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Church officer defends investigation

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

Archdiocesan Professional Standards Officer Matt Casey revealed several new details about the 2014 investigation into Father Brian Hassett at a public meeting in Tumut on Sunday.

Mr Casey said that during his investigation he uncovered evidence that Father Brian had engaged in “boundary violations” similar to the ones he has been accused of in Tumut in a former parish.

Boundary violations include behaviour such as hugging children, kissing them on the head, and inviting them into his private residence.

Mr Casey said that Father Brian is not a paedophile, and Archbishop Christopher Prowse also clarified that Father Brian is not an “ex-priest” despite what has been written in the media.

“If we look at the evidence before the Royal Commission, very little of that is about paedophilia,” Mr Casey said.

“Of all the priests that have been investigated in our dioceses, there are two that I would classify as paedophilia.”

They said that they had contacted media outlets about their use of terms in their reporting of the matter, but that they only had so much power to control what was being written.

Mr Casey also responded to criticism that the investigation was conducted without transparency, and to comments from members of the Tumut community that spoke at the meeting that his work seemed to lack “rigour” – that it was a “dog’s breakfast,” as one parishioner put it.

The Archdiocese have not made publicly available details of what the specific allegations against Father Brian were, beyond that they involved “boundary violations” and “inappropriate touching.”

Mr Casey added on Sunday that one of the allegations was of an “overtly sexual” nature, presumably referring to the second allegation, which involved Father Brian hugging a 10 year old girl from behind and nibbling or sucking on her ear, when they were alone, on more than one occasion.

That information has not been released by the Archdiocese, but was made available to the Tumut and Adelong Times from another source.

They have also not released information about the process of the investigation or the evidence used in it, but Mr Casey did speak about the process on Sunday.

“One of the allegations was referred to police, and after careful consideration they decided not to pursue that and to let it proceed in an internal investigation,” he said.

“The police were consulted and the victim was given time to consider, and she decided she didn’t want to go forward.”

He said since the case didn’t go forward, there was no mention of it in the NSW Police records.

Mr Casey said the investigation was undertaken through the proper channels.

“[The allegations] were all investigated under Part 3a of the NSW Ombudsman Act,” he said.

“Organisations have a responsibility to investigate complaints. When it’s not a matter that’s going to be investigated by the police, it is investigated under…the NSW Ombudsman Act.

“It’s an oversight body for schools, churches, and so on, and it’s there so that you can’t say ‘you’re covering up.’ The other reason for it is to protect the person being accused. It’s protection for the church, the Archbishop, and for each and every one of us, because it protects false or malicious allegations from going through.”

Mr Casey explained that the investigation into Father Brian was initiated by him, after he was asked as part of his role as Archdiocesan Professional Standards Officer to review the church’s old files and look for discrepancies.

He uncovered an old complaint regarding Father Brian, and decided to reopen the investigation after consulting with the Ombudsman’s Office.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse was present at the meeting, and said that he was “here to listen.”

He also spoke at the end of the discussion, starting by answering questions about Father Brian’s health.

“Father Brian’s health is fragile and we are monitoring his health and assessing his health to see what is the best care that we can give him,” Archbishop Prowse said.

“His health is up and down, but he’s clear as a bell intellectually – mentally – and he thanks you for the greetings that some of you have sent.”

The Archdiocese has planned a review of the decision to place Father Brian in home for retired priests, Lanigan House, next to a primary school, and one request from the meeting was for the review to also include a review of the original investigation that led to him being placed there.

Archbishop Prowse said he would have to receive advice before making a decision, but that he would take the concerns of the Tumut community “on board.”

He also discussed the decision to tell the Tumut parish that Father Brian was sick when he was originally moved to Canberra, when the real reason was the investigation into inappropriate behaviour involving children.

This fiction was maintained for a little over a year, when Mr Casey and the Canberra-Goulburn Vicar-General held a meeting with certain members of the Tumut parish.

Archbishop Prowse said he was giving Father Brian time to prepare his defence, which took two or three months.

“I do apologise, very sincerely, that I moved Father Brian to Canberra to prepare his defence,” he said.

“I wasn’t in a position to brief [the community]. I do apologise, you might say ‘Canberra just moved him and didn’t tell us anything’ but I was not in a position to do so at that time.”

The Archbishop opened and closed the meeting with a prayer, and spoke about the Royal Commission in general.

“As your Archbishop I think what disturbs me the most is that this can have a tsunami effect on faith,” he said.

“People say, ‘can we trust you?’”

“I have heard the victims stories, and they are horrendous. I look forward to the recommendations of the Royal Commission…I think they will be a mirror that we can all hold up, not just for the church, but for all of us.”