ARMIDALE’S second-most senior priest is refusing to explain why he has given two conflicting accounts of a meeting he attended in 1992 during which a priest admitted to a series of child sexual offences.
When approached twice by the Herald in Armidale yesterday, Father Wayne Peters, the vicar-general of the diocese, refused to say why he denied to ABC’s Four Corners program in writing that the priest, Father F., had admitted the offences.
After a two-hour meeting with Armidale’s Bishop Michael Kennedy yesterday, Father Peters would only say: ”My bishop has made a statement and no doubt will make further statements shortly.”
Bishop Kennedy, who has said the matter would be investigated, also refused to answer questions from the Herald.
Father Peters told Four Corners he recalled the meeting with Father F., who cannot be named for legal reasons, but denied that Father F. had admitted his sexual offences. He told the program in writing his report at the time to Bishop Kevin Manning contained only ”instances of misconduct”.
”[Father F.] deliberately would not give any details or say anything that would incriminate him or amount to an admission in the legal sense,” he said.
This is contrary to a letter he wrote to Bishop Manning eight days after the 1992 meeting, during which he said Father F. had ”wished to make certain admissions” about five boys aged 10 or 11 he had ”sexually interfered with” between 1982 and 1984 while an assistant priest in Moree.
The letter said in two cases Father F. admitted he had ”fondled the genitals of each of these boys and to quote ‘sucked off their dicks’,” monthly for 12 months.
Father F. stayed in public ministry, moving from Moree to Parramatta until further reports of sexual assault prompted the 1992 meeting with the three senior priests.”
The letter had not come to light before Sydney’s Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, told the ABC a ”file note” of the meeting showed Father F. had made ”no admissions”, which was consistent with the recollections of the three priests who had interviewed him.
Four days after the Four Corners program, the church has still not revealed the contents of the ”file note” on which Cardinal Pell says he relied.
After earlier this week dismissing the 1992 letter by Father Peters as a ”private report” and not an ”official record”, the archdiocese claimed last night it was relying on a ”personal note” from another senior priest at the meeting, John Usher, now the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Sydney.
A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese, Katrina Lee, said Father Usher used this note ”to confirm his recollection that Father F. made no admissions of actual criminal conduct”.
Before he advised Cardinal Pell, Father Usher spoke to the two other priests, Father Peters and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference general-secretary, Father Brian Lucas, Ms Lee said.
Father Lucas told the Herald that Father F. did make admissions of ”wrongdoing” at the 1992 meeting but claimed he did not provide names of his victims so the church did not advise police. ”I did not consider at that time that reporting to the police would assist in any prosecution since we did not have any details of victims,” he said.
Father F. was formally defrocked in 2005 but lives in Armidale. This was a source of anger for many parishioners at Friday morning Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral in Armidale. One, who refused to be named, told the Herald: ”I think he’s got to come to justice. It should not have been allowed to go on.”