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Townsville bishop says victims more important than diocesan finances

Responding to the prospect of a huge monetary payout in a sex abuse case, Bishop Michael Putney of Townsville has said the needs of the victims remain the Church's priority.

"Even if someone is taking legal action against us, we still want to help them spiritually, emotionally and socially with counselling," he said in a statement in which he unreservedly apologised to victims of former priest Neville Creen.

The Townsville Bulletin reports today that Townsville Diocese could face a $1 million payout after Creen's admission that he sexually abused a score of young girls in his North Queensland parish. Creen pleaded guilty on Tuesday to 34 counts of indecent dealings with 20 girls aged between four and 13 committed when he was a parish priest in Mount Isa in the 1970s.

Branding paedophilia "a terrible crime," Bishop Putney's statement said: "The church acknowledges the terrible harm done by sexual abuse. We deeply regret that one of our clergy in this way betrayed the trust extended to him and apologise unreservedly to anyone who has been harmed in this way.

"The church's primary concern is always for the victims of any such abuse and finding ways of assisting them."

Bishop Putney told the Townsville Bulletin he knew his diocese faced litigation over Creen's activities, but that side of the issue was handled by the church's legal officers.

"I'm more concerned with healing and we haven't been idle," he said. "Even if someone is taking legal action against us, we still want to help them spiritually, emotionally and socially with counselling."

He said he was saddened that more of Creen's victims had not sought the help offered through the Towards Healing program.

"But I understand victims being suspicious of us because of the trust that was broken," he said. "All I can ask is, give us another go, we want to help."

Bishop Putney said that could be a massive financial blow to the diocese, although there was some insurance cover in place.

Creen has been remanded in custody to be sentenced on a date to be fixed.

Townsville Bulletin

Former Towsville priest in court on abuse charges (10/11/03)
Priest 'chosen by God' for sex crimes (Courier-Mail)
Ex-priest admits abusing 20 girls (Courier-Mail)
Diocese of Townsville
Towards Healing
Quinn & Scattini

[Boston] Lawyers the big winners in sex scandal (The Age)

12 Sep 2003