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Catholic Church paedophile networks to be mapped 'like organised crime' by academics


A "mafia-like" code of silence among "dark networks" within the Catholic Church has begun to emerge from a world-first project mapping clerical paedophile networks, says an academic behind the project.

Key points:

  • The first mapping effort linked 99 clergy to 16 paedophile networks in the Melbourne and Ballarat dioceses

  • Documents and the oral histories of at least 50 survivors are being used

  • Women in the church and nuns will be examined as part of the mapping process

The project is led by Newcastle sociologist Kathleen McPhillips and criminologist Jodi Death (pronounced Deeth) from Queensland University of Technology's (QUT) law faculty.

The research builds on work done by Sally Muytjens, one of Dr Death's doctoral students, who mapped Catholic paedophile networks in Victoria.

The mapping will now include other hotspots such as Newcastle and the role of women in the church, nuns and seminaries.


Jodi Death is a criminologist leading the mapping project.(Supplied: Twitter)

The Victorian project identified 99 clergy members as abusers linked to 16 paedophile networks in the Melbourne and Ballarat dioceses.

It found there was a "mafia-like" code of silence among clergy perpetrators who formed dark networks (DNs) within the Victorian Catholic Church.

"The covert nature of DNs is due to the illicit activities being conducted by the network," Ms Muytjens said.

"Examples of DNs include terrorist organisations, youth gangs, drug-trafficking rings, price-fixing cartels, and other criminal enterprises."


Researchers say in Victoria they found there were clusters of abusers who ended up clustered together.(Supplied: Sally Muytjens)

Hunter survivors in focus

Abuse at the hands of paedophile clerical networks in the Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Diocese is now on the radar of the researchers.

They have been briefed by about 50 abuse survivors and family members associated with the Clergy Abuse Network (CAN).

"There is enormous enthusiasm for the project because a lot of the survivors are convinced that there were, and probably are, networks of paedophiles," said CAN founder and survivor Bob O'Toole.


Bob O'Toole was sexually assaulted by a Newcastle Marist brother.(ABC News: Dan Cox)

Dr Death said the survivors were invaluable as they held so much information about what happened and how it happened.

Dr McPhillips said it was a world-first project.

"It is very important, this project, in the sense that we think the work that we are about to do is uncovering a network in a way it has never been seen before," she said.

"We are using documents, but for the very first time we are using the oral histories of survivors to map these paedophile networks across the Catholic Church, so the potential is enormous."


Dr Death said every survivor likely held information they may not be aware was important in a larger map.

"The end result is we want a map that tells us about all the connections," she said.

"In Victoria we found there were clusters of abusers who ended up clustered together, and abusers weren't just moved around randomly they were removed really quite strategically.

"We would like to know if that's the case across the country and, in the long-term, around the world — we would like a world map."

Light shone on nuns, seminaries

Women in the Church will be examined as part of the mapping process.

"We know it's coming from nuns and lay teachers," Dr Death said.

"Nuns are interesting and may also be part of the dark network, sexualising things like discipline.

"They are really understudied, and nuns were also vulnerable as victims themselves.

"We need to map and unpack that issue."

Seminaries, colleges where priests where received training, were also deemed a lure for paedophiles, Dr Death said.

"Seminaries were places where people would make connections," she said.

"There is also evidence of clergy taking young boys back to a seminary to be abused by other seminarians."

'Like a chocolate wheel'

Clerical abuse survivors have backed the project, with dozens telling the ABC they will share their stories.


Survivor Scott Hallett has applauded the mapping project.(ABC News: Mark Reddie)

Scott Hallett was abused by Vincent Ryan, who was banned from priestly duties after abusing more than 30 boys.

He said it sickened him to think paedophiles were shuffled around.

"It was like a chocolate wheel. Somebody offends, let's spin the wheel and, 'Righto mate, you're there now,'" Mr Hallett said.

Gerard McDonald was abused by the same priest and welcomed the mapping project.

"It is about time. People need to realise that it has been happening for too long and it is time people stood up," he said.


Survivor Gerard McDonald said the mapping project is long overdue.(ABC News: Anthony Scully)

British child migrant Mick Kenny was six in the 1950s when he was placed in a Newcastle children's home.

He said the mapping project would be confronting, but well worth it.

"The nuns, every now again, they would take two or three of us to a nursing home and leave us there with a priest — they knew, they knew," Mr Kenny said.


Andrew Nash, a Marist Brothers student, died in his bedroom in 1974.(Supplied)

Geoffrey Nash's brother Andrew is the youngest known clerical abuse suicide victim in Australia.

Andrew Nash died in 1974 aged 13 and Geoffrey said the mapping project was a painful but positive step.

"It is work that has been coming for many years and I think it is going to draw all the work that has been done in the past together," he said.

Australia's first dedicated police strikeforce into Catholic clergy abuse was set up in the Hunter Valley in 2007.

Strikeforce Georgiana netted 19 offenders who were convicted of more than 600 offences, relating to 182 victims.

Researchers have not put a timeline on the mapping project but say once finished in Australia they intend to move their research offshore.

If you or anyone you know needs help:

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  • ReachOut at au.reachout.com

  • MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978

  • Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN) on 1800 008 774

  • Head to Health at headtohealth.gov.au

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