Investigation must not turn into a ‘witch hunt’ says Bartley

AUSTRALIA'S welcome royal commission into child sex abuse should not become a witch-hunt, a lawyer and member of the Catholic Church at Dubbo says.

Peter Bartley yesterday gave full support to the newly-announced inquiry and stressed the number one priority was and should always remain the victims of abuse.

But as work began on the royal commission - which will cover all religious institutions, state-based organisations, schools and not-for-profit groups - he also called for "balanced discussion" on the focus of the nation's attention.

"We don't need a witch-hunt," he said.

"We want a calm and equitable approach to sorting out this issue."

Mr Bartley said he spoke as a "life-long Catholic" and member of the church at Dubbo as well as a solicitor.

He said he had for 33 years represented the rights of victims of crimes and continued to do so daily.

He offered his insight gained from both experiences, making two key points.

"The Catholic Church of today is vastly different from the way it was 20 or more years ago," he said.

"It is more open, transparent, accountable and cognizant of its obligations and responsibilities.

"Secondly the historical allegations of child abuse relate to many years ago, a different era, a different culture."

He argued the Catholic Church had more recently improved and had more "checks and safeguards".

"At least since 2005 and especially since Pope Benedict XVI was in Australia for World Youth Day in 2008, current church leaders have been expressing support for abuse victims and urging co-operation with authorities in abuse investigations," he said.

Mr Bartley's aunt is a nun and member of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart and he has seen the church's mission work.

"I'm concerned that the overwhelming number of priests and religious are faithful men and women who share the horror and grief that all people feel when sexual abuse is brought to light and I would hate all religious people to be tarred with the one brush," he said.

He agreed the royal commission should "take as long as it takes", noting that a similar inquiry in Ireland took nine years, but suggested Australia's could perhaps be conducted in two years.

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