The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse concluded the first stage of Case Study 44 last week, which looked at the case of former Priest, John Joseph Farrell, who served in the Dioceses of Armidale and Parramatta.
At the conclusion of the last day of the hearing, Senior Counsel assisting the Royal Commission, Gail Furness SC, told the Commission that further inquiries were being made and so did not conclude the hearing, but asked for it to be adjourned to a later date.
In the second week of testimony, the Commission heard from Father Brian Lucas and Monsignor John Usher. You can read our coverage of week one here.
Testimony of Father Brian Lucas
Father Lucas was asked about the various roles he has held over the years, including his role as the official spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Sydney, General Secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Director of Catholic Church Insurances and a member of the Special Issues Resources Group (which dealt with cases of child sexual abuse.) Prior to becoming a Priest, Father Lucas worked in the Children’s Court and he told the Royal Commission that this is why he was chosen to work on “special issues.”
Briefing to Bishops’ Conference
Father Lucas gave evidence about briefings he’d given to the Bishops’ Conference in November 1987 and May 1988 about the early learnings on the issue of child sexual abuse. He was also asked about a memo he had written for the Canon Law Society titled: “Are our archives safe?” in which he wrote the following:
There may be cases that appear to be so sensitive that it is in the best interests of the parties, or one of them, and of the Church, that the documents not be created in the first place,
Memo to Canon Law Society
Father Lucas told the Commission that he had been asked by the Canon Law Society to write the report following the search warrant being executed on Bishop Bede Heather’s office. He explained that in particular, those who worked in the marriage tribunal (which deals with annulment cases) were concerned that these documents would not be confidential.
Father Lucas was challenged by Ms Furness on this point, asking if he considered the documents created by the tribunal to hold a different status to other documents which can be subject to a search warrant. Father Lucas said that if a person was not required to disclose a matter to the police, but they chose to disclose it to a third party (eg, a doctor or off-the-record to a journalist), the third party should respect that confidence. In the example of a case before the marriage tribunal, Father Lucas explained that relatives and friends are sometimes asked about matters to do with the relationship of the couple. While these disclosures would not be relevant in any criminal or civil court proceedings, those who gave the statements to the tribunal to assist its work on the understanding they would be confidential would be distressed if they were made public. He told the Commission that these matters were his focus when preparing the memo.
Reporting abuse to police
In relation to whether or not cases of abuse were to be reported to the police, Father Lucas told the Commission that there were four categories of abuse cases with which he dealt, none of which required him to report the matter to authorities:
- The accused person was deceased, so he didn’t have to make a police report;
- Proceedings were already underway, or had occurred, but no conviction was achieved;
- The victim did not want a report to be made; or
- The accused was already pleading guilty.
He said that the biggest hurdle he faced was encouraging people to report matters to police.
Father John Farrell
Father Lucas and John Farrell were in the same year at seminary. He said that he did not hear rumours about Farrell’s offending, and only found out in 1988 when Farrell called him to tell him that charges had been laid against him. Father Lucas said that his next dealing with Farrell was when Bishop Kevin Manning, then Bishop of Armidale, asked Father Lucas to interview Farrell in mid-1992.
Father Lucas, along with Monsignor Wayne Peters (now deceased) and Monsignor John Usher met with Farrell on 3 September 1992. At the time of this meeting, Farrell’s faculties had already been withdrawn and he did not ever return to public ministry.
This meeting was the subject of a 2012 Four Corners episode which suggested that Farrell had made a number of admissions to Father Lucas, Monsignor Peters and Monsignor Usher during the meeting.
Father Lucas was questioned at length about why, after receiving a request for comment from the program’s producers, he sought to discuss the request with Monsignor Usher. Ms Furness and Justice Peter McClellan proposed that they should not have collaborated on their response, to which Father Lucas responded that there was a risk of misrepresentation and exploitation of even minor inconsistencies in media reporting, even if the parties involved told the truth.
There was also discussion about the wording of various responses to Four Corners, and in particular why certain reports said that “no admissions were made” by Farrell while others said “no specific admissions” were made. There were also questions about the response of each party after the Four Corners episode had screened.
The discussion then turned to a letter which Monsignor Peters had written to Bishop Manning on 11 September 1992. The letter stated that Farrell had admitted to fondling the genitals of three boys and performing oral sex on two of them, which was inconsistent with the response which had been given to the Four Corners program. Four Corners had a copy of the letter. Father Lucas told the Commission that it was his impression that Monsignor Peters had gotten his information from elsewhere and made no admissions were made in the meeting. He said that the surrounding circumstances confirmed this would be the case because if Farrell had made admissions, there would have been no need for two follow-up meetings and it would have made sense for Bishop Manning to implement a five-year plan for Farrell, because the decision that he could never return to ministry would have been an obvious one.
Testimony of Monsignor John Usher
Monsignor Usher told the Commission that there were two groups which formed in relation to child sexual abuse; one which advised the Bishops’ Conference and another which had persons available in each state to assist locally.
3 September 1992 meeting
Monsignor Usher told the Commission that he had been given just a couple of days notice to attend the meeting with Farrell. He said that at the time of the meeting, he knew Farrell had been charged with child sexual abuse of a boy in Moree and had been to court, the matter had not proceeded (he had been told incorrectly that Farrell had been acquitted), that the Bishop had sent Farrell to a psychologist who had said Farrell was not a risk to children, and that the Bishop was seeking further advice.
Of the meeting, he said that Farrell obviously had engaged in boundary violations and described him as arrogant and narcissistic. He was asked about his brief diary record of the meeting which read:
Met with Brian Lucas, Wayne Peters & John Farrell. Farrell is unrepentant about his sexual misconduct with children in my opinion. He states that he is open to therapy, but I doubt his veracity.
He said that “sexual misconduct” referred to boundary violations, such as taking children to the movies, on car drives and the like.
In a letter following the meeting, Monsignor Usher advised Bishop Manning that irrespective of the outcome of any legal trial (ie, the proceedings being dismissed), the Bishop still needed to make an assessment before giving Farrell an appointment and recommended an assessment by a second psychologist.
Monsignor Usher was also asked about the letter written by Monsignor Peters regarding the same meeting. Monsignor Usher had a different recollection of the meeting. He said that Farrell was trying to shock them and that his ramblings in the meeting were a combination of fantasies, his own actions, the things of which he had been accused and things other people had done. He suggested that because Monsignor Peters access to Farrell’s file, he would have had much more information about the allegations against him and was likely influenced by this information when preparing his report to Bishop Manning.
He told the Commission that since 1982, it was his regular practice to report matters to DoCS or the Police (he considered himself a mandatory reporter because he was a social worker as well as a Priest), and so it did not make any sense that he would not have done so if Farrell had made the admissions. He also said that it would be inconceivable for Farrell to have made admissions given he was seeking to be returned to ministry.
Monsignor Usher was asked about the Four Corners program and the requests for comment from the program’s producers. Monsignor Usher had told Four Corners that Farrell had made no “personal disclosures” of criminal activity and had chosen those words because Farrell had also made allegations about activity by others.
Monsignor Usher was asked about a number of other statements he had made in recent years regarding Farrell, including one he had prepared following the Four Corners program and another prepared for an inquiry undertaken by Antony Whitlam QC which was commissioned following the Four Corners report.
24 September 1992 meeting
Monsignor Usher was then asked about a letter from Monsignor Peters to Bishop Manning about following the second meeting with Farrell. He was asked about a reference in the letter to “those offended against” and it was suggested that this was an acknowledgment that there were victims. Monsignor Usher accepted the assumption could be made, but said he had a different recollection.
12 November 1992 meeting
Monsignor Usher was then asked about the final meeting with Farrell which occurred so Farrell could respond to the proposed “seven point plan” suggested for him.
Questions from Justice Peter McClellan
Justice McClellan asked Monsignor Usher about two speeches he had made in October 1992, describing them as confronting.” Monsignor Usher said that in 1992, there was an attempt to move Church leaders forward in their understanding of abuse matters and he considered the Church to be moving slower than it should, so his work was an attempt to shake things up. He said that the Church is doing better today, and that the Archdiocese of Sydney is a leader in the handling of these matters, but that there was more to be done, especially a focus on people who have been hurt.
Ms Furness did not conclude the case study, but submitted that the hearing be adjourned at a date to be fixed.
Monica Doumit, Catholic Talk editor