Independent senator Nick Xenophon has accused a Catholic priest appointed to head a federal mental health body of covering up a church sex abuse scandal in South Australia.
Senator Xenophon has called for Monsignor David Cappo to be sacked as chair of the first national mental health commission after the Gillard government appointed him to the role last week.
He’s also threatened to name and shame a practising priest on Tuesday unless the Catholic Church stands him down.
Adelaide-based Anglican Archbishop John Hepworth revealed on the weekend he was the victim of violent rapes at the hands of three priests beginning in 1960.
At the time Archbishop Hepworth was studying to be a priest and was aged 15.
Ronald Pickering and John Stockdale have since died, but the third priest still runs a parish in South Australia.
Archbishop Hepworth broke away from the Catholic Church because of the 12 years of abuse.
Speaking under parliamentary privilege on Monday evening, Senator Xenophon said Archbishop Hepworth had reported the abuse to Monsignor Cappo in 2007 and gave him a detailed six-page statement in 2008.
Senator Xenophon said Monsignor Cappo had told Archbishop Hepworth this year the investigation was still at a “preliminary stage” because he had not lodged a formal complaint.
“For reasons not fully explained (Monsignor Cappo) has failed to act in a timely manner,” the South Australian senator said.
He said the third priest is a senior figure who maintains a “privileged position” in the Catholic Church.
Senator Xenophon said when a journalist had put the allegation to the third priest, he had giggled and declined to comment on the matter because it was confidential.
“The raping of another human being is no laughing matter,” Senator Xenophon said.
He said if the Catholic Church does not stand the third priest down from all duties by midday on Tuesday, he will name and shame him.
“Right now there are parents sending their children to church who are unaware the priest in their parish has been named as an abuser, a rapist,” he said.
“I intend to name the priest in the Senate tomorrow.”
Senator Xenophon hadn’t come to the decision lightly and admitted it could affect future police investigations.
“But I have to weigh this up with my responsibilities to those in contact with this priest now.
“I can’t see any moral reason to suppress this information.”
He called on the government to investigate Monsignor Cappo’s handling of the sex abuse complaint before officially appointing him to head the mental health taskforce and to speak to Archbishop Hepworth directly.
Archbishop Hepworth, 67, is believed to be the most senior church figure in the world to reveal he was a victim of clerical sex abuse.
In a statement to AAP, the Archdiocese of Adelaide rejected the suggestion there had been no investigation, or a delayed investigation, of Archbishop Hepworth’s allegations.
“At the specific request of Archbishop Hepworth, the church took no steps to progress the matter until he decided he was ready to formalise his complaints,” the statement said.
That decision was only made by Archbishop Hepworth in February 2011, it continues.
“It is wrong to suggest that any delay has been other than at the request of Archbishop Hepworth himself.”
A spokeswoman said the church would not be making further comment until Tuesday after they’d spoken to their legal team.