Shared Lawyers (Or: An Oldie But a Goodie)

The “Melbourne Response” was a Catholic Church protocol set up by Australia’s only Cardinal, George Pell at the end of the last century to deal with sex abuse claims against clergy there. It was headed by Mr Peter O’Callaghan (pictured below), a Melbourne barrister who was billed as an, “independent commissioner”. As many, from victims to police, have pointed out at the time, he was neither independent, nor a commissioner in that he was paid by the Catholic Church and had no formal secular powers. Indeed, Mr O’Callaghan had once informed a victim, according to activist Dr Charmley, who was present, that he had, “the powers of a royal commissioner,” which, of course, was totally false.

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Because it is central to the royal commission’s terms of reference to consider institutional responses, the Melbourne Response will come under close scrutiny. The saying goes that you can judge people by the company they keep. Similarly, you can judge organisations by the lawyers they keep.

Mr O’Callaghan was made a legend of the Victorian Bar Association when he became the oldest practicing barrister at age 82. He has been a lawyer for over 50 years, and a QC for 40 years. When Pell goes to Rome to vote for a new Pope, three Cardinals will not have a vote because they over 80. The Church considers them too old to vote rationally. The principle, apparently, is waived for attorneys advising Cardinals.

The Victorian Police have been very critical of both the Melbourne Response and Mr O’Callaghan. The ABC (11 October, 2012) reported that, “Police say the methods used by Mr O’Callaghan have effectively dissuaded victims from reporting abuse to authorities.” As one victim, Mark Fabbro, stated, “I was dissuaded by Mr O’Callaghan from reporting these crimes to the police. I was also dissuaded from attempting to seek justice … He said it was pointless as priests had made a vow of poverty” (ABC, 6 November, 2012). On another occasion, Mr O’Callaghan had advised a victim that a criminal case was unlikely to succeed. Police considered this to be a conflict of interest.

Mr O’Callaghan refutes such criticisms. In an opinion piece for the Age newspaper (20 December, 2011), he opposes a royal commission. He claims he lets people know that they can approach police and encourages them to do so; however, if they do, then any offers of compensation would be withdrawn.

Mr O’Callaghan is a very generous man. When the former principal of the Holy Family Primary School in Doveton, Victoria, Graeme Sleeman, who had been a whistleblower about abuses at his school, later had a breakdown and descended into poverty, Mr O’Callaghan helped out. He gave Mr Sleeman $90,000 out of his own pocket, as he put it, “out of compassion.” Mr Sleeman now maintains a positive public attitude towards Mr O’Callaghan and the Melbourne Response. The Sydney Morning Herald had previously reported that Mr Sleeman had his, “career ruined over his stand against a paedophile priest.”

As well as dissuading victims from reporting to police, Victorian Police officials also accused the Catholic Church of removing files, moving or protecting offenders, and obtaining injunctions and imposing legal professional privilege to prevent release of evidence.

As if this weren’t bad enough, the police dropped the bombshell of accusing Mr O’Callaghan and the Catholic Church of alerting suspects that they were under police investigation.

There were two major incidents of concern. The first was a claimed tip-off of a priest, Father Farrugia, of a police sting operation. The Times of Malta (5 June, 2010) reported that, “The tip-off by Mr O’Callaghan left the police unable to use certain methods to collect information, including recording the alleged victim phoning Father Farrugia. However, they still managed to gather enough information to charge him.” Father Farrugia had been moved to Melbourne from Malta, where there is an ongoing outcry about local abuses.

The second case makes an outsider wonder about the tolerant attitude of Victoria’s regulators of the legal profession, as Mr O’Callaghan received no sanctions from them for his behaviour in this instance.

Police claim Mr O’Callaghan tipped off a now-convicted priest, Paul Pavlou, that he was the target of a covert police enquiry. A victim and his mother had told Mr O’Callaghan in his role of “independent commissioner” of abuses by Mr Pavlou. Mr O’Callaghan learned of the police enquiry when they asked him to provide documents about the priest. He then notified the priest’s lawyers that the boy’s allegations had been “reported to police and apparently police are considering the matter.” There had also been reports to the police that the priest had child pornography images on  his personal computer.

When police arrived at the priest’s door with the object of seizing his computer, it appeared to them that he had been expecting them. To their horror, detectives found a letter in his office from his lawyers advising him that he was the subject of a criminal investigation that may involve a search of his house and the seizing of his computer. Surprise, surprise. They then found that the computer’s hard-drive had been wiped clean.

Unfortunately for Mr Pavlou, forensic data recovery methods had progressed sufficiently to recover more than 1,000 child pornography images. In future, perhaps, Catholic Church lawyers might advise people like Mr Pavlou to simply throw out their computers.

For abusing the boy and possessing child pornography, Pavlou only received an 18-month suspended gaol term and was placed on the Sex Offenders Register (which is not available to the public).

Read more here:

POSTSCRIPT: Football fans may be more familiar with Mr o’callaghan in his role as head of the Appeals Board for the Australian Football League. He has held the position for the past quarter-century.

POSTSCRIPT: As mentioned in an earlier post, the Catholic Church shared Mr O’Callaghan’s talents with the Anglican Church to head the Anglican Church’s Brisbane investigations.

TOMORROW: The psychologists

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)

 

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