The Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, has reacted to the resignation of Maltese priest Victor Buhagiar, who claimed the archdiocese was covering up child abuse.  

Mgr Hart said he accepted Fr Buhagiar’s resignation with regret and he expressed genuine concern for his welfare.

"I thanked him for his service and said ‘my door is always open to you’.

"Having submitted his resignation, Fr Buhagiar left the parish without informing his parishioners of his resignation," he said.

He noted that Fr Buhagiar had claimed that he was forced to resign against his will, he resigned in protest ‘over the way truth is being handled’ and also that he ‘resigned quietly’ as a circuit breaker.

"I reject these claims," the archbishop said.

The Council of Priests

"I have a number of groups which advise me, including the Council of Priests. Fr Buhagiar was Deputy Representative of the North Western Zone of the Archdiocese on the Council.

"The Council of Priests is chaired by a priest elected by the Council. It provides advice on how best to implement pastoral programs in the Archdiocese (for example, the Year of Faith), along with matters relating to the administration of parishes and other important issues for the Church. Council meetings are not a forum for discussing matters that relate to individual priests.

It is common practice for the Council to be briefed and advise on the development of diocesan policies and submissions. For example, members of the Council have been briefed on the response to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry and the recently launched Royal Commission.

At times, the Council discusses matters which are in a preparatory phase or are otherwise confidential. On such occasions, the Council may elect to discuss matters that are not minuted. This allows an open discussion in advance of a formal decision or final position being reached.

The Council of Priests meeting refered to by Fr Buhagiar referred took place on 17 April 2012 (and not in May as suggested). On that day, the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry was announced and at that time an open but confidential discussion occurred, which assisted me in formulating my first response to the announcement of the Inquiry issued that day."

Working With Children checks

The archbishop said the Archdiocese requires all clergy and religious, employees and volunteers who have contact with children to hold Working With Children checks as required by law.

When the Victorian Department of Justice refuses a Working With Children check, the individual in question is not allowed to conduct any activity in a parish that would involve contact with children.

"One of Fr Buhagiar’s aspiring volunteers was refused a Working With Children check by the Department of Justice and that person was not permitted to volunteer. Under the legislative framework and diocesan protocols, a parish priest is responsible for ensuring that all those required to hold a Working With Children check do so.

The Archdiocese complies with privacy principles but it is wrong to describe that as a ‘no names policy’."