Church kept a priest after paying a confidential settlement to an ex-pupil



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Broken Rites Australia helps victims of church-related
sex-abuse.

By a Broken Rites researcher

  • Article updated 13 May 2013

A prominent Australian Catholic bishop has confirmed that he appointed a priest to administer a parish after the church had paid a $40,000 settlement involving the priest.

Bishop Michael Malone, the former head of the Maitland-Newcastle diocese in New South Wales, has played a prominent role in supervising the Australian church's professional standards. In the late 1990s, he became a member of the church's National Committee on Professional Standards (that is, sexual abuse). So it is interesting to see how Bishop Malone, with his special interest in professional standards, managed professional standards in his own diocese.

In 1999, Bishop Malone appointed Father Guy Hartcher, then aged 52, to be in charge of two parishes, Gresford and Dungog, in rural areas north-west of the city of Newcastle.

The priest's career

Father Hartcher was not originally a diocesan priest but has always been a member of the Vincentian Fathers religious order (also called the Congregation of the Mission).

In 1971, after training to be a Vincentian priest, Father Hartcher began working as a teacher at St Stanislaus College in Bathurst, NSW (a Catholic boys' secondary school, staffed by the Vincentian order). Father Hartcher was then aged about 24. According to the Catholic Directory for the early 1970s, St Stanislaus College then had eleven priests and two lay brothers (all of them Vincentians) located at this school.

By 1974, the Vincentian order arranged for Father Hartcher to go to overseas. He was listed for the last time in the Australian Catholic Directory's 1973 edition (at the Bathurst school) and was not listed in the Australian directory again until the 1990s. During the mid to late 1970s, he studied in the United States at the Catholic University in Washington DC, while living in a Vincentian House of Studies in that city.

It is not known where Hartcher was located during the 1980s.

Returning to Australia, Fr Guy Hartcher was listed in the 1994 Australian Catholic Directory as the rector of the Catholic Church's St Francis Xavier Seminary in Adelaide, South Australia.

Settlement in 1994

In 1994 the Vincentian Fathers signed a financial settlement with a former pupil of St Stanislaus College (this article will refer to the former pupil as "Basil", which is not his real name). The settlement deed includes a mention of Father Guy Hartcher.

Broken Rites knows that "Basil" was born in 1957 and was aged 14 in 1971. The settlement was made in March 1994, when "Basil" was aged 37.

Broken Rites has inspected a copy of the Deed of Release relating to this settlement. The Deed of Release is an agreement between "Basil" and the Trustees of the Vincentian Fathers. According to the Deed of Release, Basil claims "that he has suffered loss and damage and that he requires specialist counselling and therapy … as a consequence of alleged unlawful sexual assaults… that occurred while he was a student at the St Stanislaus College at Bathurst."

In the Deed, the Trustees of the Vincentian Fathers agree "without any admission of liability" to pay $43,000 (inclusive of costs) to the ex-student "in full and final settlement" of all or any rights and actions that the ex-student may have "against the Trustees, Father Guy Hartcher or any servant or agent of the Trustees."

In return for this payment, Basil "releases" the Vincentian Fathers from any further claims for payment (hence, this document is called a Deed of Release). It means that Basil agrees not to sue the Vincentian Fathers to seek a further or higher payment.

Basil's expenses amounted to more than $3,000, leaving him nearly $40,000, clear, from the gross figure of $43,000.

May an alleged victim consult the police?

One significant question about this Deed of Release is:

What would happen if Basil were to exercise his right (as a citizen) to consult police officers regarding his allegation (about Father Hartcher at St Stanislaus College)? This could result in police prosecuting the priest on a charge of allegedly committing an offence against a 14-year-old boy.

The Deed of Release states that, if Basil exercises his right to consult the police, he will be liable to refund his settlement money to the Vincentian Fathers.

Here is the wording of Clause #6 in the Deed of Release:

  • "In the event that the Releasor [Basil] in breach of the terms of this Deed commences or causes to be commenced any criminal proceedings or proceedings pursuant to Victims of Crime Compensation Act 1987 in respect of the claims or the further claims and without in any way derogating from the rights available to the Trustees [of the Vincentian Fathers] and/or Father Hartcher in respect of such breach of this Deed, the Releasor [Basil] covenants with the Trustees and Father Hartcher that forthwith upon the commencement of any such action or proceedings as aforesaid he will repay to the Trustees the agreed settlement sum together with interest thereon at the rate of 10% per annum calculated on monthly rests from the date of this Deed until the date of repayment and in the event that the agreed settlement sum and such interest is not repaid forthwith as aforesaid, the Releasor [Basil] acknowledges and agrees that the agreed settlement sum together with the interest as aforesaid shall be due and owing to the Trustees and the Trustees shall be entitled to commence proceedings against the Releasor without further notice to the Releasor for the recovery of all such monies."

(Broken Rites is wondering what Jesus of Nazareth would say about this.)

And the next clause (Number 7) requires Basil to remain silent about his time at St Stanislaus College. It states:

  • "In further consideration of the payment by the Trustees to the Releasor [Basil] of the agreed settlement sum the Releasor covenants and agrees that he will not at any time publish or cause to be published any article, correspondence, book or other writing relating to or concerning the claims or any incidents or occurrence whatsoever involving or concerning the Releasor at the School."
Finally (in Clause #8), Basil is told that the Deed of Release ("and the matters referred to herein") must be kept "absolutely confidential" and "shall not be communicated published advised or circulated to any person or body whatsoever".

As well as paying a settlement to Basil, the Australian head of the Vincentian Fathers (Fr Anthony Mannix) wrote to Basil (in a letter dated 27 April 1994):

    "I offer an apology to you, in an official capacity, for any harm experienced by you while you were in our care." [Broken Rites has examined a copy of this letter.]

After signing the Deed of Release and accepting the settlement money, Basil exercised his right (as a citizen) to consult the police. The police prosecuted Father Hartcher in a criminal court but the case did not result in a conviction.

Priest appointed to a parish

During 1994, Father Hartcher left his position at the Adelaide seminary and moved to Vincentian addresses in Sydney. From 1995, annual editions of the the directory listed Father Guy Hartcher at these Vincentian addresses in Sydney until Bishop Malone appointed him to the Gresford-Dungog parish in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese in 1999.

The Gresford- Dugong parishioners were not aware of the $40,000 settlement.

In 2004, when Father Hartcher had been administering the Gresford-Dungog parish for five years, journalists on the Newcastle Herald learned about the $40,000 settlement. When Bishop Malone realised that this information might become public, he acted pre-emptively by issuing "A Message to Parishioners of Dungog and Gresford Parishes", dated Saturday 4 September 2004. This message, which was published on Bishop Malone's diocesan web site, told Father Guy Hartcher's parishioners: "Regretfully I inform you that Fr Guy Hartcher CM, who is a priest of the Vincentian Congregation and who has served you as Administrator of Gresford and Dungog Parishes since 1999, has been withdrawn from active ministry, as of Sunday 5th September, 2004."

Three days after this, on 7 September 2004, the Newcastle Herald reported extensively on this development. The Herald revealed that, some time in the past before Father Hartcher came to the Gresford-Dungog parish, the Vincentian Fathers had paid a $40,000 settlement to a former student of St Stanislaus College in Bathurst.

Bishop Malone's statement on 4 September 2004, announcing Father Hartcher's withdrawal "from active ministry", did not mention the $40,000 civil settlement of March 1994. Instead, the bishop referred to criminal prosecutions against Father Hartcher that began in Sydney's Downing Centre Local Court on 30 November 1994 (and continued through the court system until 1997). The criminal proceedings concerned allegations made, separately, by two former students of St Stanislaus College. One of these students was the recipient of the $40,000 settlement. (In the criminal proceedings, Father Hartcher's full name was given as Guy Norman Hartcher.)

Neither of the two criminal court prosecutions resulted in a conviction.

The bishop's message said regarding the prosecutions: "Fr Hartcher maintained his innocence throughout the investigations."

Bishop Malone's message continued: "Recently, a person scanning the Internet found reference to these historic matters and concluded that Fr Hartcher was unfit for ministry with children. This person made a formal complaint to police.

"No new information has come to light but until these matters are independently investigated, Fr Hartcher will be withdrawn from active ministry. In accord with statutory requirements an independent assessment will be undertaken to determine his suitability for ministry with children. His Vincentian Congregational Leader Fr Gregory Cooney CM and myself agree on this course of action. Fr Hartcher will leave the parishes immediately.

"Parishioners will be shocked by these events. Given the fact that two other priests in the diocese, both of whom spent time in Dungog and Gresford, have been stood down for similar reasons, the effects of this latest incident run deep," Bishop Malone wrote. (Broken Rites can confirm that one of these earlier priests at Dungog-Gresford was Father James Fletcher, who committed crimes against children in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese for many years before being jailed.)

Bishop Malone's message was also reported on the Catholic News web site www.cathnews.com and on another Catholic web site, www.onlinecatholics.com.au

In the Newcastle Herald on Tuesday 7 September 2004, Bishop Malone's message was reported on page one. In this report, Bishop Malone strongly defended his 1999 appointment of Fr Hartcher.

The Herald article said (on page 2): "Bishop Malone said he 'personally' believed Father Hartcher was fit for ministry of children. He said he had known about the old allegations before hiring Father Hartcher in 1999 and had received information in writing from the Vincentian Fathers that he was a 'fit person for the ministry and for ministry with children'."

"I was also given many references in support of Father Guy and his ministry and he was also interviewed by a psychologist of the diocese who spoke to him at length prior to him engaging in ministry," Bishop Malone said.

"So we were satisfied in the diocese that, with all the other bits and pieces that the Vincentians were able to supply about him, that he was a fit man for ministry. And I personally still believe that."

Bishop Malone said he did not feel it was his job to tell Gresford parishioners about the previous matters when Father Hartcher was appointed to the parish in 1999.

"I chose not to inform the people because I didn't really think that needed to be done and a man was entitled to his own reputation in the eyes of the people," Bishop Malone said. "If he chose to tell people, then that was his business about what had happened to him."

Although Bishop Malone's September 2004 message to parishioners did not mention the $40,000 civil settlement, the Newcastle Herald quoted him as acknowledging the settlement. The Herald article said: "Bishop Malone confirmed a cash settlement was made between the Vincentians, of which Father Hartcher is a member, with one of his students. The Herald understands it was about $40,000."

The Herald quoted Bishop Malone as saying: "…I think the Vincentians chose to settle rather than engage in a long and protracted court process which may or may not have been successful, given the climate of these matters and that was their choice."

After leaving the Gresford-Dungog parish, Father Hartcher was listed in the National Council of Priests directory in 2005 and 2006 as being located at a parish in Sydney's inner-west that is staffed by the Vincentian Fathers. This parish is within the Archdiocese of Sydney and it therefore comes under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell. Bishop Malone's decision in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese does not apply in the Sydney diocese - or in any other diocese.

Developments in 2006

Twenty months after his September 2004 announcement, Bishop Malone issued another statement. On 30 May 2006, the Newcastle Herald reported: "Bishop Michael Malone has told Dungog-Gresford parishioners and his clergy that the diocese had withdrawn the approval for Father Guy Hartcher to minister in the region regardless of the outcome of an investigation into the cleric's past."

Bishop Malone said consideration had involved consultations with Father Hartcher, his representatives, parish representatives, the Vincentian order leadership, as well as "many hours of investigation, deliberation and prayer."

Bishop Malone's statement said: "Please be assured that this decision has been given the most careful consideration from every perspective.

"After much discernment and advice, as your pastoral leader I believe I am acting in the best interests of all people involved, including Father Hartcher and the parish community of Dungog-Gresford."

Bishop Malone's statement related only to the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. Father Hartcher's future in the Vincentian order is a matter for that world-wide religious order. Therefore, Father Hartcher continued to be a priest in the Vincentian order, although he cannot practise in the diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

On 2 June 2006 a Newcastle man wrote in an email to Broken Rites: "I was at a funeral in Sydney just two weeks ago which Guy Hartcher conducted."

In the mid-2011 edition of the annual Official Directory of the Catholic Church in Australia, on page 732, Rev. Guy Hartcher CM was listed as the Superior at a Vincentian community in Sydney, with seven other Vincentian priests.

Inquiry in 2013

In 2013, the New South Wales state government launched a special Commission of Inquiry to investigate certain allegations concerning the Maitland-Newcastle Catholic diocese. Police investigators have submitted various documents to the Commission, mentioning the names of a number of priests who have worked in this diocese.