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Church outlines scope of Pell enquiry

The Catholic Church has announced the terms of reference for its enquiry into allegations of sexual abuse against the Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell.

Retired Victorian Supreme Court Judge Alec Southwell, QC will act as the commissioner of the enquiry, which will be held in private. The Catholic Church says it may make public the entire, or part of, commissioner Southwell's final report.

It will examine a complaint that Archbishop George Pell sexually abused a 12-year-old boy at a Catholic Holiday Camp on Victoria's Phillip Island in 1961.

The terms of reference are broad, stating that the commissioner shall make such inquiries and hold such hearings as he considers necessary.

The hearings will be held in Melbourne in private, with both the complainant and Dr Pell entitled to legal representation.

Commissioner Southwell's final report is to be submitted to the church's National Committee for Professional Standards.

The enquiry will be closed, with neither the Sydney Archbishop nor the alleged victim allowed to reveal the contents of the report to anyone other than advisers. But under the terms of reference, the report could be released by the co-chairmen of the Catholic Church's national committee for professional standards, Archbishop Philip Wilson and Br Michael Hill.

The terms of reference were immediately denounced by the Melbourne complainant, who said the church had allegedly broken an agreement to consult him first.

The complainant said in a statement: "I have been shown the terms of reference but I have not had the opportunity to comment on them. I am extremely disappointed that this has happened.

"It makes me wonder how serious they are about keeping me involved. This is the very first step in the process set up by the church and already they are not doing as they promised."

A church spokesman refused to comment.

Sydney lawyer Geoff Cahill, one of the first solicitors to file a statement of claim against a Catholic religious institution on grounds of sexual abuse, described the enquiry as "a lame-duck interview".

"The church has clothed this internal church enquiry with the trappings of a royal commission, but lacks the power to compel witnesses to attend, subpoena documents and the competence to determine guilt or innocence," Mr Cahill said.

Meanwhile Canberra auxiliary Bishop Pat Power, who over the weekend called for the church to reconsider the issue of compulsory celibacy for priests after the latest sex abuse crisis, issued a statement yesterday from the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn calling for reforms.

The sex abuse crisis was an opportunity for renewal in the church, Bishop Power said, but secrecy and the exclusion of women in areas such as the church's teachings on sexuality were instead fanning frustration and feelings of disenfranchisement among Catholics.

"I honestly believe secrecy in the operation of the church is causing great harm to the church," he said.

In a separate development, claims against the order of the Poor Sisters of Nazareth in Brisbane have been lodged in the Supreme Court of Queensland. A woman in her late 50s alleges she was the victim of sexual and physical abuse at the nuns' Nazareth House orphanage in the 1940s and 1950s, according to The Bulletin magazine, which claims the order has already paid up to $75,000 compensation to some victims in out-of-court settlements.

Terms of Reference - The Pell Enquiry (comment from Catholic lawyer Geoff Cahill)
Dr Pell steps aside while allegations are investigated (Catholic Weekly)

ABC | The Age/SMH

28 Aug 2002