Since allegations against Father Brian Hassett relating to misconduct involving children were published this week, the Tumut and Adelong Times has been contacted by many members of the local community seeking to speak out in support of the former parish priest at McAuley Catholic Church and school for over thirty years.
In 2012, Tumut Shire Council invited Fr Brian to open a new children’s playground at the top of the Bull Paddock.
John Larter was the mayor of the council at the time and was among those who suggested Fr Brian’s name be placed on a plaque commemorating the opening.
Amid reports this week surfacing about allegations of incidents involving Fr Brian and two children, Mr Larter says he has no regrets about the decision to link Fr Brian to the park.
Mr Larter this week phoned the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese seeking information about the allegations.
“I would say firstly that I abhor any acts involving abuse of children and that I do not cast judgement on anyone that has made a complaint or the veracity of those allegations,” Mr Larter said.
“I can only go on my personal dealings with Fr Brian, those of my family and the many people I know in the community.
“The person I know is a likeable rogue; someone respected and loved beyond the Catholic community. I certainly never had any concerns having him around my young children. No allegation or evidence I’ve seen to this point changes that perception.”
Mr Larter said if there were plans afoot to move Fr Brian from his current accommodation in Canberra, then the archdiocese should consider returning him to Tumut, where, up until 2013, he spent 30 years serving the community.
“Judging from the support I’ve witnessed for Fr Brian this week, I believe the community would welcome his return,” Mr Larter said.
“If there’s evidence to indicate that shouldn’t happen, then I’d urge the Archdiocese to provide the community with it.
“The church talks about being open and transparent, but so far in this instance it has not been.”
Vincent Le has visited Fr Brian in Canberra since he was moved there in 2014.
He said the circumstances of his departure have taken their toll, but that he remains in “great spirits.”
“He misses home, and he misses the congregation,” Mr Le said.
“He got to know the whole town and of course he feels hurt that he had to leave.”
Mr Le was a McAuley Catholic Central School student from kindergarten to Year 10, and attended Church every weekend for over ten years when Father Brian was the priest there.
“He was a great man and I looked up to him, I can’t say enough good things about him. We were very close to him; he’s very well respected.”
Other former McAuley students give similar reports.
Fr Brian would reportedly use Church donations to supply needy people in the community with fuel vouchers and groceries, or money for school excursions.
One member of the local parish, Casey Madigan, echoed comments made by other sources when she said that Fr Brian was disliked by his superiors in the Catholic hierarchy and some in the community due to his progressive approach to Catholicism.
“Father Brian was not your typical Catholic priest,” Ms Madigan said.
“He was more interested in community than he was about the institution. He was more interested in inclusion than he was about your sexuality and your personal choices. He was more interested in forgiveness than he was about identifying your sins. The very reasons that made our Father Brian so special are the reasons a particular few wanted him gone.
“Their discomfort in a different way of practicing the Catholic faith, outside of its disconnected dogma, inspired them to piggyback on the many accusations of child grooming in the Church and accuse him of similar behaviour.
“At the expense of this [accusation] was his life, his home, his community, his well-being and my home town’s binding force. Father Brian can take solace in the fact that more widespread than these allegations are the truth and the support of his community.
“Growing up, I went to Church. First, because the school told me I had to and second, because of our Priest Father Brian. His kindness was felt by every one who knew him. He was and still is in my eyes the face of true love and acceptance and all the virtues that the Catholic Church promotes but often fails to deliver on in way of its obsolete ‘rules.’”