The independent review into the decision to place former Tumut parish priest Father Brian Hassett next to a Canberra primary school, after he was removed from this parish following an investigation into inappropriate behaviour towards children, has been completed.
Contrary to desires expressed by the Tumut community to Canberra-Goulburn Archbishop Christopher Prowse, the review did not incorporate the investigation that led to Father Brian’s removal from Tumut in the first place. That investigation was conducted by Archdiocesan Professional Standards Officer Matt Casey, who is no longer employed by the Archdiocese as of Friday – timing the Archbishop says is coincidental.
Dr Juliet Lucy, Barrister, conducted the review, after the barrister originally hired for the job, Jane Seymour, stepped aside. Dr Lucy’s report is, in the Archbishop’s own words, “highly humiliating for the Archdiocese.”
One of her key findings is the Archdiocese’s either inability or unwillingness to communicate openly with the community and other stakeholders as the affair became public knowledge.
Her investigations revealed that, along with the Tumut community, stakeholders that were unhappy with the Archdiocese’s communication included staff and parents at the schools, the media, the ACT Education Directorate, the Minister for Education, and even the Catholic Education Office.
She notes that the Archdiocese did not have any risk management policies in place, involving “children in particular” or even “generally.”
“There were strong feelings of anger and betrayal amongst the parent body at the local Catholic school [in Canberra]. It was reported by parents that they felt that there had been a breach of trust on the part of the Archdiocese,” the report said.
“A significant part of the community believes the [Institute of Professional Standards and Safeguarding, the employer of Matt Casey] not to have sufficient independence, because it is seen as being part of the Archdiocese, with no independent oversight.”
The report notes that the Archdiocese is without a policy regarding proper conduct when allegations of child sexual abuse are made against a priest, and suggests that they create one.
“A policy could deal with matters such as the point at which a priest should be moved to a location away from children when allegations are made against him,” the report said.
“Allegations may, of course, be unfounded. Some minor boundary violations may not be considered to justify moving a priest away from children. These are matters which could be set out in a draft policy. The draft policy could also deal with the location of any residence for such a priest in terms of its proximity to vulnerable people.”
Father Brian Hassett was moved to Lanigan House in Canberra due to two historical allegations of inappropriate behaviour involving minors in Tumut, which were found by the IPSS to be “sustained.”
In Dr Lucy’s words, “the first was that he had engaged in a pattern of behaviour towards a girl of 16 years of age that crossed appropriate professional boundaries in that it was overly personal and intimate. The alleged behaviour included embracing the girl in public on multiple occasions and kissing her on the cheek or the back of the head in church.
“The second allegation was that the Priest had touched a girl of eleven or twelve years of age in a manner that was unwarranted, inappropriate and overtly sexual. This alleged behaviour included putting his arms around the girl from behind and nibbling her ear when alone with her in a church.”
However, after the Archdiocese’s investigation and subsequent removal of Father Brian to Lanigan House, the Tumut community, including current and former parents of children at McAuley Catholic Central School, were told that he had moved because he was sick.
The first time details of these allegations were made public to them was via the media earlier this year.
Dr Lucy’s review evaluates the decision to place him in Lanigan House, and makes twenty recommendations for improvement, all of which the Archbishop says will be adopted.
The report also details a number of what it calls “factual errors” in the unfolding of this story. For example, after the news broke that Father Brian was being housed next to primary school children, Archbishop Prowse said in a media release that “a thorough risk assessment was conducted by staff within the [IPSS].”
However, Father Brian was moved to Lanigan House before the IPSS was even established, and two years before any risk assessment was conducted.
Archbishop Prowse also said on ABC radio that the Principal of the relevant primary school had been given the full facts in relation to Father Brian, which was not true and caused a considerable amount of grief between that Principal and the parents of the school.
The Archbishop has since apologised.
Dr Lucy detailed how Father Brian was placed next to a primary school because the Archdiocese believed his risk to children was low and that there was nowhere else to put him.
“The explanation that the Priest was located next to a school due to a lack of other options did not reflect well on the Archdiocese,” she said.
Her biggest recommendation is arguably that the Archdiocese assembles an advisory panel with members outside the church, for example, child protection experts, lawyers, or psychologists, for cases such as this one.
The review can be found in full online, along with the Archbishop’s apology to the Garran community (where Lanigan House is located) at http://cgcatholic.org.au/2017/06/lanigan-house-review/.