Retired judge Whitlam heads inquiry into church handling of ‘Father F’

THE Catholic Church has appointed a retired Federal Court judge to head an inquiry into its handling of a NSW priest who admitted sexually abusing boys as young as 10.

Antony Whitlam, QC, a former federal politician and the son of the former prime minister Gough Whitlam, was appointed to lead the independent inquiry jointly commissioned by the Bishop of Armidale, Michael Kennedy, and the Bishop of Parramatta, Anthony Fisher.

A statement from the two clergymen did not outline the terms of reference for the inquiry other than to say that it would look at ”the processes related to the management of ‘Father F”’, who has been the subject of media reports in relation to allegations of abuse of children.

”Further details of the inquiry process will be developed in consultation with Mr Whitlam, QC,” the statement said.

Father F, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was removed from public ministry after a meeting with three clergy in 1992, following continued allegations of abuse after he was moved from the Armidale diocese to Parramatta.

A letter to the then bishop of Armidale, Kevin Manning, written eight days later by one of the priests – the Vicar-General of the Armidale diocese, Wayne Peters – said Father F had ”wished to make certain admissions” at the meeting. These included that he had ”sexually interfered with” five boys aged about 10 or 11 between 1982 and 1984 while he was an assistant priest at Moree.

Father F told a court in 2004 he had admitted sexually molesting boys to the three priests, who have since given conflicting accounts of what was revealed in the meeting. Father F, defrocked in 2005, lives in Armidale.

The bishops’ statement said the inquiry did not intend to supplant or replace any other investigation, including that of police.

”Bishops Kennedy and Fisher extend their deepest sympathies to victims of child abuse and their families, and reassure the community of their commitment to see justice achieved,” it said.

The Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, said he would ensure the archdiocese and two of its priests who were at the 1992 meeting – the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference general-secretary, Father Brian Lucas, and its chancellor, Monsignor John Usher – would fully co-operate with the inquiry.

”The archdiocese of Sydney co-operates fully with police investigations and I confirm that the archdiocese will co-operate with any police investigation of the ex-priest F,” he said.

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