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Order head says give abuse victims benefit of doubt

Br Peter Burke, the Australian and New Zealand head of the St John of God Brothers, has said it is not necessary for religious leaders to demand proof before reaching out to those who claim they have been sexually abused by authority figures in the Church.

"I believe them. I'm not there to be judge and jury, that's not my job," he told The Australian newspaper's correspondent in New Zealand. "I believe it's up to the police to find out whether they are telling the truth or not. I listen to their story and I look at what their needs are now and I leave the investigation up to the police."

At a boarding school for underprivileged boys at Christchurch in the 1960s and 1970s, brothers from the Order of St John of God systematically abused up to 80 of the young men they were supposed to be protecting.

It's an approach that has angered some in the Catholic Church, who accuse Brother Burke of creating a dangerous precedent by not demanding proof. Earlier this year, the critics were proved at least partly correct when two men were charged with falsely claiming compensation.

Justin Todd Richardson, 34, who had received a $95,000 pastoral offer, was charged with defrauding the order and with making a false complaint to police. Another man, whose name is suppressed, also was charged with making a false complaint.

Both the men who were charged had spent hours telling their stories to Brother Burke, and he was surprised and a little hurt to learn they may have lied.

"It's disappointing, but at the same time I have a bit of empathy for them because there's something wrong with someone who could make up a story like that. I mean, I've heard lots of stories and for the life of me I could never make up a story like what I've heard. So I would say that even these ones that have made up stories, maybe they have been abused in the past, but not by our people."

The Australian (payment required)

John of God Order condemns tactics of NZ law firm (6/8/03)
Sex abuse complainant admits lying to get payout (3/7/03)
Priests face extradition over child sex claims (Courier-Mail)
Brothers quizzed on abuse claims (NZ Herald)
Brother suspended over sex claims (5/7/02)
St John of God Brothers to pay out $3.6 million (13/6/02)
Hospitaller Order of St John of God (Australia)
Townsville bishop says victims more important than diocesan finances (12/9/03)
Jesuits push law aside in sex abuse u-turn (2/7/03)

14 Oct 2003