SENIOR Catholic clergy took nearly a decade to act against late priest Father Peter Searson’s alleged assaulting of children during his time at the Holy Family parish and primary school in Doveton, a Royal Commission has heard.
Gail Furness SC, as counsel assisting, told the Royal Commission in Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse on 24 November that complaints had been made about Searson in Doveton in the 1980s, but no known action was taken against the “rude, unstable and manipulative” priest until 1993.
The allegations included having a handgun at the primary school, animal cruelty, misusing finances, frequenting boys’ toilets and showing a body in a coffin to children.
Ms Furness said there were complaints of sexualised conduct such as “having children sit on his knee in confession, having them kneel between his knees during confession, tape recording ‘hot’ confessions, cuddling girls and having girls do handstands in front of him in their dresses”.
“Often the Vicar General at the time and then Archbishop Frank Little were aware of them.
“On occasion Searson was interviewed and he usually admitted the fact of the allegation but disavowed any untoward purpose.
“Those admissions were not always recognised as such by Church officials.”
Ms Furness said former student Julie Stewart was expected to give evidence at the Royal Commission about a complaint about Searson indecently assaulting her in confessional in 1984 and 1985.
After signing a statement that she was pulled onto Searson’s lap and held against his erection, a police officer told her there was not enough evidence.
A four-member delegation from the parish school met then-Auxillary Bishop George Pell in 1989 about Searson’s conduct.
A list of their grievances included Searson showing children a body in a coffin, committing animal cruelty, using children’s toilets and harassing children.
Ms Furness said it was expected that then Bishop Pell passed on the information to then Vicar General, Monsignor Hilton Deakin.
The Catholic Education Office appeared to make no formal investigation after Searson allegedly produced a large knife and held it to a child’s chest in the early 1990s.
In 1993, Vicar General Monsignor Gerald Cudmore formally warned Season for “improper and intimidatory conduct against children”, the hearing was told.
Four years later, Searson was put on administrative leave and charged with unlawful assault after a complaint of him hitting an altar boy.
He was released without conviction on a good behaviour bond.
In 1997, Searson was removed as priest and unsuccessfully petitioned the Vatican to change the decision.
The Royal Commission hearing continues today.
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