Catholic Church denies fresh claim of abuse cover-up

Australia - The Catholic Church has defended itself against fresh claims it tried to cover up a police investigation into the abuse of intellectually disabled children at one of its Adelaide schools.

The allegations were aired last night on the ABC's Four Corners program, which used documents dating back 20 years to reveal the church received legal advice telling it to avoid mentioning in writing charges of sexual abuse against a volunteer bus driver at St Ann's Special School in Adelaide.

This kept the allegations from the public, and no attempt was made by the school or the Catholic Education Office to pursue the police inquiry into the bus driver, Brian Perkins, which stalled.

A church spokeswoman told The Australian last night the program was based on old material that was no longer relevant as the church had moved forward in its policies and procedures, including setting up preventive measures that were rigorously enforced.

"The management practices of the late 1980s and early 90s are not those of today, and there has been significant progress in dealing with this complex and painful issue," the spokeswoman said.

"(Adelaide) Archbishop Philip Wilson's response in 2002 when he learned of the appalling abuse at St Ann's was to immediately write to the police commissioner to request the extradition of Brian Perkins from Queensland.

"He adopted a generous and compassionate approach through the provision of ex-gratia payments, which was highly commended at the time."

Archbishop Wilson was installed in 2001, shortly before a group of parents took their story to the media.

In 2002, Monsignor David Cappo, the Rann government's social inclusion commissioner, met parents who wanted an inquiry, but the program was told he refused to accept parents' input into the terms of reference and that he "made a sudden exit".

In the program, Archbishop Wilson denied the documents showed a cover-up.

Archbishop Wilson and Monsignor Cappo face a separate accusation of failing to resolve a complaint by Archbishop John Hepworth of clerical sexual abuse. Archbishop Wilson and Monsignor Cappo, who has quit as Julia Gillard's mental health reform adviser, deny the accusation.