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   Sep 14

Cranbrook headmaster’s ‘misleading’ letters

Nicholas Sampson, headmaster of Cranbrook, leaves the Royal Commission in September 2015. Photo: Jason South Senior Counsel Assisting Gail Furness at the hearing earlier this month. Photo: Supplied
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The Commission is examining factors behind abuse claims in the Catholic church, with data showing seven per cent of priests were alleged offenders between 1950-2010. Photo: Mathew Lynn

The headmaster of one Sydney’s most expensive private schools, Cranbrook, wrote “misleading” letters about a teacher accused of child sexual abuse at his former school and failed to report the allegations to a higher authority, a royal commission has found.

Nicholas Sampson, then the headmaster of Victoria’s Geelong Grammar, paid teacher Jonathan Harvey to retire early in 2004 to avoid any formal complaints of child sex abuse being made against him.

Harvey was later found guilty of sexually abusing a 16-year-old boy known as BLF by repeatedly plying him with alcohol, fondling his genitals and forcing him into a threesome with another man in the 1970s.

Mr Sampson told the commission he was alerted to allegations against Harvey by the victim’s brother, BLW, and conducted a “fairly cursory” investigation before asking Mr Harvey to retire early.

The commissioners found Mr Sampson should have notified the Victorian Institute of Teaching about the allegations and that he “should have made a documentary record of the reason [Harvey left the school]”.

Instead, Mr Sampson wrote letters to Harvey thanking him for his “outstanding service”, praising him as a “wonderful teacher, an outstanding housemaster, a fine and thoughtful colleague and a tremendous and committed schoolmaster”.

A second letter from Mr Sampson to Harvey confirmed an extra year of pay following his retirement “due to the exceptional service [he] offered”.

The commission dismissed Mr Sampson’s defence that the letters were for personal use: “The letters were plainly kept amongst the school’s formal records in relation to Harvey,” it found.

“We also reject the submission that the letters were not misleading. No other records were produced which recorded the real reason for Harvey’s departure from the school, and no explanation was given as to why such documents were not produced.”

Mr Sampson, who became the headmaster of Cranbrook in 2012, an Anglican, $35,000-a-year school in Bellevue Hill, told the commission he was acting in the best interests of the victim, BLF, who did not want his identity revealed.

“We accept that Mr Sampson attempted to act in the best interests of BLF by securing Harvey’s resignation without disclosing his identity,” the Commission found. “It is clear, however, that he should have notified the Victorian Institute of Teaching.” Royal Commission: Vatican has no test for paedophiles

In a separate sitting on Tuesday, the Commission also heard there was no requirement for the Catholic clergy to be screened for sexual attraction to children but that the Vatican does have a detailed assessment procedure for homosexuality.

The Catholic Church’s central authority spent 13 years developing a protocol on homosexual tendencies among potential priests but has stayed “silent” on the issue of paedophiles, the commission heard.

The commission is examining factors behind abuse claims in the Catholic church, with data showing seven per cent of priests were alleged offenders between 1950-2010.

“As I understand it, the Vatican is specific that you must test for homosexual tendencies but the Vatican is silent in that same way on testing for children,” Commissioner Andrew Murray said.

Sister Lydia Allen???, who assesses candidates for the Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Homebush, said the Vatican was working on such a document.

“I have asked them if they have any documents on this situation of child abuse and they don’t yet … it’s part of a project they are going to work on,” she said.

“They do not have . . . anything that says, ‘You must assess for that’.

“However, I think it would be an unspoken rule. I don’t think it needs to be stated explicitly because it’s so obvious.”

David Leary, an academic and Franciscan friar, told the inquiry the assessment process was flawed.

“The first test for a candidate for either religious life or the seminary or for the priesthood is not a question about whether or not they’re homosexual,” he said.

“It’s about whether or not they are compassionate and that’s the thing that needs to be tested.”

Dr Leary said the Catholic church was “highly resistant” to understanding how its structures may have led to child sexual abuse.

“I don’t think we understand the psychology that underpins … child sexual abuse,” he said. “It’s really clear in every other jurisdiction except the church.”

Peter Thompson, rector of Vianney College in Wagga Wagga, told the commission it would be impossible to effectively screen every candidate for the priesthood.

“No one can infallibly predict that someone is not going to offend,” he said.

The hearing, before Justice Peter McClellan???, continues.

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