Second priest in sex claim tip-off
Thursday, December 03 2009 @ 08:35 AM ESTTHE Catholic Church's chief sexual abuse investigator in Melbourne has for the second time tipped off a priest that he is the target of a covert police inquiry.
The action by Peter O'Callaghan, QC, has infuriated police and drawn a strong rebuke from Victoria's top sexual crime detective.
In the two separate cases, the priests were told by Mr O'Callaghan that they were under investigation without the consent of detectives, before police had interviewed them and while the inquiries were at a covert stage, leaving them open to potential compromise.
Mr O'Callaghan is appointed and paid by the Melbourne Archdiocese to privately investigate sexual abuse allegations made about priests and refer victims to a compensation panel.
The most recent tip-off occurred this year. It involved Mr O'Callaghan telling a Victorian priest, via his lawyers, that police were investigating him over sexual assault allegations first made to Mr O'Callaghan by a parishioner.
Mr O'Callaghan learnt of the secret police inquiry after a detective asked him to provide documents about the priest.
In 2007, Mr O'Callaghan tipped off now-convicted priest Paul Pavlou, telling him via his lawyers that allegations about Pavlou's relationship with a 15-year-old boy had ''been reported to the police and apparently police are considering the matter''.
At the time, police were investigating allegations - initially relayed to Mr O'Callaghan by the victim and his mother - that Pavlou had committed indecent acts with a minor and may have looked at child pornography. Pavlou later pleaded guilty to these offences in court.
Mr O'Callaghan's conduct has angered investigators and the victims' lawyers, with concerns it has cut across the work of detectives and risks compromising inquiries.
The barrister has defended his conduct, saying the priests had a ''natural justice'' right to be informed that he had stopped his church-sponsored investigations because police had begun their own inquiry.
But when asked about Mr O'Callaghan's conduct, the head of Victoria Police's sexual crime squad, Glenn Davies, said it was critical that it was left to police to tell suspects that they were under investigation.
''It would be better for police investigators to notify the suspect of the investigation in their own time,'' Detective Inspector Davies told The Age. ''It is advantageous that the suspect is unaware of the investigation until the police are in a position to interview them. This stops collusion between parties involved and ensures critical evidence is not destroyed.''
Mr O'Callaghan told The Age that even if police asked him to keep secret the existence of their inquiry - which he said they had not - he would refuse. ''I would not consent to such a course because of my duty to keep both parties [the priest and the complainant] in respect of the investigation I had been conducting fully apprised of relevant matters,'' he said.
But Inspector Davies stressed that detectives must be able to launch inquiries without the suspect knowing they were being targeted. ''In many investigations it is not ideal for the suspect to be notified of the investigation prior to police contacting them,'' he said.
Mr O'Callaghan has also stressed he tells all victims of their ongoing right to contact the police.
However, in at least one case, it is believed investigators are concerned at Mr O'Callaghan's advice to a victim that the allegations were unlikely to be held as criminal by a court. Police sources and lawyers have said the allegations, if proven, would constitute a sexual assault.
Inspector Davies said: ''Victoria Police urge anyone who is a victim of sexual assault to contact police and have the matter fully investigated. We are the appropriate authority to deal with these matters as we have the legislative powers.''
Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart said he ''always believed the police were supportive of [Mr O'Callaghan's] processes'', but said he would act on any police concerns.In August, the archbishop dismissed calls to review the Melbourne Catholic Church's handling of more than 450 sexual abuse cases over 13 years.
The alleged victim in the more recent case declined to comment but the mother of the victim in the 2007 case remains angry at the church inquiry process.
Abusive priest was told of police investigationhttp://www.theage.com.au/national/investigations/abusive-priest-was-told-of-police-investigation-20090809-ee9h.htmlhttp://www.theage.com.au/national/sec...-k6b6.html