More than 450 children have been sexually abused in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, mainly by priests, the child abuse royal commission says.
Counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness SC says the church has paid a total of $16.8 million to 454 people since 1980, once treatment, legal and other costs are taken into account.
The highest number of complaints – 56 – were against Kevin O’Donnell, the parish priest at Sacred Heart Parish in Oakleigh.
A previous royal commission hearing has heard the archdiocese had a report of O’Donnell interfering with a young boy at Dandenong in 1958 but no action was taken to protect children.
Likewise, in 1986 then-Melbourne archbishop Frank Little knew about a child sex abuse allegation against O’Donnell but Furness said nothing was done to protect children to whom he had access as a priest.
It was a similar story with a number of other Melbourne priests who offended, the commission heard.
Furness said there was no serious investigation of any complaint made against Father Peter Searson during the 1980s and early 1990s.
Among the complaints were that Searson showed a body in a coffin to children, carried a gun to a school at Doveton, where he was the parish priest, and held a large knife against a child’s chest.
Furness said current Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart will tell the inquiry there was a “complete failure of process” in the handling of complaints in Doveton by the archdiocese.
Furness said complaints were made to Archbishop Little about Father Wilfred Baker – in 1978 about his relationship with a teenage boy and in the early 1990s about his unprofessional and rude behaviour.
Former principal of North Richmond’s St James Primary School, Patricia Taylor, will give evidence that Catholic Education Office personnel warned her never to send children to the presbytery by themselves with Baker.
The inquiry heard Taylor went to the then-regional bishop for her area, Monsignor Peter Connors, who said: “research tells us once a pedophile always a pedophile.”
Furness said another Melbourne priest, Father Ronald Pickering, went on extended leave after a complaint was made in 1986 that he sexually abused a boy at a Gardenvale parish.
“Nothing was done following this complaint. The evidence will be that he continued to offend.”
Pickering resigned as parish priest of Gardenvale in 1993 and suddenly left Australia in May.
Furness said there would be evidence about whether the priest knew about police investigations into his conduct before he went to England.
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