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Australian legislator names accused priest; archdiocese 'appalled'

Catholic World News - September 13, 2011

Ignoring pleas from the Adelaide archdiocese, an Australian lawmaker has identified the priest who is accused of raping Anglican Archbishop John Hepworth.

Speaking before parliament--and thus taking advantage of immunity from legal reprisals, Senator Nick Xenophon pointed to Father Ian Dempsey, a priest still in active ministry in the Adelaide archdiocese. Xenophon said that "the people of the Brighton parish have a right to know that for four years allegations have been outstanding that priest Ian Dempsey raped John Hepworth and that church leadership had failed to make appropriate inquiries into this matter and that church leadership has failed to stand this priest down as a matter of course while inquiries take place."

Archbishop Hepworth, the head of the Traditional Anglican Communion, had revealed that he was molested repeatedly while he was a Catholic seminarian and young priest. Two of his three accused attackers are now deceased.

The Adelaide archdiocese had said that it received legal advice that the accused priest should not be publicly identified, and that "any decision to suspend the priest concerned would be unjustifiable as a matter of canon and civil law.”

“We are shocked and dismayed that Senator Xenophon has ignored our pleadings--and our offer of a full briefing--and proposes to release the name of the priest he referred to in parliament last night,” the archdiocese said. When Xenophon carried out his threat, the archdiocese issued a new statement saying that it was "appalled" by the move, and chided the legislator for ignoring the "extremely and highly complex background" of the case.

“You may be aware that the allegations made by Archbishop Hepworth relate to a period dating back almost 50 years,” the archdiocese had said in its public plea to Xenophon. “The priest concerned has categorically denied the allegations and, objectively speaking, it is not irrelevant that he has been a priest of good standing in the archdiocese for almost 50 years.”

“Despite being told of the abuse in 2007, and receiving a detailed six-page statement in March 2008, [Adelaide Vicar General Msgr.] David Cappo told John Hepworth this year that the investigation was still at, quote, ‘a preliminary stage,’” Xenophon responded. “It is clear that the seemingly low priority the Catholic Church in South Australia has given to this matter has caused great distress to John Hepworth.”

After Archbishop Hepworth said that he did not want the priest to be named in parliament, Xenophon said he was reconsidering his pledge. But he went ahead with his plan, claiming that he had some support from the traditionalist Anglican leader.

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