In a surprise move, the NSW government enquiry into clerical child sexual abuse in the Newcastle region has reconvened in Sydney to hear more detail on the previous evidence of Brian Lucas, the Secretary of the Australian (Catholic) Bishops’ Conference.
Lucas was the one who, in six years of interviewing suspected paedophile priests, with a view to convincing them to retire discreetly without police being involved, decided to keep no notes of his activities. In the absence of notes, poor Lucas was unable to remember anything about his activities in this regard, which ran from 1990 to 1996.
Suggestions have been raised at earlier hearings of the enquiry that this was so that there would be no “paper trail” which would be available to police and victims lawyers. It was raised again at this new hearing, which suggests it may be a serious focus of the enquiry report, possibly leading to accusations of misprision of a felony offence (covering up a crime), or perjury to the enquiry.
Lucas briefly attended the hearing and told TV news that he had no comment because his lawyers had advised him to hold his tongue until the final enquiry report is released. Lucas himself is a lawyer as well as a priest.
Many observers have held the view that the enquiry had allowed Lucas to get away with inconsistencies in his evidence, and that there was no real challenge to his claims of poor recollection of events. The Royal Commission which begins hearing next week, has the ability to revisit Lucas’ evidence.
The re-opened enquiry has heard from John Usher, the current chancellor of George Pell’s archdiocese of Sydney. Usher had been Lucas’ sidekick during the years of touring parishes, putting the hard word on the paedophile priests. Lucas said they talked, together, with about 35 priests, but now Usher says it was more like one.
Usher appears intent on distancing himself from Lucas. Usher told the enquiry that, with reference to Lucas’ evidence, “some of the recollections described differ from my own recollections.” He also said he, unlike apparently Lucas, did keep some records, and in the only two cases where a priest had admitted an offence to him, had referred it to police.
In his own, and the Church’s, defence Usher put forward the usual line that people did not know much about the effects on victims, thought priests could be cured, were likely to have offended only once, and with help would never re-offend, so could be forgiven and forgotten about.
The enquiry head, Deputy Senior Crown Prosecutor, Ms. Cunneen (see previous postings) would surely be aware of how ludicrous it would seem for a defence lawyer for a bank-robber claiming everything was O.K. because the defendant had sought counseling and would not rob a bank again, and so should be set free immediately. Indeed, the judge might be inclined to rebuke the defence lawyer for treating the court with ridicule.
Lucas, Pell, and others like them, have too often been allowed to play this “get out of jail free” card without real challenge during the NSW enquiry. Hopefully, the Royal Commissioners will not be quite so tolerant of being taken for fools.
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Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)