By Blake O’Connor and Ugur Nedim
The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal has given the go-ahead for an alleged paedophile priest to work with children.
The 68-year-old former Catholic priest, known only as ‘BQC’, was banned from undertaking any work with children by the Children’s Guardian on 5th December 2014. The ban was triggered by an investigation which uncovered:
“sustained historical workplace allegations that the priest had sexually abused two Aboriginal siblings”.
Although police did not press charges, the Church conceded that there were “sustained findings” against the priest, and stood him down from his position.
The priest then participated in the ‘Encompass Australia Program’, which provides psychosexual treatment for the Church’s self-described “sexual boundary violators”.
Family and Community Services Minister Brad Hazard has labelled the decision “extremely concerning”, calling on the Church to “reconsider the man’s involvement in pastoral activities”.
Working with Children Checks
In NSW, the office of the Children’s Guardian is responsible for administering Working with Children checks and conducting background searches to ensure the safety of children.
Where a person is fails a Working with Children check, they can apply to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal for administrative review under the Child Protection (Working with Children) Act 2012 (NSW).
Section 30 of that Act requires the Tribunal to consider a range of factors before determining whether a person is suitable to work with children, including:
- The seriousness of any alleged offences;
- The period of time since they alleged occurred;
- The age of the applicant at the time the alleged offences;
- The age or ages of the alleged victims;
- The seriousness of the applicant’s criminal record, if any; and
- The likelihood of any future offences.
Concerns have been raised about perceived ‘loopholes’ in the Act, including that:
- ‘A person who applies for a check can immediately start working’;
- The criminal history screening process does not cover offences committed overseas; and
- ‘Apprehended Violence Orders (AVO’s) involving children are not automatically assessed by the Children’s Guardian because the files are not held by a central police database.’
While protecting the presumption of innocence and right to due process, those provisos have been criticised for potentially putting children at risk.
The Case of BQC
In the present case, the Tribunal heard evidence that the priest had previously admitted to “misappropriating’… [stealing] funds from the Parish collection”.
He was also an alcoholic, although he later received treatment for his addiction.
The priest claimed he ‘self-referred’ to the Encompass Australia Program, because he “was sitting around the Presbytery with not much to do”.
The Tribunal received notes from the program suggesting he claimed to have “blackouts” when asked about “certain behaviours”.
A doctor’s report before the Tribunal said the priest “never had sexual contact with another person”; but there was:
“some divergence between the details told to various experts during the Encompass process as contrasted with what he advised [the reporting Doctor]”.
In assessing the case, the Tribunal took into account that he:
“ was accused of sexually abusing two teenage males, one who was in his care, and the other being his sibling. The alleged conduct involved the fondling of genitals of the victims and masturbation.”
However, it also considered that
- He has no criminal record,
- He denied the allegations, and
- Police chose not to press criminal charges against him.
In balancing those considerations, the Tribunal formed the view that he does not pose a sufficient risk to ban him from working with children.
A Different Approach
Some have called for an approach which focuses on preventing abuse in the first place, rather than just punishing it after the event.
Those calls borrow from regimes in European countries such as Germany, which urge paedophiles to come forward for private and confidential treatment. The service in that country is reported to have assisted more than 5,350 people since 2005 to seek treatment.
The approach is based upon research which suggests that 3 to 5% of men are sexually attracted to children, with the vast majority not acting upon their urges.