More than 40 parents pulled their children out of an Ash Wednesday Mass at a Melbourne school yesterday in a protest directed at their parish priest, reports The Age.
The protesting parents from St John Vianney’s Primary School in Parkdale are calling for the resignation of Fr John Walshe.
The move comes after Fr Walshe gave evidence at the Royal Commission in December about his recollection of a 1993 phone call between Cardinal George Pell and a child abuse victim. Shortly afterwards, it emerged Fr Walshe had some years earlier been accused of abusing a teenage seminarian in the early 1980s after the pair had been drinking together.
Fr Walshe has always denied the accusation. However, in 2012, the Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, apologised to the former seminarian for the "wrongs and hurt" he suffered at the hands of Fr Walshe. The accuser also received $75,000 in compensation.
The protesting group of St John Vianney parents collected their children before Mass at 11.30am, and dropped them back at school after 1pm.
Some parents took their children to other parishes instead – the St Patrick’s parish in Mentone and Our Lady of Assumption parish in Cheltenham.
The parents’ protest comes a week after about 20 parents at Mentone’s St Patrick’s School, which is in the same parish, withdrew their children from weekly Mass.
Angela Sdrinis, who runs a law firm that specialises in institutional abuse, is representing a committee of parents at the two schools.
She said a large proportion of parents at both schools were “extremely unhappy” and wanted the priest removed. “In essence, they have lost confidence. That is the most appropriate way I can put it.”
Stephen Elder, the executive director of the Catholic Education Office, said he has met with concerned parents and the school board, and investigated the incident. “There is no evidence to suggest that student safety is at risk at St John Vianney’s Primary School,” Mr Elder said.
“As the first educators of their children, we respect the right of parents to remove students from Mass.
“However, it is disappointing that some parents believe they also have the right to disrupt legitimate school activities by engaging in a media circus.”