The Vatican is soft on clergy offenders, as shown by this Australian case

By a Broken Rites researcher (updated 22 January 2014)

Broken Rites can cite a recent Australian case to demonstrate how the Vatican takes a lenient attitude towards the church's sexual abuse of children. In 2006 the Vatican "punished" one Australian priest by ordering him "to live a life of prayer and penance and to offer Mass every Friday for his victims".

This was despite him admitting to numerous "crimes", Australia's national Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse has been told.

At a public hearing in Sydney on 19 December 2013, the royal commission was told that this  person is still listed as a priest of the diocese of Lismore in northern New South Wales.

These revelations came during evidence by the Bishop of Lismore, Geoffrey Jarrett. The bishop was being questioned by the senior barrister assisting the royal commission, Ms Gail Furness.

The priest's name was suppressed during the royal commission hearing and it has been deleted from the published transcript (on pages 3390 to 3394, dated 19 December 2013, available on the commission's website).

The Lismore diocese extends along the NSW north coast from Port Macquarie to Tweed Heads on the Queensland border. The diocese includes towns such as Lismore (where the bishop is based), Kempsey and Grafton.

The royal commission was told that in 2013 this priest was still "a priest in residence", living with other clergy in a presbytery (parish house) within one of the parishes of the Lismore diocese. (The Lismore diocese has  more than two dozen parishes.)

He still has the title of "reverend". He has not been stripped of his rank.

Officially, he is "a priest in retirement" and no longer has an apppointment to a particular parish. But he is living with other priests in a presbytery attached to a parish.

The priest's case is known to Grafton Police (on the NSW north coast), to the NSW Ombudsman and to the NSW Commissioner for Children and Young People, and he has been banned from unsupervised contact with children.

Bishop Jarrett said that the case of this priest was one of four he had referred to Rome and the only one he had received a reply about.  He said it took two years for the Vatican to get back with their disciplinary ruling.

Bishop Jarrett said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [the Vatican department responsible for such matters] required that this priest should live a life of prayer and penance.

"He was required to offer Mass every Friday for the intention of his victims," Bishop Jarrett said.

The royal commission heard that when the Vatican in 2001 originally ordered all cases of child sex abuse by clergy to them, it was unable to cope with the vast number of referrals and instead limited it to cases 10 years old.

The royal commission's chairman, Justice Peter McClellan, said this would have ruled out the overwhelming number of cases. [The royal commission has been told that many church victims remain silent for many years before revealing that they were sexually assaulted by church personnel].

United Nations investigation

The above Australian case is especially interesting after recent media reports that the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child is questioning the Vatican about the Catholic Church's involvement in child sexual abuse around the world. In Geneva, Switzerland, on 17 January 2014, two Vatican officials faced the 18 human rights experts who make up the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, fielding a polite bombardment of pointed questions on child sexual abuse.

The Vatican officials were forced to admit publicly that the Vatican still does not require the reporting of child sex crimes to civil authorities in the country where the abuse occurred.

The UN Committee is the first international entity to hold the Vatican publicly accountable for its obligations to keep children safe from sexual abuse. Broken Rites Australia is looking forward to the Committee's concluding report, which during 2014.