The Police Integrity Commission announcement of Operation Protea is a long overdue opportunity to look at the arrangements that led to the NSW Police having a sworn officer involved in a controversial internal Catholic Church body involved in the Church’s response to claims of child sexual abuse. The PIC announcement is available here.

The public hearing for this inquiry is set for Monday 13 October at 10:00am. The hearing will be public and we encourage all interested parties to consider attending. Submissions are also invited from anyone who has information that can assist the Police Integrity Commission in this inquiry. If you are interested in doing this you can email the PIC at contactus@pic.nsw.gov.au or by calling 9321 6700.

The original details that will form the subject of this inquiry were revealed by this office after a number of GIPA requests to the NSW Police.

The documents reveal how one senior officer, the Commander of the Child Protection and Sex Crime Squad believed that the arrangements under which the Church had been operating for years were in direct conflict with the requirements to report abuse under s316 of the Crimes Act – entitled ‘Concealing serious indictable offence’.

Police quote

The documents show that the Church believed that the NSW Police had agreed to the terms of the MOU and had been operating for years on this understanding.

CCER asking for confirmation

There can be little doubt that the police were aware of the Church’s sanitised reporting of abuse and were at least complicit in the Church’s criminally questionable conduct.

Even when the commander of the sex crimes squad raised the prospect of criminality, it seems that no police resources were allocated to investigating the matter.

Greens MP and Justice Spokesperson David Shoebridge said:

“Rather than conduct an investigation into a prima facie case of longstanding criminality by the Church, NSW Police just plodded on looking to get a more refined document in place.

It is clear from these documents that the Church had decided that it would not provide crucial evidence of abuse cases to the NSW Police unless and until they were ordered to do so by a Court.

“A key clause of one agreement that the Church believed was in operation with Police from the late 1990’s to at least mid-2003 read:

clause 19

Read the entire Agreement here.

It is understood that the Church operated under the first of these agreements, editing hundreds if not more reports of abuse, from the late 1990’s to at least mid 2003.

David Shoebridge said:

“The Church’s position was not only a gross breach of its duty to protect children from abuse, it also appears to be have been in direct conflict with its obligations under the Crimes Act to provide this evidence to police.

“It is appalling that the Church’s institutional position was it would not provide its detailed investigations on abuse cases or any incriminating evidence from accused priests unless it was ordered to do so by the Courts.

clause 31

See revised draft Memorandum of understanding dated 21/08/04

“The Church had a legal and moral obligation to provide this material to police which they ignored in order to protect the alleged perpetrators of abuse.

“It is equally remarkable that the NSW police seem to have accepted the Church’s sanitised and partial reporting of abuse cases for years, given the serious criminal conduct it was hiding.

“Both the NSW Police and the Church must come clean and inform the public for how long these offensive arrangements were in place.

“I have referred these matters to both the Hunter inquiry and the Federal Royal Commission into Abuse for further investigation and close consideration of the criminal consequences,” Mr Shoebridge said.

Subsequent requests by this office for the legal advice that the NSW Police Force was operating under were refused. This advice must be one of the focuses of the PIC investigation.

Further reading: 

You may also be interested in this article from Suzanne Smith on the Drum which asks: “Did the Catholic Church and the NSW Police have an Memorandum of Understanding about how intelligence on child sexual abuse matters would be shared?” Full article is available here.