The Archdiocese of Melbourne has been found to have ignored, dismissed or covered up allegations of child abuse by seven of its priests in a bid to protect the Church's reputation and avoid scandal, The Age reports.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse yesterday delivered a withering assessment of the Archdiocese's handling of clerical abuse, with much of its opprobrium reserved for former Archbishop Frank Little, who died in 2008.
"We are satisfied that the evidence in the case study showed a prevailing culture of secrecy within the Archdiocese, led by Archbishop Little," the royal commission found.
"Complaints were dealt with in a way that sought to protect the Archdiocese from scandal and liability and prioritised the interests of the Church over those of the victims."
The redacted report released on Tuesday made no findings on the conduct of Cardinal George Pell, who succeeded Little as Archbishop of Melbourne, but pointedly mentioned that its terms-of-reference prevented the release of information that could "prejudice current or future criminal or civil proceedings".
The Commissioners used the shocking case of Fr Peter Searson to underscore the Archdiocese's systemic failure to discipline priests accused of predatory behaviour.
Despite an allegation of rape in 1974, Searson continued to abuse children in parishes in Sunbury and Doveton until 1986.
In 1993, he threatened a girl at the church doors with a knife, but again, no action was taken.
"The matters known to Archbishop Little by the end of 1986 were undoubtedly sufficient to demonstrate that Fr Searson ought to be removed. By not removing Fr Searson, Archbishop Little abjectly failed to protect the safety and wellbeing of the children within the parish," the royal commission report stated.
Current Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart said he accepted the commission's finding that there was a culture of secrecy within the Archdiocese that sought to protect it from scandal and liability and it had prioritised the Church's interests over those of victims.
Archbishop Hart said the mishandling of complaints against priests had led to unnecessary suffering for victims and their families.
"Where this abuse occurred resulting from the passivity or inactivity of predecessors of mine, I sincerely apologise and accept responsibility," Archbishop Hart said.
Archbishop Hart responds to the Royal Commission's report into Case Study 35 (Melbourne Archdiocese)
Archbishop slammed over sex abuse response failures (The Australian)