocol, which covers the rest of Australia, began in 1996.
All but 13 related to offences before 1990, the church said.
Supply priests are performing Father Grasby's liturgical and pastoral duties in the meantime.
Asked how the congregation was reacting, the present supply priest, Father Anthony Guelen, said yesterday that the parishioners could not talk to The Age because they did not know anything.