Lawyer seeks inquiry over abuse by clergy

April 14, 2012

"An inquiry would horrify the community" ... Lawyer Vivian Waller. Photo: Craig Sillitoe

THE Australian public would be horrified at the extent of sexual abuse likely to be revealed by an inquiry into the Catholic clergy, says a lawyer who is mounting a case for compensation against the church.

Vivian Waller, who represents 45 victims who are suing the church, has joined the call for an inquiry following a police report linking dozens of suicides to sexual abuse by clergymen.

Most of the cases concern assaults committed by convicted Catholic clergymen Robert Charles Best and former priest Gerald Ridsdale at schools in Victoria.

''An inquiry would horrify the community,'' Dr Waller said.

''There has been an epidemic of abuse going on for a long time and the church has shown a great reluctance to do anything about it.

''The Christian Brothers were aware of the problem and they did nothing about it.''

Fresh calls for an inquiry have accompanied confirmation by police yesterday of a report detailing at least 40 suicides among victims of Best, Ridsdale and other clergy.

But the Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu, said he is not yet ready to order an inquiry into the ''very disturbing claims''.

Mr Baillieu said some of the issues referred to in the police dossier had already been examined in the inquiry into vulnerable children headed by the former Supreme Court judge Phillip Cummins that reported this year.

Among its recommendations, the Cummins inquiry called for further investigation of a variety of sexual abuse issues.

''The government has that on the agenda at the moment,'' Mr Baillieu said. ''The Attorney-General is looking at all those options, and I'm not going to pre-empt an announcement on that.''

The police report, compiled by the Ballarat Detective Sergeant Kevin Carson, who led the inquiry into Best, is to be passed on to the state coroner for further investigation.

The report lists the cases of at least 40 boys and young men who committed suicide after being abused, the majority by Best when he taught at St Alipius school in East Ballarat, St Leo's in Box Hill and St Joseph's in Geelong. When Best taught at St Alipius, Father Ridsdale was the school's chaplain.

The Deputy Commissioner, Graham Ashton, said a submission based on those reports would recommend that the coroner examine the suicides and the response of the church to both the abuse and its aftermath.

Mr Ashton said police were compiling more detailed documents for consideration by the coroner.

Best was jailed last year for 15 years on 27 charges relating to 11 boys while Ridsdale was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 1994 after pleading guilty to 46 counts of indecent assault against 21 children.

Representatives of the Christian Brothers movement were unavailable for comment.

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