September 14, 2011
Senator Nick Xenophon claims public support for priest naming
SOUTH Australian Senator Nick Xenophon says he is receiving overwhelming public support for his decision to name a priest accused of raping Adelaide-based Anglican Archbishop John Hepworth about 40 years ago.
The independent MP said the Adelaide Catholic diocese had taken too long to satisfactorily resolve the serious allegations first aired four years ago.
Senator Xenophon used parliamentary privilege yesterday to identify the priest after the church refused to heed an ultimatum to stand down the priest pending the outcome of an investigation.
The Senator's office says it has received about 100 calls and emails since the naming - and 98 per cent of those were for it. "We've had a significant amount of support for the position Nick has taken, from constituents," a spokesman for the Senator said.
But some Coalition senators have criticised the move.
Liberal Simon Birmingham said parliamentary privilege should be used "cautiously, judiciously, sparingly".
"It's not the role of politicians to play police, prosecutor, judge and jury," he said.
Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce said using parliamentary privilege circumvented rights and liberties.
"We've got to make sure that everybody has got a certain presumption of innocence until proven otherwise," he said.
"If you have got the story wrong, then you've done an incredible injustice to the person."
A senior Catholic figure has defended the church's handling of the matter.
The general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Brian Lucas, said Senator Xenophon had failed to make clear the allegations did not involve children.
They related to a claim involving two priests in their late 20s some 40 or so years ago, Father Lucas said.
The church had made the right call in not standing down the priest.
"For someone to stand down ... on the basis of no perceived risk to children doesn't seem at all necessary," he said.
Father Lucas said Archbishop Hepworth should have gone to authorities with his claims. Archbishop Hepworth, 67, revealed at the weekend he was the victim of violent rapes at the hands of two priests and a trainee priest beginning in 1960, when he was 15.
Claims against dead priests Ronald Pickering and John Stockdale were settled in Melbourne.