Archbishop told abuse victim to 'go to hell': report

By Simon Lauder

August 11, 2009 / ABC News

Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart has been accused of saying to a sexual assault victim: "Go to hell, bitch".

The Age newspaper has obtained court transcripts which show the outburst happened after the woman knocked on the Archbishop's door at 1:20am in March 2004.

Archbishop Hart apologised to the woman in court and won a 13-month intervention order against the woman, who had thrown rocks through a window at his house and hassled his staff.

AM has sought a response from the Archbishop, who has told the newspaper he does not recall his comments.

Denis Hart has already responded to earlier allegations about the church's handling of hundreds of sexual abuse cases, and rejected a call for them to be reviewed.

Since 1996 about 450 sexual abuse victims have been dealt with under what is known as "Melbourne Response", involving investigations by church-appointed barrister Peter O'Callaghan QC.

Hundreds of victims have received payouts.

Helen Last is the director of victims group In Good Faith. She wants the Victorian Government to review the cases.

"The Commission in Melbourne has 12 years of files of very serious criminal behaviour and those things are not appropriate to be held in one commissioner's filing system," Ms Last said.

"We want the Government to explore those files. It's time for all those records, and those histories and files on those clerical sexual predators, to be summoned by the appropriate and relevant authorities."

Ms Last says the Church's investigator puts little emphasis on taking complaints to the police.

"He certainly does not on every occasion reinforce to them their need and right to go to the sexual offences squad. They are not encouraged or assisted in general to go and get legal advice from an independent lawyer," she said.

Archbishop Hart has defended the system, saying it does not stop people going to the police.

"People have always got two options. One, to go to the police, or simply to come and tell their story," he said.

Archbishop Hart has also defended the actions of his investigator who he says informed an accused priest of a police investigation weeks before police raided the priest's home in 2007.

The priest, Paul Pavlou, is now a convicted sex offender.

Archbishop Hart says Mr O'Callaghan did not undermine the case.

"He didn't know at that time that it was a covert police investigation. As a matter of fact, when he was informed, he informed the solicitors of both parties simply that he would be ceasing his investigations because the matter was now in the hands of the police," Archbishop Hart said.

"I think Mr Callaghan is an eminent man and the way in which he would have done what he had to do would certainly have respected the activities of the police. There has been no complaint from the police and it is a matter in which there's been a conviction."

Archbishop Hart has rejected calls for a review of the system. He says those questioning the way the Melbourne archdiocese deals with sexual abuse allegations have other issues as well.

"I believe that the claim comes from a small group which have had difficulty finding closure and finding healing," he said.

This morning's allegation against Archbishop Hart means questions about the Church's attitude about abuse victims will not be dismissed easily.


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