Pair leads call for bishop’s resignation

March 06, 2017

Catherine Dooley and Frank Purcell want a change at the top of Sandhurst Diocese.

Bishop Leslie Tomlinson, it is time to go.

That is the message that two prominent critics of the Catholic Church have for the Bishop of Sandhurst Diocese after the revelations of the high rates of alleged sexual abuse by priests within the district.

Catherine Dooley from Tatura is a lifelong Catholic but in recent years has become a prominent critic of the church over what she believed was the mismanagement and lack of accountability within its structure.

Along with former Catholic priest Frank Purcell, they led a campaign urging Pope Francis to sack George Pell due to how he handled the sexual abuse crisis that engulfed the Catholic Church.

With the release of figures last month from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that revealed that Sandhurst Diocese had the second-highest rate of alleged sexual offences in the country, Ms Dooley and Mr Purcell believe local change was needed.

‘‘He needs to go, he is more worried about his reputation and status than that of survivors,’’ Ms Dooley said.

She pointed to a number of examples of what she sees as the improper tenor of his leadership, which she believes has not been compassionate to sexual abuse victims.

In a letter written by Bishop Tomlinson and circulated within the diocese, and provided by Ms Dooley, he appears to downplay sexual abuse and attack the media.

‘‘While the criticism and condemnation of the church seems unrelenting, particularly from a few quarters of the media, others seem to have moved on or have recognised this evil is confined to a small part of the church and is being addressed,’’ he wrote.

Ms Dooley said media scrutiny was vital at uncovering allegations of abuse within the church which helped lay th groundwork for the Royal Commission.

Mr Purcell believed accountability needed to come from the top in response to the abuse allegations, and high ranking clergy needed to fall on their swords to bring renewal to the institution.

‘‘The pews have just thinned out as people have just walked away from the church,’’ Mr Purcell said.

‘‘Unless the system changes, it will happen again.’’

In response to criticisms, Bishop Tomlinson said the church had made changes after the extent of the alleged abuse was uncovered.

‘‘As the Bishop of the Diocese of Sandhurst, I have apologised to victims and survivors of sexual abuse on several occasions in the past,’’ Bishop Tomlinson said.

‘‘As a Diocese and community we will work together to ensure that this betrayal never happens again.’’

The bishop pointed to the newly recruited child safety officer as an important change, and that it was important to remember that the last report of abuse by a priest in the diocese was 26 years ago.

Catherine Dooley and Frank Purcell are holding a public meeting to discuss the future of the diocese at Shepparton’s Terminus Hotel tonight at 7.30pm.

For more information phone Mr Purcell on 0488288335.

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