Catholic church lawyer to face inquiry after child sex abuse victims' criticism

After coming under fire from three witnesses at the 16th public hearing of the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, the independent commissioner appointed by the Melbourne Catholic archdiocese to investigate sex abuse claims, Peter O’Callaghan QC, will face the court on Tuesday morning.

He did not appear on day one of the public hearing on Monday after more than two hours of power outages delayed the proceedings.

The court had heard how two men – Father Kevin O’Donnell and Michael Glennon – were responsible for 73 of the 326 sexual abuse complaints upheld by the Melbourne archdiocese.

They were investigated as part of the church’s Melbourne Response scheme established by Cardinal George Pell. That scheme will be the subject of the hearing over the next fortnight, which will hear from many of the victims interviewed by O’Callaghan as part of church investigations.

A witness identified only as AFA told the court how he was sexually abused by Glennon on three separate dates, starting from when he was 15. His case would later be investigated under O’Callaghan.

“When I was 14 I met Father Glennon at a karate school he had just opened at St Gabriel’s,” AFA said. “I went to karate school once a week, but I saw Father Glennon more than that.”

They would hang out playing pool and drinking coffee, he said. The first abuse occurred when he and Glennon were going to open a new karate school at St Monica’s, in Moonee Ponds.

“When I was in the car with him he told me that he was bisexual,” AFA said. “He fondled me and molested me in the car in the car park at the back of St Gabriel’s presbytery.”

The other abuses occurred during a camping trip, when AFA shared a tent with Glennon; and during another camp in Lancefield, where he shared a bed with Glennon.

It was not until AFA was in his early 40s that he disclosed his abuse to his counsellor, the court heard. By this point, he was drinking heavily, his marriage was facing difficulties and he was depressed.

He saw a brochure for the Melbourne Response in 2011, and made an appointment with O’Callaghan. By this point, Glennon was in prison in relation to other sex abuse convictions, but AFA knew he was due for release in 2016 and wanted to make sure he stayed there longer.

During their meeting O’Callaghan told AFA that, while he would be eligible for compensation from the church of up to $75,000, this would be postponed if he went to police.

“He also said that it was very unlikely Father Glennon would get much more of a sentence even if he was convicted again,” AFA said. “I felt Mr O’Callaghan was trying to discourage me from going to the police.”

The court also heard from witness Paul Hersbach, a victim of Father Victor Rubeo from 1985 to 1988 when Hersbach was just 11.

Hersbach also met with O’Callaghan, one-on-one at his chambers. “I will never forget Mr O’Callaghan’s chambers,” he said. “It was a massive room – monstrous – it seemed to me to be the domain of an experienced legal professional.

“Mr O’Callaghan looked very comfortable, but I was not. I attended this meeting alone.”

At the end of the interview, Hersbach said O’Callaghan said he was obliged to tell him he could go to the police if he wanted to, but added that he did not think anything would come of it if he did. Hersbach said he left the meeting not knowing whether O’Callaghan had even believed him.

Six weeks later, in April 2006, Hersbach received a letter from O’Callaghan. “In the letter Mr O’Callaghan said based on my memory there did not seem to be much point in taking my matter to the police and that if I did go to the police, he would not be able to take any further steps in relation to my case until the police matter was completed,” Hersbach said.

“The letter also said that on the assumption that I would not go to the police Mr O’Callaghan was satisfied that I was a victim of child sexual abuse.”

Chrissie Foster also told of her family’s dealings with O’Callaghan. In her witness statement, Foster described how her two daughters, Emma and Katie, were repeatedly abused by O’Donnell.

They both applied for compensation under the Melbourne Response. Emma was offered $50,000 in compensation which she did not accept. The Fosters instead opted to pursue legal action outside of the church.

“On 6 May 1999, about six months before Emma turned 18, Mr O’Callaghan made an appointment to visit our home to discuss Katie’s application to the Melbourne Response,” Chrissie Foster said.

“O’Callaghan also wanted to talk privately to Emma, I assumed, about accepting the offer of $50,000. We had told Emma not to accept the offer as we knew this would end all her rights. We did not allow Mr O’Callaghan to speak privately with Emma.”

She questioned the independence of the Melbourne Response. She called for all cases handled by the scheme to be reopened, and for compensation payments to be uncapped and determined in line with the civil legal system.

The hearing continues.