Wollongong clerical abuse case led to Vatican division

Royal Commission 2

A decision by the then-Bishop of Wollongong, Philip Wilson, to stand a NSW priest aside led to division between Vatican congregations, Yahoo 7 News reports.

It also resulted in a decision that has ramifications across the globe as to how Catholic bishops can deal with priests suspected of being child sexual abusers.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, sitting yesterday in Sydney, is looking at how the Catholic Church under its own law - canon law - deals with priests or religious against whom allegations have been made.

In particular, it is looking at the case of John Gerard Nestor, a priest in the Wollongong Diocese in NSW when he was charged with the indecent assault of a teenage altar boy in 1996. He was acquitted.

The Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson, who was Bishop of Wollongong in the late 90s, stood Nestor aside when he refused to go to a clinic for assessment as recommended by the Church's internal procedure, Towards Healing.

Nestor was told: 'You are to cease functioning publicly as a priest in any place until I give you permission to do so.'

That led to a series of appeals and counter-appeals to the Vatican.

Nestor went to the Congregation for the Clergy(CFC),  a powerful body within the Roman Curia (bureaucracy) which two years later upheld his appeal and said he should be reinstated.

Then-Bishop Wilson appealed over the CFC decision but was appointed to Adelaide before the appeal was processed.

'I was bound in conscience in this case, I would take the matter all the way to the Pope,'  Archbishop Wilson said yesterday.

He said he would have resigned if the Pope said he had to re-instate Nestor. Even though Archbishop Wilsoin had left Wollongong, he retianed oversight of the Diocese for a period afterwards, so he appealed to the supreme tribunal in the Vatican, the Apostolic Signatura, to uphold the decision not to let Nestor back.

A panel of judges from the most influential scholars and churchmen in Europe was appointed when the tribunal took on the case.

'I think when they looked at this (the appeal against the CFC decision on Nestor) and said we'll process it,. The authorities then said we've got to really get an outstanding bank of judges to deal with this,' Archbishop Wilson said.

FULL COVERAGE

Vatican infighting over NSW priest (Yahoo 7 News)

Towards Healing did not have Vatican approval, child abuse inquiry told (The Guardian)

RELATED

Priest accused of sexual assault asked to preside at funeral of alleged victim's aunt, court told (The Age)

Polish church leaders call for more action to prevent abuse by priests (Catholic News Service)

FROM TRUTH JUSTICE AND HEALING COUNCIL

Royal Commission Wollongong John Nestor
Wednesday 24 June 2014 – Day 2

Day two of the Royal Commission’s examination of the Fr. John Nestor case in Wollongong continued in Sydney today with former bishop, Philip Wilson continuing his evidence dealing with the years he spent trying to have Nestor dismissed as a priest.

Archbishop Wilson was asked about the structure of the Holy See and the apparent confusion prior to 2001 between the responsibilities of the Congregation for the Clergy (CFC) in Rome and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in relation to clergy accused of child sexual abuse.

Archbishop Wilson, having stood Nestor down in 1998, told the Commission that he had been required to wait for the outcome of Nestor’s recourse to the CFC before he could take any further action. In December 2000 the CFC decided the matter in favour of Nestor, directing that he be reinstated.

Archbishop Wilson told the Commission that he felt bound in conscience to his duty to protect children, and had always been prepared to appeal to the Apostolic Signatura, the equivalent of the Vatican’s Supreme Court, and the Pope, had the decision of the CFC gone against him.

He said with all he had learnt from his investigations, he could not in conscience allow Nestor to return to ministry.

The appeal of the CFC decision to the Apostolic Signatura succeeded in 2006, and in 2009 the CDF removed Nestor from the priesthood.

In examination by counsel for the Wollongong Diocese and TJHC, Jane Needham SC, Archbishop Wilson said that canon law does not impose restrictions on people fulfilling obligations under civil law.

He said the release in 2001 of Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela had clarified that the CDF rather than the CFC should have jurisdiction in matters involving child sexual abuse. It also provided clear procedures to be followed regarding applications to have priest dismissed, which had been less clear when he had commenced his process in 1997.

When these procedures were applied in Nestor’s case, the CDF returned a prompt decision dismissing Nestor from the priesthood. This decision had accepted evidence which included the outcomes of investigations under Australian civil law, (the Ombudsman Act), Australian church procedure (Towards Healing), and canon law.

The Chair asked Archbishop Wilson about confessional secrecy, and the potential conflict between knowledge given to a priest and an obligation to report knowledge about certain crimes to the authorities.

Archbishop Wilson acknowledged the issue. He told the Commission that confessional secrecy is one of the highest values that governs the ministry of priests in the Catholic Church and this was not something that people were willing to change.

He was however open to the idea that there might be academic discussion around the topic within the church.

He reinforced to the Commission such was his conviction about Nestor not being a suitable person to work in ministry with children, that had his appeal to the Signatura been unsuccessful, he would have appealed to the Pope, and if necessary resigned as a Bishop rather than reinstate him.

Find release here.

Other coverage: The General Secretary to the ACBC has been giving evidence before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Last night, he answered some difficult questions on ABC Radio National's Religion and Ethics Report. To listen to the full interview, CLICK HERE (ABC Radio National)

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