The head of the Christian Brothers’ Oceania chapter has told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse there are no plans to remove paedophile Robert Best from the order.
Best is one of three Christian Brothers who worked in Ballarat in regional Victoria, who have been convicted of abusing children under their care.
He is currently in prison, but is expected to be released when he is aged in his 80s.
Fellow Christian Brother and notorious paedophile Edward Dowlan, now known as Ted Bales, is also in prison and was removed from the order.
But Brother Peter Clinch indicated there were no plans to stop Best from using the Brother title on release.
The commission heard he is not using it in prison.
“I’m not sure how I’d respond … I’d be very uncomfortable about that,” Brother Clinch said of the possibility.
He refused to answer questions about the matter as he raced from the Ballarat Magistrates Court.
He also did not respond when asked if Cardinal George Pell should appear before the royal commission in Ballarat.
Earlier, Brother Clinch told the commission paedophiles within the order “would often have shown signs of immaturity”.
“But it’s only in hindsight I can say that,” he said.
Brother Clinch said he “wouldn’t have heard of the slightest thing” in terms of child abuse when he became a brother in 1972.
Abuse allegations left brother ‘shell-shocked and stunned’
He said he was “shell-shocked and stunned” when the allegations hit the headlines in earnest in the early 1990s.
“Unfortunately at the time, it may not have been as victim-focused as it is today,” Brother Clinch said.
“We came to see the reputation of our schools and institutions as number one, rather than our children.
“Physical violence came to be common … it was just brute brutality. It became accepted. It was fatally wrong.
“There were some very sick men, I’d say the environment in which they were living added to that.”
Brother Clinch was also asked whether the celibate lifestyle and a culture of corporal punishment could have contributed to child abuse.
“I don’t believe it’s solely that [celibacy] … it could exacerbate that if people aren’t suited to the celibate life,” he said.
“There’s always a call, and you have to be suited to live with it, the celibate life.”
When asked if Christian Brothers could still fulfil their function without celibacy, Brother Clinch told the commission “it would fundamentally change the way of living in the community and way of life”.
“Whether good or bad, time will tell,” he said.
Brother Clinch said the average age of Christian Brothers was 75, and young people, although wanting to align with the order on some issues, did not want to sign up.
“Our way of life is coming to an end,” he said.
Brother Clinch acknowledged he had used corporal punishment in the past, when he was a teacher at a Catholic school.
The issue of screening potential Christian Brothers was also raised in the hearing, with examples given of members of the Oceanic Province who had travelled to child abuse hotspot Cebu, in the Philippines.
Brother Clinch told the commission he had not spent a great length of time in Ballarat before, but was now fully aware of the extent of the fallout from the scale of historical child abuse within the Catholic Church.
He said Ballarat would be a priority for him and the wider leadership team in their lifetimes.
In terms of compensation, “this year is five times what it was … it’s been a struggle,” he said.
“I’m not a financier, but we would have some sort of investment portfolio. I know that some property has been sold,” he said.
Need for compensation process to be ‘more victim-focused’
Brother Clinch said the Christian Brothers were aware the redress process needed “not be adversarial … it is to be more victim-focused”.
He said he was aware the order was paying for legal costs for members charged with child sex offences.
“It’s a stage by stage approach … at each stage we’d assess,” Brother Clinch said.
When asked if financial backing would change after an offender had been convicted, he said, “For the legal system to work, he (a brother charged) needs legal representation.”
“Just because a brother is there to support another brother, I’m OK with that.”
When asked about cases in which the victim was forced to front court alone, unable to pay for a lawyer, Brother Clinch responded, he would support the victim also being assisted.
“But there’s no way I could enforce that in any way,” he said.
The hearing continues on Monday.