Church’s investigator grilled on independence

Cameron Houston [and] Jane Lee

The Catholic Church’s independent commissioner was unable to explain how he received confidential information from a victim of serial paedophile priest Kevin O’Donnell, or why it was passed on to the church’s lawyers in an apparent breach of confidentiality.

The royal commission also raised concerns about the independence of Peter O’Callaghan, QC, who has investigated allegations of clerical abuse for the past 18 years under the church’s controversial Melbourne Response.

The church’s law firm, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, was also questioned over its handling of files and sensitive information from three separate arms of the Melbourne Response, which claim to be independent of each other.

Corrs Chambers Westgarth partner Richard Leder denied any confidentiality had been compromised in his role as lawyer for the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne and the Melbourne Response, which he helped establish in 1996.

But royal commission chairman Justice Peter McLellan appeared to be unconvinced.

“You must have Chinese walls inside your head,” he said.

Mr Leder was heckled by several victims attending the royal commission on Wednesday [20 August] when asked why complainants had been forced to
waive their common law rights in order to receive ex gratia payments of up to $50,000 under the Melbourne Response.

Mr Leder insisted the payments gave Victims “finality”, despite acknowledging they could have re-ceived significantly higher compensation if they had successfully sued the church.