Bishop stunned by dithering over abuse claims at Qld school

Culture of denial

Bishop Bill Morris,  Bishop Emeritus of Toowoomba, said a culture of not believing child sex abuse victims has existed in the Church, based on suspicions 'they were just making it up,' reports The Brisbane Times.

Bishop Morris was giving evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Brisbane yesterday. He said he also considered Catholic education officials' failure to report abuse to police to be a systemic failure.

Bishop Morris described as 'stunning' the dithering over allegations about girls being touched inside their pants and shirts, saying such determination 'is not rocket science.'

The hearing is looking into the case of former teacher Gerry Byrnes, who sexually abused school girls in his classroom in 2007 and 2008. After Byrnes was arrested in 2008, Bishop Morris sacked a principal and two education officers, who knew about the allegations against him in September 2007 but did not tell police.

Bishop Morris then admitted Church responsibility, opening the way for financial settlements with the victims.

The Bishop was removed from his diocese by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011, over what was said to be doctrinal and disciplinary matters and made bishop emeritus.

Counsel Assisting, Gail Furness asked the Bishop if there was a culture of not believing sex abuse victims in the Catholic Church.

'Yes, and I think it may be, say, sometimes we've got to check out the story because you never know, they might be just making it up and we don't want to make a report on someone that's going to ruin the rest of their lives, I think that could possibly be part of it,' Bishop Morris told the Commission.

TJH COUNCIL

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse concluded its hearing in Brisbane yesterday in relation to the abuse of 13 young girls at a Toowoomba Catholic primary School in 2007-08.

The final witness in the hearing was the former Bishop of Toowoomba, Bill Morris, who gave evidence about his time in the Diocese and the way in which the reporting of the abuse had been handled.

Bishop Morris gave evidence that there had been a number of significant systemic failings which led to the failure to properly deal with the abuse following the initial report.

These ranged across the failure to report the abuse to police, re-engaging the abuser as a casual teacher after he had left the school, and the school’s child protection kit being out of date at the time.

Bishop Morris said the abuse of the young girls had been the catalyst to major changes within the Catholic Education Office that have led to significant improvements in the diocesan sexual abuse policies and procedures.

Following media reports, in her closing comments to the public hearing, Presiding Member, Justice Jennifer Coate said any parent would be welcome to come forward and make a statement to the Royal Commission if they wanted to be heard.

From 10 March 2014, Commission hearings will commence into the case of civil action taken by John Ellis, the case that highlighted the difficulty that exists in suing the Catholic Church.

From 17 March 2014 in Adelaide, the Commission will look into the responses by the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide and the South Australian Police to allegations of child sexual abuse at St Ann’s Special School.

FULL COVERAGE

Catholic bishop stunned by dithering over child sex abuse claims at school (The Brisbane Times)

Former Toowoomba bishop stunned by failure to report abuse to police (ABC)

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