The investigation into Father Brian Hassett

The investigation into Father Brian Hassett

Father Brian Hassett (right), former Tumut parish priest, pictured here with former Tumut mayor John Larter.

 

TIMELINE OF EVENTS

1990 – Father Brian is appointed priest of the Tumut parish.
1994 – Father Brian discusses with the Tumut parish the fact that he has had relationships with women despite his vow of celibacy, and has fathered a child in a previous parish.
2004 – Complainants submit a letter to Bishop Power, an auxiliary Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn at the time, regarding Father Brian’s inappropriate conduct around children. This involved “boundary violations” such as kissing children on the head, hugging children, and allowing children into his house alone. Father Brian is spoken to about his behaviour, and the principal of McAuley Catholic Central School at the time agrees they have a “justifiable grievance.” Nothing more is done.
2013 – The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse begins.
2014 – The letter to Bishop Power is seen by Archdiocesan Professional Standards Officer Matt Casey in a review of old files in possession of the Catholic Church, and he asks the NSW Ombudsman if the matter should be revisited. The Ombudsman agrees that it should be. Matt Casey begins an internal investigation on behalf of the Catholic Church.
2014 – Matt Casey interviews the original complainants, with some allegations of boundary violations substantiated, some not, and some found to be “not reportable conduct”. There are also similar accounts of boundary violations in Father Brian’s previous parish, according to Mr Casey, where he acted in a similar manner of hugging and kissing children and being alone with them. He also interviews a second victim, who recalls Father Brian hugging her from behind and “nibbling or sucking” on her ear on two occasions when she was around ten years old. Father Brian does not deny the allegations of boundary violations, and indeed members of the Tumut community do not deny them either, saying he was like that with everybody. He says he does not have any recollection of the second allegation.
2014 – Matt Casey presents Father Brian with a brief rundown of the allegations, not the full material, and gives him five days to prepare a response before an interview takes place. Father Brian’s computer is searched, with nothing untoward found. According to Father Brian’s defence team, he was not given an opportunity to respond to Matt Casey’s report, which contained the full allegations, and was moved to Canberra. His right to exercise public ministry is removed. The Tumut parish is told this was due to illness.
2014 – The Father Brian case is reviewed by the NSW Ombudsman Office, and the NSW Professional Standards Office.
2015 –  Members of the Tumut parish repeatedly contact the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese, and also ask questions of Father Brian’s replacement, Father Sijo Jose, regarding Father Brian’s departure, over a period of about a year. At Father Sijo’s request a meeting is held between some parishioners, Matt Casey, and the Canberra-Goulburn Vicar General. The truth of Father Brian’s departure is discussed here, but not widely communicated to the Tumut community.
2017 – Archbishop of the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese Christopher Prowse speaks at the Royal Commission. He says, “the days of us in house looking at these on our own are gone.”
2017 – The national media, including the Canberra Times, the ABC, and the Guardian, report that Father Brian was moved to Lanigan House, a home for retired priests, due to allegations of inappropriate behaviour in Tumut. The reports are based around the fact that Lanigan House is located next to a primary school and near a school for special needs children. This is the first time the allegations against Father Brian have become public knowledge.
2017 – The Archbishop of the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese Christopher Prowse apologises to the Canberra community, moves Father Brian to another location, and announces a review into the decision to place him in Lanigan House.
2017 – McAuley Catholic Central School staff are instructed by the Catholic Education Office not to speak to the media.
2017 – The Tumut and Adelong Times is given material from Father Brian’s defence team from 2014. They ask Matt Casey and the Archdiocese about the material. The Catholic Church threatens legal action if any material from the briefs is published.
2017 – Archbishop Prowse and Matt Casey hold a public meeting in Tumut, where the Father Brian case is discussed. The Archbishop says he will take on board what the community has said, but no specific action is announced.

 

Priest denied natural justice say lawyers

Archdiocesan Professional Standards Officer Matt Casey speaking to the Tumut parish last Sunday.

Advocates for Father Brian Hasset argue he has been denied procedural fairness and natural justice by an investigation conducted by the Catholic Church into allegations of inappropriate behaviour involving children.

Father Brian was moved to Canberra in 2014 after an investigation on behalf of the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese performed by Archdiocesan Professional Standards Officer Matt Casey.

Father Brian was represented by two people during and after the investigation, Reverend John Salvano, his Advocate within the Catholic Church, and independent solicitors employed by W.G. Muddle at the office of McAuley Hawach solicitors, based in Sydney.

A local source has passed the briefs from these parties on to the Tumut and Adelong Times.

W.G. Muddle, solicitor, writes, “In my opinion there has been a substantial denial of natural justice to Fr Hassett and the findings of Mr M.W. Casey contained in his report apparently finalised and delivered to the Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn on March 21 2014 are seriously flawed and liable to remedy in a Civil Court.”

The investigation into Father Brian’s behaviour was undertaken within the Catholic Church and was not taken on by police and therefore did not go through the courts. It was overseen by the NSW Ombudsman’s Office, who approved of the work done by Mr Casey. However, those representing Father Brian state that a fair trial is a requirement even outside of the court system.

The advocate and solicitors working for Father Brian’s defence argue that he was not made aware of the full accusations against him before he was expected to defend himself.

According to the brief from W.G. Muddle, Father Brian was given a letter from the Archbishop by Matt Casey, and given five business days to prepare a response. In this letter there were two allegations against him. The first was explained in six lines of text, and did not go into any more specific or clear detail than that he “on a number of occasions during 2003 and 2004 you put your arms around her and/or kissed her on the head and attempted to kiss her on the cheek” and that this occurred “in both the around the school and the school and around the church when other people were around (sic),” and that also “during 1999 or 2000 when involved in altar servicing (sic) you showed her and two other children around your hose (sic) including the upper floors.”

In regards to the second allegation, it informed Father Brian that he was being accused of inappropriate behaviour on two occasions during 1989 or 1990, in five lines of text.

This was the extent of the detail into the accusations communicated to Father Brian, and the solicitors write that Mr Casey had substantially more information about what Father Brian was being accused of, as he had been investigating Father Brian for months. However, he did not share this with Father Brian at any stage and in doing so denied Father Brian the opportunity to prepare a response, they say.

After giving Father Brian this letter from the Archbishop, Matt Casey then held an interview with him.

It should be noted that Father Brian’s solicitors were hired for the specific purpose of defending him, and that the Tumut and Adelong Times have not had an opportunity to view the transcript of the interview ourselves. That being said, from their standpoint, they write that, “the interview is so unstructured and devoid of precision, that it is hard to get any sense that the participants are even talking about what purports to be the same events.”

Father Brian was told in his initial letter from the Archbishop that following the interview Matt Casey would prepare a preliminary report, to which he would be allowed to respond. If this took place, it would be the first time Father Brian would have actually had an opportunity to fully hear the allegations against him.

Instead, the next piece of correspondence he had with the Archbishop was a meeting in which it was told he would be moved from the parish of Tumut to home for retired priests, Lanigan House, Canberra, where he remained at the will of the Archdiocese until his case reached the national media last month.

This was a denial of Father Brian’s right to know and respond to the case against him, W.G.Muddle writes. “[It] is a clear denial of procedural fairness and a fundamental denial of natural justice. The difference between the process held out and the process in fact followed is so stark and fundamental, that in my view a contrary conclusion is not even arguable,” he said.

The solicitors argue that there were further problems with the way the investigation was conducted.

In regards to the first set of allegations, involving boundary violations, the solicitors write that the alleged victim, who was easily a legal adult at the time of the investigation, was interviewed in the company of her parents.

“This compromises the evidence given as the parents were the instigators of the complaint and had already given evidence themselves…her evidence has not been given freely or without influence,” the Advocate said.

The girl’s parents made the initial complaint against Father Brian in 2004, and it was reopened for investigation by Mr Casey in 2014.

In fact, in her interview with Matt Casey, the alleged victim reportedly stated “I am not a victim,” and “there was no real event,” and “I don’t expect or need anything to be done.” Reverend Salvano sums up her interview as, “her statements indicate she was…not a willing witness, though prepared to go along with her parents’ wishes to be interviewed.”

There were also discrepancies between the victim’s account of events and the parents’, along with timeline discrepancies.

Reverend Salvano writes that, “where there is a contradiction or a difference in emphasis or interpretation, the PSO [Professional Standards Officer Matt Casey] should have taken the testimony of [the alleged victim] as the more reliable. There is no reason to believe her memory is less acute than that of her parents.”

Another issue raised is who was involved in giving evidence.

Matt Casey reportedly only spoke to community and parish members that he was asked to speak to by the parents. Reverend Salvano, in his brief, said, “The PSO has not attempted to gain other narratives of the events…the complainants are attempting to control the gathering of evidence. Given this, it is of concern that the PSO has not investigated the possible motives of the [complainants] in bringing forward the allegations – an issue raised consistently by Fr Hassett.”

He goes on: “the process and the report have been a denial of justice to Fr Hassett. The integrity of the investigation was corrupted by the confusion of roles of the PSO, his statements regarding the source of the complaints, and his error of judgement in allowing [the parents] to attend the interview with their adult daughter, who was co-opted into providing testimony.”

Her parents allegations against Father Brian were fourfold.

The first was that Father Brian had inappropriate photos of children on his computer. Father Brian’s computer was searched during his interview with Matt Casey, without him being given prior notice, and the only photos of children found were to be normal and benign photos of school and parish life.

The second was that Father Brian sent an inappropriate holiday postcard to a student (not their daughter). However, again, when this postcard was viewed during the investigation it turned out to be a normal and benign postcard that anyone would send to anyone else.

Reverend John Salvano describes these allegations in comparison with what was discovered to be “mischievous and misleading.”

The third accusation was that Father Brian frequently put his arms around the girl and kissed her on the head or attempted to kiss her on the head many times, in a pattern of behaviour.

The fourth was that the girl and others were invited into Father Brian’s house.

The alleged victim also stated that Father Brian’s general actions while she was a student at McAuley Catholic Central School, where he was situated, made her feel “uncomfortable” as he was “touchy-feely,” the briefs state.

Related to this set of allegations is the reported fact that a former principal at McAuley spoke to Father Brian about his behaviour towards children, and thought that the complainants had a “justifiable grievance.”

The second allegation, which reads “you cuddled [a child] from behind with both your arms around her and nibbled or sucked on her ear,” is undoubtedly the more serious one.

Reverend John Salvano, Advocate for Father Brian, makes a point of saying that “the testimony of [the victim] appears sincere and detailed,” and that in fact, “the two young women [the victims] have conducted themselves honourably and urbanely in the investigation, which was not at their instigation.”

However, the solicitors argue that the way the investigation was conducted, especially in regards to the first allegation, make it difficult to trust the process of the internal investigation, as it denied Father Brian procedural fairness.

Mr Casey said the briefs prepared by the solicitors and the advocate were considered by the Archdiocese.

For a 24/7 sexual assault and family violence support helpline call 1800respect
For adult survivors of child abuse call Blue Knot Foundation at 1300 657 380, 9 – 5 seven days a week
Call Lifeline at 131 114
More services at www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/su

OPINION: Community has right to know

On Thursday last week, the Tumut and Adelong Times received a letter from the lawyers of the Institute of Professional Standards and Safeguarding, Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn.

The letter threatened legal action if we published any of the contents of the legal briefs from W.G. Muddle, solicitor, and Reverend John Salvano, advocate, prepared for Father Brian’s defence in 2014.

Material from those briefs can be found in this edition of the Tumut and Adelong Times, and they were published because we believe it is in the public interest to do so.

The issue, here, is not Father Brian’s guilt or innocence, and the intention in publishing details of the case is not to establish his guilt or his innocence. The intention is to provide the Tumut community with information they have a right to know.

Whether or not the Tumut parish priest, who served for over thirty years, was moved away due to an investigation into child sexual abuse, is something the people of Tumut have a right to know.

They deserve to know what those allegations were, and how that conclusion was reached. Especially in a small town, the priest is a public figure, and him being moved to another parish, especially without any form of honest communication, is an action that affects the entire community. When a decision made by a powerful body, such as the Catholic Church, has an effect on people’s lives, then those people, at the very least, have a right to information about that decision. That information has not been communicated by the Archdiocese.

The honesty of the victims in this case should not be put into doubt, and it’s worth noting that Father Brian’s own Advocate for his defence stated that “the two young women have acted honourably and urbanely in this investigation,” and that, in regards to the victim involved in the second allegation, that her testimony appears “sincere and detailed.” Speaking to an investigator about personal and distressing matters such as this requires bravery and strength, and they are to be commended for participating. However, if the allegations they have made are true, and if those allegations suggest Father Brian did cause distress to children during his time in Tumut, then that raises significant issues of its own about the church’s approach.

The Archbishop apologised, recently, to the people of Canberra for the decision to place Father Brian next to a primary school. The children of Canberra were in the vicinity of Father Brian for two years. The children of Tumut were in the vicinity of Father Brian for over thirty years. Yet the church has not apologised to the people of Tumut, until Sunday. They have not even transparently communicated with the people of Tumut that this investigation occurred, until Sunday. They have held a public meeting, but they did not reveal in this meeting what the allegations against Father Brian were, only saying that there were “boundary violations” and “overtly sexual inappropriate touching”, which are terms that are vastly open to interpretation. They have responded to questions about the process of the investigation with the threat of legal action. The people of Tumut have not been treated with respect by the Archdiocese, on a matter that is evidently very close to many people’s hearts.

The main narrative coming from the Archdiocese seems to be, “Father Brian is guilty, he deserved to be moved to Canberra, you don’t need to know any more, just trust us.” Whether he is guilty or not, the community can be forgiven for not placing their trust in the Catholic Church in regards to their internal handling of allegations of child sexual abuse. It’s true that the church’s investigation was overseen by the NSW Ombudsman Office, but the difference between a court case and an investigation overseen by the NSW Ombudsman Office is that in a court case the allegations, investigation, and defence materials are available for the public record. An integral element of the judicial system is that it is transparent, and therefore accountable to the public. Every day people are accorded the right to know what is going on in their communities. That has not taken place in regards to Father Brian.

The Catholic Church has been widely criticised for responding to allegations of child sexual abuse by simply moving the accused priests’ away from their parishes without communicating the reason to the communities in which they served. It seems that this is exactly what has occurred here, and the clear feelings of hurt and betrayal felt by many members of the Tumut community, within the Catholic parish and outside of it, would appear to be justified. It also seems clear that it is in the public interest for us to publish any information we may have about this matter, since it has not been made available by the Archdiocese itself.