After 18 years investigating pedophiles in the Catholic
Church, Peter O'Callaghan QC is sure of one thing: people
don't make up stories about sexual abuse.
He was appointed in 1996 to investigate sexual abuse in the
Melbourne archdiocese and thought the claims would flood in
over the first six months.
They never stopped coming.
Almost two decades later he is still getting calls from
victims, including one during a break in a royal commission
hearing on Monday.
As the independent commissioner of the church's Melbourne
Response to clergy sex abuse, Mr O'Callaghan has identified
81 offenders and upheld 326 claims of abuse since October
1996, with just nine claims unsubstantiated.
"I've reached a clear impression that one doesn't fake
stories about sexual abuse," Mr O'Callaghan told the child
abuse royal commission.
He recommended victims get payouts through the Melbourne
Response, which initially capped compensation payments at
$50,000 and later $75,000.
But in cases where the church knew a priest had abused
children but he was moved to another Melbourne parish to
offend again, Mr O'Callaghan told some victims to get
independent legal advice.
"It was apparent to me that the abuse took place after the
archdiocese was aware of previous abuse by that priest," Mr
He highlighted the case of the late Father William Baker, who
was reported for abuse in Gladstone Park and was then
transferred to Eltham, where he offended again.
Mr O'Callaghan said he told one victim legal action would be
better than accepting a Melbourne Response payout.
"I thought he would have much more success, and I think he
did," Mr O'Callaghan said.
"Typically, of course, if you can mount a case at common law
you will recover much more than the ex gratia compensation."
Victims who have won legal cases against the church got an
average of $293,000, compared to the average $33,000 payout
received through the Melbourne Response.
Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan repeatedly asked Mr
O'Callaghan if in 18 years of hearing victims' stories he
thought the capped payments were fair.
"I don't think it's appropriate for me to make any public
statement," Mr O'Callaghan said.
Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart has promised to look at
reviewing compensation payments paid under the Melbourne
The royal commission has heard from more than 2000 victims in
private hearings, but a further 3000 could be left without a
say if funding isn't forthcoming.
A commission spokeswoman said it would have to stop taking
new complaints in September or October unless government
funding is extended until 2017.
A spokesman for Attorney-General George Brandis said the
government was "actively considering" the request.
"The government has always supported the important work of
the royal commission and has always provided sufficient funds
for it to carry out its work," he told AAP.
THE MELBOURNE ARCHDIOCESE OFFENDERS
- 81 identified abusers since 1996
- 64 priests (39 dead)
- 10 lay people
- 5 religious sisters
- 1 religious brother
- 1 deacon
- Another 15 unidentified.
(Source: The Catholic Church's Melbourne Response)