By now, most Catholics who care about such things will have seen that an Italian news outlet has reported yet another explanation for the terminus of some mysterious money transfers from the Vatican to Australia. Around $2 million was moved from Rome during 2016 and 2017 but for some reason, our betters have kept the transactions shrouded in secrecy.
Now, the Italian news outlet, La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana (aka The Compass) claims that it has seen documentation proving that the payments were made in response to a request from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, specifically from the former Secretary, Fr Brian Lucas. It seems that Fr Lucas wanted to secure the internet domain “.catholic” and asked the Vatican department of Communications to pay for it.
So who is this Fr Brian Lucas and why has he not come clean on the reason for the payments? He has been an official spin-doctor for the Australian Church for years, so is no stranger to making statements to the media (or to helping preserve that teflon-finish on unworthy bishops’ mitres.)
Well, a little digging shows that Fr Lucas has had a chequered past when it comes to transparency. In fact, he has a history of failing to keep records on some pretty serious matters and has gone so far as to destroy vital documents. He has also rubbed shoulders with some fairly unsavoury characters on the Australian ecclesiastical scene.
From 1990 to 1996, Fr Lucas was head of the Special Issues Resource Group, which was the first body set up by the Church to handle sexual abuse committed by priests. As a civil lawyer, Lucas interviewed suspected abusers and decided on what course of action the Church should take. Unfortunately, that action was generally limited to suggesting that guilty priests left their ministry of their own accord – despite it being a crime to withhold knowledge of abuse since the early 90’s.
In 1992, Fr Lucas interviewed a priest suspected of abuse, Fr John Joseph Farrell. Although he claims that the predator made no admission of guilt, another priest who was present at the meeting, said that this was not true and that Lucas pressured him not to report Farrell’s misconduct. Farrell was eventually defrocked more than 10 years later.
Lucas’s response when asked why he had not been forthcoming? “We were trying to find a formula of words.”
You know, kind of like a sorcerer.
In 1996, Lucas presented a paper to the Canon Law Society which was subtitled, “To Shred or not to Shred.” While the title was no doubt hilariously appealing to like-minded academics, (Lucas called it “whimsical”) the effect of eliminating evidence in cases of criminal abuse has had very tragic consequences for victims -while administrators such as Fr Lucas appear to have lost little sleep over the matter.
In 2012, Lucas was one of the subjects of an investigation into the failure of the Newcastle-Maitland diocese to protect children from the predator priest, Fr McAlindon. Fr Lucas admitted to the inquiry that although he knew in 1993 that McAlindon had abused children, he did not go to the police. The case is particularly shameful as there had been complaints against McAlindon going back to the 1970’s.
Lucas said that he was not obliged to turn over offenders to the police but that his policy was to “… to entice him out of ministry with a view that in due course the criminal justice system will kick in.” In fact, Fr Lucas made it a practice to never keep written records of interviews with suspected abuser-priests. Lucas even claims not to remember some of his meetings with serial offenders, including McAlindon.
From 2003 to 2015, Fr Lucas sat on the board of Catholic Church Insurance Ltd – the organisation responsible for providing insurance to the Church: the last four years of that time coincided with the beginning of the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse. Just prior to Fr Lucas’ resignation, the Royal Commission specifically requested 2000 secret files on pedophile priests from the 90’s in order to assess at what point the Church knew that its predatory employees were offending.
The files were given to the Royal Commission, albeit later than the RC demanded, but were not made available to victims’ lawyers. So while CCI had been making compensation payouts, it was settling them out of court, ostensibly to avoid embarrassment to the Church. From one article:
The insurer’s inquiries aimed to determine exactly when church authorities were first alerted to a paedophile behaviour by clergy. The dates were vital as the insurer did not have to provide coverage for crimes committed after the date church authorities had official “knowledge” an individual was an abuser.
Such information is also of extraordinary value to victims seeking to find out what the church knew about their alleged abuse and subsequent liability, as well as for criminal investigations into the concealment of crimes.Sydney Morning Herald
So, by concealing the files, the Church potentially saved a lot of money: if victims were unaware of the date that complaints were first made about an abuser, then their payout would be lower. There was less evidence for police to work with as well, not to mention that police would be none the wiser about the Church’s coverup.
It is true that in the past, there was generally not a great understanding of the harm caused by child sexual abuse, but that doesn’t excuse the consistent pattern of inaction exhibited by the Church. It also doesn’t excuse the failure of those in authority to take responsibility for treatment that multiplied the trauma of victims. (eg take a look here if you want to read Fr Lucas’ non-apology for his failings.)
An ABC special report from 2016 noted that although there was plenty of evidence that Fr Lucas had covered up several cases of abuse, the police had never taken any action against him. Does this mean that Fr Lucas has friends in very high places? From the report:
Barrister Dr Andrew Morison says authorities could charge Lucas for concealing a crime, but they have already, in the past, refused to do so.
“Father Lucas was criticised in respect of his conduct at Wollongong, in respect of his conduct at Newcastle, in respect of his conduct in regard to Father Farrell from Moree. I would have thought that he is in serious difficulty if this matter is appropriately referred to the DPP.”
One more thing – and this is, well, rather odd: in 1990, Fr Lucas co-wrote a book with a Fr Robert Borg and a Fr Gerard Kelly. Although it was once available on the St Paul’s bookshop website, it has now been scrubbed. Fr Borg was mentioned in a book about Australia’s priestly gay-cabal called Unholy Silence, by whistleblower and ex-priest, Kevin Lee. (Like some other anti-sodomite-priest whistleblowers, Lee met a tragic end some years ago.) Robert Borg was Lee’s contemporary at Manly seminary, and according to Lee, was one of a handful known to frequent gay bars. That didn’t stop his being ordained, however, and Fr Borg went on to become the Dean of the Broken Bay Cathedral. Claims of rampant sodomy and partying at the seminary were presented as testimony to the Royal Commission by the abuser-priest, John Farrell, who said he used the seminary’s gay culture as a reason for requesting laicisation in 2005. (Note the anomaly here: Farrell claims he requested to be laicised; other reports suggest that it was the Church that threw him out for being an abuser.)
However, Fr Lucas, who also attended Manly seminary, disagreed that there was a rampant gay subculture. So, it’s all just a bit …. odd. By the way, the name of the book was, ahem, Celebrating with Children.