MAITLAND-Newcastle Catholic diocese “fiercely resisted” paying compensation to the victim of a notorious child sex offender teacher in 2005 despite internal legal advice in 1990 conceding his victims would have “a pretty good case” to sue the church, royal commission documents released on Monday show.
The teacher’s trail of destruction through the Hunter over several decades included a parting gesture to the church a year before his death – his evidence to the 2005 court case saying he warned the diocese he was a convicted child sex offender before it employed him in 1974.
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His crimes against children included threatening a 10-year-old boy victim that he would “kill your mum” if the boy told her about the serious sexual assaults.
Documents released by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse show the teacher’s evidence on February 16, 2005 caused Catholic Church Insurance (CCI) less than a week later to refuse to cover the diocese for any claims by the teacher’s victims, and increased the substantial compensation ultimately paid to 10 victims because of the diocese’s liability.
The documents show CCI advised the then Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Michael Malone that “the dilemma we now face is the difficulty of defending the actions of the diocese, who allegedly allowed a known sex offender to work as a teacher in the Catholic education system”.
While it had originally planned to cover the diocese for claims against the teacher and was “conscious of its obligation to support the diocese in these difficult circumstances”, the Catholic insurer said “new information which has recently come to light” caused it to change its position.
It followed an affidavit by the teacher, who cannot be named by order of the royal commission, that he told Catholic Education Office directors Monsignor Frank Coolahan and Monsignor Vince Dilley during employment interviews in 1974 that he was convicted of sexually assaulting young boys at a Hunter public school in 1962.
The teacher, known by the royal commission as GKI, was a student at Marist Brothers, Maitland in the 1940s.
GKI was convicted in 1989 of sexually assaulting two boys, aged 10, at a Hunter Catholic school. But documents held by the Newcastle Herald, and others released by the royal commission on Monday, show parents raised the alarm about GKI on at least three occasions in the 1980s, including reports to the Catholic Education Office.
The documents include a report to the then Bishop Leo Clarke in 1990 by a church committee headed by the then Monsignor Philip Wilson, and tasked with reporting on the diocese’s handling of the teacher’s case.
The committee found serious gaps in the diocese’s child protection protocols, including a reluctance to include details of alleged sexual misconduct on a teacher’s personnel file.
“It would seem that if a teacher faced with allegations of sexual abuse resigns, there is nothing to guarantee that he/she will not be employed at some time in the future in a Catholic school in another diocese, or indeed in this diocese, given the reluctance to place information regarding the allegations in the personnel file,” Monsignor Wilson’s committee found.
It recommended that “personnel files contain all documents related to allegations, charges, convictions in relation to sexual abuse”.
The committee report noted that GKI had to be ordered by his probation officer to stay away from the church, the school and the children after he harassed children at Mass, followed the school bus and approached them in the street.
“Parishioners were extremely angry when they discovered that one of the teacher's former parish priests had testified on his behalf at the court case in which the teacher had pleaded guilty,” Bishop Clarke was told.
“It would seem that there has been no attempt by the parish, school or Catholic Education Office to ascertain whether the victims have suffered financial hardship because of the events which have occurred since the time of the abuse.”
A note at the bottom of the report warned Bishop Clarke that parents had the right to sue the Catholic Education Office and the diocese for “failing to adequately protect their children”.
“Our legal consultant suggests that the parents in this case would have a pretty good case if they chose to act,” the note said.
But when one of the 10-year-old boys whose complaints led to GKI’s conviction for child sex offences in 1989 tried to sue the diocese for compensation in 2005, his case was “fiercely resisted”, his barrister Andrew Morrison, SC, said in a report on the case in 2009.
Mr Morrison on Monday said he was “not at all surprised” to learn the diocese knew GKI’s victims had a “pretty good case” to sue the church, based on its knowledge it had employed a child sex offender to put in charge of young children.
“The Catholic Church doesn’t appear overall to have learnt the lessons from what has occurred and been revealed, although there are significant changes in some areas and it is not the only institution to have been found wanting,” Mr Morrison said.
“It’s got a long, long way to go. There are still some very ugly attitudes among some decision-makers.”