Thursday, October 29, 2009

Priests warned to ignore letter on child abuse

CATHOLIC Archbishop Denis Hart has sent a letter to every Melbourne parish warning priests not to read to congregations a letter from a woman who says she was procured by nuns so a priest could rape her when she was a child.

Archbishop Hart's letter, sent on October 20, says the sexual abuse occurred in another diocese and has no connection with Melbourne, and that a complaint has been dealt with under the national protocol, Towards Healing.

The alleged victim, Jenny Tiffin, received $12,000 compensation in 2006 from the Sisters of Nazareth who ran the Nazareth House children's home in Ballarat. But a second application to the diocese of Ballarat was rejected. Ballarat Bishop Peter Connors told The Age yesterday he could say with certainty there was no assault.

Ms Tiffin said she had been repeatedly raped - orally, vaginally and anally - by serial pedophile priest Gerard Ridsdale while she and her brother were in Nazareth House in 1963-64. She was seven when it began.

She said some of the nuns used to come and get children at night and take them to Ridsdale. They would put them in his room, say ''be nice'', then leave the victim alone with him.

''I remember the abuse very vividly. The nuns did his bidding and fetching and let him have his fun with the kids. He would say bring me such and such child. I witnessed my brother being abused, and other boys and girls.''

Ridsdale is in jail, having pleaded guilty to abusing dozens of children. For years he was moved from parish to parish when there were complaints.

Last week, Ms Tiffin's lawyer, Angela Sdrinis, sent a three-page letter to every Catholic parish in Victoria, nearly 300, asking that it be read to the congregation.

The letter gives Ms Tiffin's account of her abuse, and attacks the Catholic Church for structuring itself so that it is immune from being sued over clerical sexual abuse.

Yesterday, Ms Sdrinis told The Age: ''The Catholic Church is as bad as, if not worse than, James Hardie, who tried to avoid their responsibilities [over asbestos-related illnesses] by incorporating offshore. The Catholic Church is trying to avoid its legal responsibilities by hiding behind a corporate veil.

''Everyone knew what James Hardie was doing, and was outraged. But the Catholic Church has been doing this for a decade, and no one knows about it.''

Ms Sdrinis said Archbishop Hart didn't want parishioners to know how the church conducted these claims. ''They don't want complainants to have access to the court system because the church controls the process. They are protecting the church's brand name.''

Bishop Connors said Ms Tiffin's complaint, made in 2007, had been carefully examined, and the assessors found it had no foundation.

Asked if that meant he did not believe Ms Tiffin, Bishop Connors said: ''Correct. I've met her on three separate occasions. In my own view, I say with certainty there was no assault.''

A spokesman for Archbishop Hart said he had written his letter after a number of priests who received Ms Srdrinis' letter called him seeking advice on how to respond.

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