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Hickey insists Church respects law on priest pedophilia


Perth Archbishop Barry Hickey says the Catholic Church is not trying to bypass civil law in its preferred methods of handling allegations of paedophilia against priests.

"To prevent misunderstandings, I want to emphasise that the Church is not trying to bypass civil law and would not be able to even if it wanted to," he said.

The Church in WA offered assistance to complainants who wished to report criminal matters to police.

A directive issued by the Vatican last year said claims of paedophilia against priests should be heard by a secret Church tribunal. It became public this week.

Archbishop Hickey said a police investigation would rule out any inquiry by the Church's profess-ional standards committee to avoid possible evidence contamination.

An accused priest would be confronted only if police were not involved. Work to help the victim would begin if misdeeds were admitted.

Meanwhile Melbourne lawyer David Forster told The West Australian that the state should urgently scrap a law preventing victims of clergy sexual abuse from taking legal action if the abuse happened more than six years ago.

Mr Forster, of Hollows Lawyers in Melbourne, said most other States applied a time limit - ranging from three to six years - only from when the victim became aware of the link between problems they might have and the earlier abuse. Such links often were made only when the person sought psychiatric help many years later.

In the US, some victims of clergy sexual abuse have reacted with skepticism to the Vatican's plans to conduct secret trials of priests accused of pedophilia.

"At best, this clearly shows that the church's primary commitment is to secrecy, not to healing or prevention," said David Clohessy, director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "At worst, it's a step backwards because its practical impact will be to prod church officials towards greater secrecy and away from civil and criminal authorities."

Advocates of the policy said the new rules signaled that the pope was taking such charges seriously.

"This is a very strong statement that the church gets it," said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C. "This is one of very few offences referred to the Vatican for judgment, which indicates that it is viewed as a grave offense."

SOURCE
The West Australian/Newsday


11-Jan-02