Hiding evidence just as bad as crime itself: campaigner

"I don't understand how you could do that": Bravehearts executive director Hetty Johnston. Photo: Michelle Smith
"I don't understand how you could do that": Bravehearts executive director Hetty Johnston. Photo: Michelle Smith

Priests should be jailed for concealing evidence of sex abuse because they are effectively aiding and abetting a crime, a child protection campaigner has said.

The executive director of advocacy group Bravehearts, Hetty Johnston, was responding to testimony by high-ranking Catholic priest Father Brian Lucas that he did not take notes while interviewing about 35 priests from 1990-1996 who were accused of sex abuse, nor did he refer the matters to police. ''He should be jailed. That just aids and abets offenders to continue to offend and it is just as bad a crime, in my view, than committing the crimes itself,'' Ms Johnston said.

''The person didn't only not do their job but their moral obligation. It is absolutely the most appalling, atrocious response.''

Father Lucas is the general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, which oversees the National Committee for Professional Standards responsible for procedures in dealing with abuse complaints. Retired psychologist Stephen Paull, who has 25 years of experience in child protection in the NSW education department, said it was ''absolutely grossly negligent'' both legally and morally not to take notes at such meetings.

Mr Paull has been attending the inquiry in the public gallery.

''I don't understand how you could do that and have a clear conscious as a priest,'' Mr Paull said.

A spokeswoman for the bishops' conference conceded on Thursday the Church's policy document Towards Healing, established in 1996 in response to its poor handling of sex-abuse complaints, did not compel priests to take notes during meetings with alleged offenders.

''That just happened to be Father Lucas's legal practice but, with that said, we're not willing to speculate any more than that. We'll just leave it to the inquiry and its findings,'' she said.

The heads of the bishops' conference were in a meeting all day on Thursday and could not be contacted, she said.

This story Hiding evidence just as bad as crime itself: campaigner first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.