A NSW bishop was unaware for five years of a directive from the Pope to refer complaints of child sexual abuse containing “a semblance of truth” to Vatican investigators.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse also heard on Thursday that a priest who had admitted to sexual abuse after a May 2006 complaint was ordered to “live a life of prayer and penance” and to dedicate a weekly mass to his victims.
Vatican investigators acting on orders from Pope John Paul II decreed in 2001 that some complaints of sexual abuse had to be referred to Rome.
Lismore Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett told the commission he was not aware of the decree until 2006.
“Any awareness of that requirement, even though it existed in 2001 … really didn’t come to my attention until much later,” Bishop Jarrett said.
Commission Chair Justice Peter McClellan asked Reverend Jarrett how he’d been unaware of Rome’s directive for five years.
“Directives can come to the bishop … they go to the chancery and they will remain there on the file and perhaps not be remembered or acted upon,” Bishop Jarrett said.
Bishop Jarrett took over the diocese in 2001.
A complaint made against alcoholic priest Father Paul “Rex” Brown in 2002 over the 1978-82 abuse of Jennifer Ingham was not passed on to Rome.
Brown died in 2005.
The priest was in 1996 convicted of possessing child pornography and was later stood down from his ministry because of his alcoholism.
A 2006 referral to the Vatican over a priest who had admitted to child sexual abuse resulted in him living “a life of prayer and penance” and he was required to offer a mass on Fridays on behalf of his victims.
Justice McClellan also questioned Bishop Jarrett on the Vatican’s protocol to only pass to Rome complaints that took place within 10 years of the abuse.
Any incidents outside that timeframe are to be dealt with by the bishop of a diocese.
It is understood this protocol is under review.
“So if the protocol is observed, relatively fewer (cases) would end up being reported to Rome, wouldn’t they?” Justice McClellan asked.
“I suppose so. But the evidence is that, nonetheless, there have still been many cases reported,” Bishop Jarrett replied.
Bishop Jarrett has referred three priests to the Vatican. In one incident, he waited two years for a response.
The commission is due to resume on Wednesday January 22.