Professor alleges order tried to discredit journalist

MEMBERS of the Salesian religious order, under fire for its handling of sexual abuse complaints, tried to discredit a journalist by falsely claiming he had spent time in jail for child sex offences, according to Sydney University law professor Patrick Parkinson.

Professor Parkinson, an expert on child protection, on Monday called for a public inquiry into the Catholic religious order's handling of three complaints of sexual abuse, including possible conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

The order's college at Rupertswood in Sunbury may have the worst record in Victoria, with six priests and brothers convicted in court for sexual offences against boys - two this year - and complaints against three more settled.

Professor Parkinson told The Age he contacted US journalist Reese Dunklin, who broke a story about convicted paedophile and Salesian priest Frank Klep in 2004, to ask about the allegation - by the Australian head of the Salesians, Father Frank Moloney - that Dunklin had been in jail.

Dunklin, a Dallas Morning News reporter, told him it was utterly untrue.

Professor Parkinson emailed Father Moloney last year: ''I do feel these rumours about Mr Dunklin need correction. He is rightly aggrieved that someone has spread this false rumour to try to discredit his reporting. I am sure you can see his point that it seems like the church has been shooting the messenger.''

Father Moloney emailed back that he did not want to spread false news and damage someone's reputation: ''To the extent that I, or any Salesians in the Australia-Pacific Province, have been part of this, I sincerely apologise.''

Yesterday Father Moloney told The Age he had not spread the rumour, except in conversation with Professor Parkinson, but that other Salesians might have done so.

He said he was in the US in 2004, when Dunklin's report stirred up a hornet's nest in the US. He heard the allegation as ''chatter at the Catholic University of America in Washington. I took it for granted that it was true. I certainly apologised unconditionally for making that statement, but it was never a statement made in the public forum.''

On Monday Professor Parkinson asked the Victorian government to hold a public inquiry with power to subpoena witnesses to investigate several matters, including possible conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. A spokesman said yesterday the government was seeking advice about a possible inquiry.

The call followed suppression by the Church's national Professional Standards Committee of a report Professor Parkinson wrote on condition it be made public. Father Moloney said he had not lobbied to suppress the report. On the contrary he was ''at loggerheads'' with the committee.

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