Case Study 44: Hearing room updates

Case Study 44 - Thursday 22 September 2016 - Day 8

Day 8 of the Royal Commission’s hearing (Case Study 44) into the response of Catholic Church authorities to allegations of child sexual abuse by John Joseph Farrell continued in Sydney today with Monsignor John Usher giving his second day of evidence.

Monsignor Usher continued to be questioned about meetings he attended with Farrell and Fathers Lucas and Peters in 1992 and both his recollection of those meetings and contemporaneous reports of the meetings.

Monsignor Usher told the Commission he maintained his understanding of what occurred at the 1992 meetings with Farrell because that was what he believed.  Asked if changing his view would have embarrassed Cardinal Pell, who in 2012 had spoken to 4 Corners about the meetings, Monsignor Usher said this was not a consideration.

Farrell was imprisoned in May 2016 for a minimum of 18 years after committing 62 child sex offences in the 1980s.

Monsignor Usher also told the Commission that he gave speeches in 1992 in which he said Church leaders at the time were not moving quickly enough to confront child sexual abuse.  He said that there would have been parts of the church that did not embrace his approach to dealing with the issue. 

He said that while there was still a lot more work that needs to be done and that it varies from place to place the church is shaping up much better today.

Asked by Commission Chair, Peter McClellan, about what still needs to change, he said the Church needed to give more attention to the people who have been abused rather than the institution in which the abuse took place.

The hearing was adjourned just before lunch to enable the Commission to make further inquiries.


Case Study 44 - Wednesday 21 September 2016 - Day 7

Day 7 of the Royal Commission’s hearing (Case Study 44) into the response of Catholic Church authorities to allegations of child sexual abuse by John Joseph Farrell continued in Sydney today with Monsignor John Usher giving evidence about the Special Issues Resource Group (SIRG) and his involvement with paedophile former priest John Farrell.

Monsignor Usher gave evidence that the SIRG was established to advise bishops and leaders on the issues of child sexual abuse including litigation involving clergy and brothers.

At the time, then Fr Usher was on the SIRG because he was the head of Centacare in the Archdiocese of Sydney. He went on to be the Chancellor and then Vicar General of the Archdiocese, before retiring in 2016. He is now the parish priest in St Patrick’s, Mortlake in Sydney.

Monsignor Usher was questioned about the development of a protocol in the early 1990s to deal with allegations of child sexual abuse. 

He gave evidence about a letter reporting on a meeting he had with Farrell in the early 1990s in which he advised that Farrell's ongoing need to spend time with children was a concern and that it was possible Farrell had a deep seated psychological disorder.  Although he was aware that Farrell's treating psychologist had offered an assessment, he had recommended a second opinion.

He also gave evidence about a range of documents that related to Farrell’s dysfunctional involvement with children and relationships with other priests. He told the Commission that prior to the key meeting he attended with Farrell and Fathers Lucas and Peters in September 1992 he had determined Farrell was ‘narcissistic’ and should never have been ordained a priest.

Monsignor Usher told the Commission he attended the September 1992 meeting to provide advice to the then Bishop of Armidale, Kevin Manning, as to whether Farrell could be returned to ministry.

He said he went into the meeting expecting Farrell would have had psychological treatment and be ‘better than he was’ two years earlier. However he learned that Farrell had not had treatment and was in fact worse.

He told the Commission that he had no recollection of Farrell making admissions during the meeting. This was at odds with a contemporaneous letter written by Fr Peters to Bishop Manning in which Fr Peters detailed a number of admissions made by Farrell, including that he had sexually interfered with five boys while assistant priest in Moree.

Fr Usher told the Commission that, in accordance with his practice at the time, had Farrell made admissions in the meeting as reported by Fr Peters to Bishop Manning, he would have reported Farrell to the authorities including the police.

He also said that given the purpose of the meeting was to determine if Farrell could be returned to ministry and it was ‘inconceivable’ Farrell would have made the admissions, as he wanted to return to ministry.

The Commission heard that having had his faculties removed in Armidale, Fr Farrell was stood down from public ministry in June 1992 after using inappropriate language with altar servers in Parramatta.

Monsignor Usher was then asked about the preparation in 2012 of media responses to 4 Corners and a briefing note he wrote for Cardinal Pell when he was Archbishop of Sydney in preparation for an interview he gave to 4 Corners. The story, which focused on Farrell and conflicting reports of the 1992, meeting went to air in July 2012.

The hearing will continue tomorrow.


Case Study 44 - Tuesday 20 September 2016 - Day 6

Day 6 of the Royal Commission’s hearing (Case Study 44) into the response of Catholic Church authorities to allegations of child sexual abuse by John Joseph Farrell continued in Sydney today with Fr Brian Lucas giving further evidence about abuse perpetrated by John Farrell and recollections of a meeting with Farrell and Fathers Usher and Peters in 1992.

Farrell was charged with child sexual offences in 1987 and 1998 but both cases were dismissed.

The 63-year-old was sentenced to a minimum jail term of 18 years in May this year after being convicted of 62 offences involving 12 children in Moree, Armidale and Tamworth between 1979 and 1988. He was laicised in 2005 after being stood down from active ministry in 1992.

Fr Lucas continued to be asked about the conflicting understandings of the Special Issues Resource Group meeting in 1992 with Farrell.  He maintained that he had no memory of Farrell making detailed admissions about abusing children in the meeting.

A contemporaneous account of the meeting from Fr Wayne Peters who was at the meeting records Farrell admitting to having “sexually interfered with” five boys.

Fr Lucas told the Commission that there was no information provided in the meeting that would have led to him reporting Farrell to the Police. He told the Commission that at the time the police were already aware of Farrell and that Farrell had not named any victims.

Fr Lucas was questioned extensively about file notes, draft media releases and other documents which were drafted and distributed both publically and internally around the time of the 4 Corners story about Farrell in 2012.

Fr Lucas gave evidence that he was puzzled as to why certain documents were written and actions taken subsequent to the 1992 meeting with Farrell, because if detailed admissions of child sexual abuse had been made a different approach would have been taken in response.

Fr Lucas concluded his evidence before lunch. The hearing will continue tomorrow when Monsignor John Usher will give evidence.


Case Study 44 - Monday 19 September 2016 - Day 5

The Royal Commission’s hearing (Case Study 44) into the response of Catholic Church authorities to allegations of child sexual abuse by John Joseph Farrell continued in Sydney today.

Day 5 commenced with Fr Brian Lucas telling the Commission about his Church roles within the Archdiocese of Sydney as media spokesperson and his role in the Church’s Special Issues Resource Group (SIRG) in the early- to mid-1990s.

Fr Lucas was the General Secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) from 2003 to 2016 and a Director of Catholic Church Insurances (CCI) from 2003 to 2015. He is now National Director of Catholic Mission.

Fr Lucas told the Commission that in April 1988 he first presented, in a formal sense, to the ACBC about the issues of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

Fr Lucas was initially taken through the general legal and media approach to allegations and legal processes against priests in the mid-1980s. He told the Commission that in the late 1980s issues of privacy and prejudice were considerations in the media approach, not necessarily the reputation of the Church, which he said was already in question.

He said that there was a move towards the better recognition of victims rather than legal approaches at the end of the 1980s.

Fr Lucas gave evidence that an allegation against a priest would usually not be reported the police if the victim didn’t want to go to the police, where a legal process had already taken place, where the offender was dead or where an admission was provided in confidence.

Fr Lucas was asked about a SIRG meeting with Farrell he attended with fellow SIRG member Fr John Usher, and Fr Wayne Peters of the Armidale Diocese in September 1992 in which Fr Lucas said he recalled Farrell had made no specific admissions.

He was subsequently asked about information provided to a 2012 ABC 4 Corners program investigating Farrell. Fr Lucas agreed that following continued questioning from 4 Corners and before the program went to air there were four different accounts of the meeting provided to the program from various church people.

Fr Lucas was questioned about a letter from Fr Peters to Bishop Manning dated 11 September 1992, which reported Farrell admitting that he had abused five boys between 1982 and 1984 in Moree, that he had had an affair with a woman and that he had sexually assaulted other boys.

Fr Lucas told the Commission that ‘on his oath’ this was not his recollection of the meeting and that if these admissions had been made then he would have made completely different recommendations about how Farrell should have been dealt with at the time.

The hearing will continue tomorrow.


Case Study 44 - Thursday 15 September 2016 - Day 4

The Royal Commission’s hearing (Case Study 44) into the response of Catholic Church authorities to allegations of child sexual abuse by John Joseph Farrell continued in Sydney today.

Day 4 commenced with continuing evidence from retired Bishop Bede Heather who was the inaugural Bishop of the Parramatta Diocese from 1986-1997.

Bishop Heather said the Diocese of Armidale did not pass on to him relevant information about paedophile priest John Farrell who had transferred from Armidale to Parramatta in 1989. Bishop Heather said that it was not until he read the 2012 Whitlam Report that he became aware of important information about Farrell that he had not known at the time.

Evidence focused on Bishop Heather's reasons for Farrell’s continuing engagement in the Kenthurst and Merrylands Parishes of the Parramatta Diocese in the face of growing concerns about Farrell.  Bishop Heather said that at the time he did not have any evidence of Farrell abusing children, and sought to treat Farrell fairly. Bishop Heather said he now regrets his decision to allow Farrell to continue working in the Diocese.

Bishop Heather eventually terminated Farrell’s engagement with the Parramatta Diocese. Bishop Heather said he told Bishop Manning about the reasons for Farrell’s termination but that he had no further dealings with Farrell and no further discussions with Bishop Manning about Farrell. 

Bishop Heather said he supported Bishop Manning’s decision to withdraw Farrell’s faculties following an investigation by the Special Issues Committee. 

Senior Counsel Assisting then asked Bishop Heather about the St Gerard Majella Society, an Australian religious order, and his management of sexual abuse allegations made in relation to a number of its senior members, who Bishop Heather stood down following investigations by Canonist Dr Rodger Austin and Fr John Usher. 

Bishop Heather said he had not gone to the police about the allegations as it was never clear to him in that case that there had been sexual abuse of a person under 18. 

Police investigations into the allegations commenced and in 1994 Bishop Heather’s office was the subject of a search warrant seeking documents relating to the Society. He told the Commission that Dr Austin's report was stored away from his office, off site in the diocesan archives, and the police had therefore not obtained it during their initial search. The report was later provided to the police via diocesan solicitors.

Following the search, Bishop Heather said he was traumatised by the state of his office, and reconsidered the security of diocesan records.  Bishop Heather said he became more cautious about the documents he kept on file. He said he disposed of material ‘out of respect for confidentiality’.  Bishop Heather said he thought people’s confidentiality and matters of a sensitive nature deserved respect.

Former Bishop of Armidale, Bishop Luc Matthys then gave evidence. Appointed in 1999, he was Bishop of Armidale for a period of 12 years until the appointment of Bishop Kennedy in 2012. 

Bishop Matthys said he first heard of Farrell when he arrived in Armidale. He said he did not issue faculties to Farrell because he heard there had been an attempt to laicize him because of complaints about sexual misconduct with boys. In 2000 Bishop Matthys supported a letter from the Catholic Schools Office banning Farrell from schools.  Farrell was not engaged in priestly duties during Bishop Matthys' time in Armidale. 

Bishop Matthys was asked about a letter he received a copy of, which had been written to then Archbishop Pell from a victim of abuse, CPD, in July 2002.  Bishop Matthys met with CPD and his mother, and they discussed the abuse he suffered at the hands of Farrell. Bishop Matthys said this was the first time he had heard directly from a victim of Farrell about what had happened.  He said he ‘just took it that these things happened, and it’s happened here’.  He encouraged CPD to take his complaint to the police.  

When questioned about CPD's receipt of compensation, he said compensation was not a matter for the Bishop. He said he hadn't wanted to talk about compensation with CPD. 

Bishop Matthys concluded his evidence discussing the outcome of an Encompass assessment of Farrell. The report provided in August 2003 said Farrell continued to pose a serious risk to adolescents and children. Bishop Matthys said his response was to immediately start a process to laicise Farrell so he could not call himself a priest and obtain access to children.

Farrell was laicised two years later in 2005. 

The hearing will resume at 10:00am on Monday 19 September. 


Case Study 44 - Wednesday 14 September 2016 - Day 3

The Royal Commission’s hearing (Case Study 44) into the response of Catholic Church authorities to allegations of child sexual abuse by John Joseph Farrell continued in Sydney today.

Day 3 commenced with continuing evidence from Fr Richard Gleeson, the current Administrator at the Cathedral in Armidale. Fr Gleeson has been a priest in the Diocese since 1983.

Fr Gleeson acknowledged that the Church’s approach to allegations of abuse was very different in the 1980s to what it is now. ‘We were totally out of our depth,’ he said.

Fr Gleeson said there was no professional supervision of priests thirty years ago but that things are very different now. He briefly outlined improvements in place in his parish and the Diocese of Armidale, including training and the use of the Church’s professional standards protocols Integrity in Ministry, Integrity in the Service of the Church and Towards Healing by all personnel.

Fr Gleeson said that the intuition of Karolyn Graham, mother of survivor Michael McGroder, regarding Farrell had been ‘spot on’ and the support provided to Michael and the McGroder family following their reporting of his abuse in 1984 was ‘hopeless’.

Bishop Gerard Hanna, current Bishop of Wagga Wagga then gave evidence. He was a priest in the Armidale Diocese from 1981. He said despite the seminary and the Council of Priests strongly advising against it, Bishop Kennedy ordained Farrell, saying Farrell was from a ‘good family’.

Child sex abuse charges against Farrell were dismissed following a committal hearing in 1988. Farrell was placed on restricted ministry under then Fr Hanna’s administration in the East Tamworth parish following two months ‘sick leave’ from the Moree parish.  Bishop Hanna said he understood the charges related to interference of a sexual nature with children. No details of the allegations were provided but Bishop Kennedy said ‘you’ve got to watch him and put him on restricted ministry’.

Bishop Hanna described his efforts as the parish priest in East Tamworth to keep Farrell out of ministry and get him psychological support.

Bishop Hanna said he was aware Farrell had been appointed to the Kenthurst parish in the Diocese of Parramatta. He said he was not consulted about this.

Bishop Hanna told the Commission that in hindsight it should have been mandatory for the Bishop to heed the advice of his consultors.

Retired Bishop Bede Heather was next to give evidence. He was the inaugural Bishop of the Parramatta Diocese from 1986-1997.

Bishop Heather talked about the processes involved in Farrell’s transfer from Armidale to the Diocese of Parramatta in 1989, following a request from Bishop Kennedy in Armidale.

He also acknowledged his limited knowledge and understanding at the time of the sexual abuse of children by clergy.

Bishop Heather said that although reports of emerging child sex abuse by clergy were emerging from North America in the late 1980s he thought it unlikely that abuse could happen in Australia.

Bishop Heather said he first heard of Farrell in 1989 when Bishop Kennedy spoke to him about a priest who had been acquitted of charges. Bishop Kennedy asked Bishop Heather to take Farrell for a short time ‘til things settled down in Armidale’.

Bishop Heather said he had not had previous experience of child sex offenders and that he thought dismissal of the charges against him meant that Farrell had a clean slate.  He accepted Farrell on the basis of this: Bishop Kennedy’s assurances and report of a psychologist’s opinion that Farrell was suitable.

Bishop Heather was taken to a statement of then Fr Robert McGuckin, who said he had expressed strong concerns about Farrell to Bishop Heather, telling him he did not want Farrell ‘anywhere near him’.  Bishop Heather said he had persisted with his belief that Farrell was innocent despite these concerns as he had no evidence to the contrary.

Bishop Heather said he had learned his view was incorrect after attending interviews with lawyers in 2005 about a boy who was abused in Merrylands, with very serious consequences. He told the Commission the fact that he had not made further, careful inquiries about Farrell before accepting him into the Diocese was a cause of great regret.

Bishop Heather will continue his evidence tomorrow, and his evidence will be followed by evidence from Bishop Matthys, former Bishop of Armidale.

The Commission will not sit on Friday. Frs Lucas and Usher are expected to provide evidence when the hearing resumes on Monday 19 September.


Case Study 44 - Tuesday 13 September 2016 - Day 2

The Royal Commission’s hearing (Case Study 44) into the response of Catholic Church authorities to allegations of child sexual abuse by John Joseph Farrell continued in Sydney today.

Day 2 commenced with statements from two men who had been abused by Farrell as children, a man given the pseudonym CPA and Michael McGroder.

CPA was an 11-year-old altar boy at St Francis Xavier Church in Moree in 1981 when Farrell moved to the parish. While cleaning the church one afternoon, CPA was forced to perform oral sex on Farrell. CPA told Monsignor Ryan then Vicar-General, that Farrell had hurt him. Ryan promised to ‘sort it out’.  But CPA was later raped by Farrell. He described the terrible injuries he suffered as a result of the rape and told the Commission he had not told his family, as Farrell had threatened to kill them if he did.

CPA talked about the destructive impact of the abuse on his life.  CPA did not disclose the abuse until after his father died in 2005. He was relieved to finally tell his mother and reported formally to police in 2013. He said he felt justice was served when Farrell was sentenced to 28 years in prison for crimes against children and he called on other people abused by Farrell to come forward.

Michael McGroder was in second grade at St Philomena’s Primary School in Moree in 1978. The youngest of three children, his parents were devout Catholics and he also became an altar boy. Mr McGroder described how Farrell made the altar boys feel special by playing with them in the playground and taking them swimming. Farrell began taking boys on trips to smaller towns to say Mass, which they thought was a privilege. Michael was excited to be invited to accompany Farrell to a home mass at a local property. However, Farrell persistently attempted to abuse him on this trip, feeling his leg and his crotch and putting Mr McGroder's hand on his crotch. Mr McGroder told the Commission he felt shocked and confused and resisted Farrell's advances. 

After talking to other altar boys he realised what had happened to him could have been much worse. He told his parents who were supportive and assured him he’d done nothing wrong. Mr McGroder told the Commission his parents told other parents and Mons Ryan but were upset when nothing was done.  His father Patrick also went to the police. Mr McGroder said his father was accused of driving a wedge in the community.

Mr McGroder described the impact of his ordeal on his physical and mental health. He said he would like an apology from the Church. 

Karolyn Graham, Michael McGroder’s mother also gave evidence. She and her then husband, Patrick McGroder moved with their children to Moree in 1980 where they immersed themselves in the Catholic community. She described how Farrell arrived in the parish in late 1981 as assistant priest. She said she did not like him, regarding some of his behavior as ‘kinky’.

Ms Graham described her response to her son’s disclosure of Farrell’s abuse and her horror when Mons Ryan asked her husband not to go to the police, as Farrell loved the boys and only touched them on the genitals. She told the Commission that Farrell was moved from the parish overnight.

Ms Graham said in concluding her statement, “What I would like to see after the Royal Commission is that the Catholic Church is made more accountable for their actions. They should not be allowed to continue to try to resolve problems internally. They must be forced to modernise their practices and become accountable to the law of the land, instead of the law of the Church. I do not want to forgive - I want justice”.

Fr Bernard Flood was then called to give evidence. He was ordained in 1962 and took up a position in the Diocese of Armidale, where he has spent most of his working life, including many years as the director of Catholic schools for the Diocese.

After they were both appointed to the Moree parish in the early 1980s, Fr Flood described his interaction with Farrell, and Mons Ryan, the parish priest.  He also spoke about his involvement with boys who had been abused, their families, and with Farrell himself.

He told the Commission that Bishop Harry Kennedy had ordained Farrell in spite of advice from some that Farrell should not be ordained because of ‘odd’ behaviours that made him unsuitable for priesthood.

Fr Flood told the Commission he came to understand six or seven children had been abused by Farrell in Moree, but that one was too many. Flood told the family of one victim during a pastoral discussion that they had the right to tell the police and the right to pursue compensation. He said however that he did not report this meeting to Mons Ryan or to the Bishop, presuming others would have done so.

Fr Flood understood Bishop Kennedy sent Farrell to see a therapist, Gary Boyle, who he said was frequently used by St Patrick’s Seminary in Manly for students with problems of a sexual nature.  Fr Flood said he believed the Church’s approach at the time was to get help for Farrell and give him a second chance.

Fr Flood was overseas when charges were brought against Farrell in 1987 but dismissed in 1988, but he had been made aware of the anger this decision had caused in the local community.

He told the Commission he preferred not to know the details of acts of abuse Farrell had committed, because his focus was pastoral and he wanted to be able to answer that he did not know if he was later questioned about such matters.

Fr Richard Gleeson, the current Administrator at the Cathedral in Armidale took the stand later in the afternoon.

He told the Commission he had been appointed assistant priest in Tamworth from 1982. He was then the Assistant Priest in Moree till 1989, and was at the parish with Farrell when complaints had been made against him.

Fr Gleeson said he found Farrell ‘unusual’, very clerical and ‘into the trappings of the Church’. He said the presbytery was very open then and it wasn’t unusual for kids to visit. But even in that environment he said, it was not proper that Farrell had a 10-year old boy sitting on his lap.

Fr Gleeson told the Commission that Mons Ryan had called him to a formal meeting where he said Farrell was ‘in trouble’ for ‘mucking around with kids’.  Ryan did not go into specifics but Fr Gleeson said he assumed it was touching between Farrell and boys.  He said he had thought this was sinful, immoral, and utterly inappropriate for a priest and had to be dealt with, but he hadn't thought at that time it was criminal. 

The hearing continues tomorrow.


Case Study 44 - Monday 12 September 2016 - Day 1

The Royal Commission’s hearing (Case Study 44) into the response of Catholic Church authorities to allegations of child sexual abuse by John Joseph Farrell commenced in Sydney today.

The hearing is also inquiring into the response of the Special Issues Resource Group for the Province of Sydney to allegations against Farrell.

The hearing commenced with Royal Commission Chair, Justice Peter McClellan, providing a statistical update, reporting that in the past three years the Commission has completed case study hearings and provided reports to the Governor-General and Governors in 26 case studies. A further 13 case studies have been conducted and are at various stages of completion.

He said the Commission has received information about abuse occurring in more than 4,000 institutions.

Justice McClellan said that a breakdown of the institutions examined in public hearings reveals that 29 case studies have examined at least one state institution (70% of all case studies), with state institutions examined as a primary institution in 11 case studies.

He said faith-based institutions have been examined in 26 case studies (63% of all case studies). Catholic institutions have been examined in 14 case studies (34% of all case studies) and Anglican institutions have been examined in five case studies (12% of all case studies).

The Commissioners have now met with survivors in 5,866 private sessions and a further 1,616 people have been approved for a private session. It is anticipated that by the time it completes its work at the end of next year the Commission will have held more than 7,200 private sessions.

The current breakdown of institutions in which survivors in private sessions say they have been abused is as follows: 62% of attendees reported abuse in a faith-based institution.  Around 27% reported abuse at government-run institutions. Abuse in Catholic institutions was reported by 40% of all private session attendees, abuse in Anglican institutions by 8% of attendees and abuse in Salvation Army institutions by 4% of attendees.

So far the Commission has referred 1,659 matters to police with 71 prosecutions having been commenced.

Following the statement from Justice McClellan and legal argument in relation to issues to be raised in the hearing possibly impacting further criminal proceedings against Farrell that are listed for hearing in April 2017, Senior Counsel Assisting, Gail Furness, told the Commission in an opening statement about Farrell’s history of abuse and the response of church leaders in the 1980s and early 1990s.

This included a meeting in September 1992 with Farrell, Monsignor Peters of the Armidale Diocese and representatives of the Special Issues Resources Group, Fathers Lucas and Usher, in which Farrell’s offending against children was discussed.  Ms Furness told the Commission there are conflicting reports from the priests as to what Farrell had admitted in this meeting.

In July 2012 then Bishop of Parramatta, Anthony Fisher, and Bishop of Armidale, Michael Kennedy, commissioned former Federal Court judge Anthony Whitlam QC to undertake an investigation into Farrell, the response of the two dioceses and the involvement of Fathers Lucas and Usher.

The ‘Whitlam Report’ and its findings will be the subject of questioning during the hearing.

Eighty three-year-old former bishop of Armidale and Parramatta, Kevin Manning, has been excused from appearing in the case study because of a neurological condition which would impact on his ability to give evidence.

The hearing continues tomorrow when two survivor witnesses and the mother of a survivor will give evidence.

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