THE head of the Vincentians order in Australia said he had no control over an Australian-ordained Vincentian priest under police investigation for “touching” allegations in Papua New Guinea.
Vincentians Oceania head Father Greg Brett said he was unaware of the police investigation because Father Neil Lams was under the control of the bishops of Papua New Guinea, and not the Vincentians. He had been assured by a PNG bishop that two church investigations relating to Father Lams had been finalised in the priest’s favour. Father Lams was ordained in Australia in 2011 and volunteered to work in Vincentian missions after two years.
Father Brett said he was advised he would receive a church investigation report but by Wednesday had not received it. A copy of an interim investigation report was supplied to the Newcastle Herald by Alotau Bishop Rolando Santos in September.
The interim report confirmed at least two teenage students at a school “frequented” the priest’s nearby home, but it found there was no sexual abuse. The interim church investigation report found the priest’s “slapping the cheeks or laps” of students during confession was “inappropriate”.
Father Brett said any touching was a breach of the order’s code of conduct and was unacceptable, but he was not aware of the report’s contents.
“The rules of confession are very strong,” he said.
Allegations against Father Lams were reported to Papua New Guinea police in September by Port Stephens woman Wendy Stein after meeting a school delegation during her work in PNG running family planning services sponsored by Rotary.
This week she joined Hunter survivor of Catholic paedophile priest Anthea Halpin, and Hunter survivor advocate Peter Gogarty, in calling on the Australian Catholic Church leadership to take responsibility for the legacy issues of decades of transferring priests and religious brothers to overseas missions after child sex allegations in Australia. They have written to the church calling for an audit of all priests and religious sent overseas after Australian allegations.
Truth Justice and Healing Council chief executive Francis Sullivan said the church had to “deal with” the legacy issues of its overseas transfers and “at the very least, put in place clear policies and procedures to respond to overseas survivors with compassion and justice”.
PNG police commander Andrew Weda on Tuesday said he would meet with investigating police this week to discuss the Father Lams case.
In February the administrator of Milne Bay province in PNG wrote to police investigating allegations against Father Lams instructing them to “ensure that a full investigation has been carried out by the police force who are the mandated agency to ensure that law and order is enforced”.
In his letter administrator Michael Kape confirmed the Division of Education had held a separate investigation into allegations against the priest.
“As much as possible we want to ensure that the children of Milne Bay are being taught in safe and conducive institutions and environments,” Mr Kape said.
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