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Church committed to safe environment: priest

Current Catholic priest for the Tumut parish, Father Sijo Jose, has spoken about the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The Royal Commission has been investigating child abuse allegations against the Catholic Church, and other institutions, for over three years.

They revealed that 4,444 victims have made complaints to the church involving 1,880 alleged perpetrators within the Catholic hierachy over the past 35 years.

The true number of victims is estimated to be significantly higher, as that number only includes those who reported their abuse to the Dioceses.

Father Sijo’s predecessor, Father Brian Hassett, was moved from Tumut to Canberra in 2013 after allegations of inappropriate touching, primarily that he kissed a child on the forehead and attempted to kiss her on the cheek, and hugged another child from behind and nibbled on her ear, were made against him.

Father Sijo directed questions about Father Brian to the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese, who have not responded to repeated attempts to question them.

However, speaking about the Royal Commission generally, he made the following statement:

“As we know, Bishops are appearing in front of the Royal Commission, and the Diocese have already published guidelines for everyone involved with working with children, so certain things are already in place, and we are all more careful. We look at things very seriously.

“It’s mandatory to have a Working with Children check to work in the parish and the school, and if something happens we should inform the police.

“Everyone is aware of what is happening, what is right, what is wrong, what our limitations are, and what we should not do. We are all trying to create a safe environment for everyone, including children. We are committed to creating a safe atmosphere for them.

“It’s horrible, the findings [of the Royal Commission] are horrible. We all agree we made mistakes in the past. As Pope Francis says, it is a sin of shame. The Church is both a divine and human institution, and as human elements are involved it needs constant correction and change. If you don’t do that, you’ll be in trouble.

“Some, not all, but some have lost their trust and faith in priests, and to regain that trust is very difficult. I think what we are doing now is the right process, that we say that we are sorry.

“This affects the entire church, not one or two priests. Not all the priests are responsible, we’re not all bad priests, but because of a few we are all suffering, because we are looked at with suspicion by the people.

“You can’t blame the Church as a whole, the Church has done a lot of good things, in the education and medical fields. They are the pioneers in those fields. With this sin of shame, the good name of all those things are gone, and it takes time to regain those things.”