Five of Australia’s Catholic archbishops will front the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in the final days of the public hearing in Sydney.
This is who they are, what their public statements about child abuse documented by the royal commission have been, and what their relationships are to Cardinal George Pell.
Archbishop Denis Hart, Melbourne
Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart is among those fronting the royal commission in Sydney. (AAP: Julian Smith)
Archbishop Denis Hart, 75, has been the Archbishop of Melbourne for almost 16 years.
He has held the powerful position of president of the Australian Bishops Conference since 2012.
The royal commission has singled out the Archdiocese of Melbourne as being “one of the Catholic Church authorities with the highest numbers of alleged perpetrators” with 85 priests and 69 non-religious members among the alleged offenders.
In 1997, he was appointed as an auxiliary bishop to the Archdiocese of Melbourne, where he assisted then Archbishop Pell until 2001.
When Archbishop Pell moved to take up the position of Archbishop of Sydney, Archbishop Hart became his successor in Melbourne.
In 2002, after allegations were aired on 60 Minutes that then Archbishop Pell showed little compassion to the victims of child sex abuse, Archbishop Hart issued a joint statement with then Archbishop Pell to “acknowledge with deep sadness and regret the evil of sexual abuse and other betrayals of trust”.
“On behalf of the Catholic Church in Melbourne and Sydney, and personally, we apologise, sincerely and unreservedly, to all victims of abuse, and to the Australian community, for the wrongs and hurt suffered,” they said.
The two went on to publish newspaper advertisements in the two cities apologising “sincerely and unreservedly”.
Since 2014, Archbishop Hart has made several appearances at the royal commission.
During the hearings, Archbishop Hart appointed a former federal court judge to review the church’s ‘Melbourne Response’ compensation scheme, which was widely seen as capping compensation payouts to more than 300 victims.
Throughout his evidence, Archbishop Hart said the church hierarchy had done little to tackle clerical sexual abuse, but his criticism did not include the former Archbishop of Melbourne, Archbishop Pell.
“I think as Archbishop he instituted the Melbourne Response and really made big changes,” he told the commission.
In February last year, as Cardinal Pell was about to appear before the royal commission, Archbishop Hart was scathing about what he saw as leaks regarding criminal investigations, designed to undermine the Cardinal.
Archbishop Hart declined the ABC’s request for an interview.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Brisbane
Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge is a member of the Catholic Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)
Archbishop Mark Coleridge was the first archbishop to give evidence in this final hearing involving the Catholic Church and the first to post a video to the faithful warning of a “horrific portrait of appalling abuse”.
“My sincere hope is that all the blood, sweat and tears will produce justice and healing and ensure that the future is much safer for the young than the past has been,” he said in the video.
A member of the Catholic Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council, Archbishop Coleridge told the royal commission: “We are, as it were, a law and a world unto ourselves.”
In 1997, he spent four years at the Vatican Secretariat of State and came home to become an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Melbourne.
In 2006, he was appointed the Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn and he has been the Archbishop of Brisbane since 2012.
When he appeared before the royal commission in 2013, Archbishop Coleridge said there had been “spectacular bungling” in one case being examined at the inquiry.
He said the “whole tsunami” of allegations had bishops “like rabbits in the spotlight”.
Archbishop Coleridge was one of five of the nation’s archbishops who wrote an open letter in support of Cardinal Pell in 2015, describing him as a “man of integrity committed to helping others”.
Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, Perth
Timothy Costelloe described the extent of child abuse in the Catholic Church as a “tragic scandal”. (Supplied: Catholic Church)
Melbourne-born Archbishop Timothy Costelloe has been the Archbishop of Perth since 2012.
Several orphanages and boys homes in Western Australia have also been named as centres of shocking abuse.
Catholic Church records compiled for the first time and tendered at the royal commission revealed that between 1950 and 2010, 8.3 per cent of priests in the Archdiocese of Perth had been accused of child sexual abuse.
Archbishop Costelloe described the extent of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in a statement as a “tragic scandal”.
The 63-year-old theologian, who finished his schooling at Salesian College Chadstone, entered the priesthood in 1977 and 20 years later was appointed an auxiliary bishop of Melbourne.
Last year, after Cardinal Pell gave evidence to the royal commission from Rome, Archbishop Costelloe wrote a letter to churchgoers assuring them that complaints of child sexual abuse were taken seriously.
Archbishop Philip Wilson, Adelaide
Archbishop Philip Wilson has been the Archbishop of Adelaide since December 2001.
Over the past two decades, Archbishop Wilson has held key roles in the Catholic Church’s investigations and handling of child sexual abuse allegations and previously served as a co-chairman of the church’s National Committee for Professional Standards.
He is the most senior member of the Catholic clergy to face charges of failing to report child abuse allegations and is currently fighting to have charges against him — for concealing child sexual abuse by a NSW priest — quashed.
The alleged perpetrator was Father Jim Fletcher and police alleged Archbishop Wilson had information regarding the priest which could have helped secure a conviction.
Archbishop Wilson’s legal team has argued there is no evidence the offence ever happened.
He gave evidence at the royal commission in June 2014 relating to the Wollongong Catholic Diocese and was critical of the Vatican’s historical reluctance to stop priests accused of abuse from staying in their ministry.
In a statement about his upcoming appearance at the royal commission, he said: “I promise we will leave no stone unturned in our effort to make our Church in Adelaide safe for children, and to ensure that they will never be at risk of abuse in the future.”
Archbishop Anthony Fisher, Sydney
Anthony Fisher succeeded Cardinal George Pell as the Archbishop of Sydney in 2014. (AAP: Paul Miller)
Archbishop Anthony Fisher grew up in Sydney, attended St Ignatius Riverview, worked as a lawyer, has a doctorate in bioethics from Oxford University and is a member of the Dominican order of priests.
From 2003 to 2010, he was auxiliary bishop to Cardinal Pell, who he first met as a young priest working in Melbourne and has been referred to by one long-time religious commentator as a “Pell protege”.
Archbishop Fisher was the face of World Youth Day in 2008, which was widely considered to be a great success, with hundreds of thousands of young pilgrims attending from all over the globe.
However, a low point for the then Bishop Fisher came at a media conference attended by international journalists where he expressed frustration at ABC Lateline’s coverage of a horrific child sexual abuse case involving a priest, instead of World Youth Day.
Bishop Fisher succeeded Cardinal Pell as the Archbishop of Sydney in 2014.
At the time he made special mention of the challenges the church faces.
“Victims of abuse and all young people must come first — no excuses, no cover-ups. The church must do better in this area and I am committed to playing a leading role in regaining the confidence of the community and of our own members,” he said.
Recently, in the wake of a deluge of grim revelations at the royal commission regarding the reported extent of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church he posted a video message saying he “personally felt shaken and humiliated by this information”.
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