A Newcastle University academic and a colleague from Queensland are embarking on a Hunter version of a research project that analysed the movements of Catholic figures around Victoria to uncover an alleged 16 child abuse networks within the Melbourne and Ballarat dioceses.
Newcastle sociologist Dr Kathleen McPhillips and criminologist Dr Jodi Death of the Queensland University of Technology's law faculty will lead the project, which recently received ethics approval from both institutions. Both Dr McPhillips and Dr Death (pronounced "Deeth"), have published widely on clerical child abuse.
The Melbourne mapping was carried out by one of Dr Death's PhD students and drew on her work, including a 2017 book on the Royal Commission and other Australian inquiries.
She has described the Catholic situation as more of a "bad barrel" than "bad apples".
COVID restrictions permitting, Dr Death should be in Newcastle next month, when she is scheduled to join Dr McPhillips in explaining the project to members of the Clergy Abused Network, a support group formed more than 10 years ago by Maitland's Bob O'Toole, who suffered at the hands of the Marist Brothers as a boy.
Mr O'Toole said CAN members still had a range of concerns including slow progress on the federal government's redress scheme for victims of abuse.
Newcastle Labor MP Sharon Claydon, deputy chair of a parliamentary committee on the scheme's implementation, said things were "deplorably slow".
Ms Claydon said there were problems at both ends of the scheme.
She said some institutions were still refusing to join, and the take-up by individuals was much lower than had been expected.
"The Jehovah's Witnesses, for example - and they have cases in this region - are refusing point blank to join," Ms Claydon said.
"The government knows this, but apart from naming and shaming a few organisations on a website, they are refusing to use the lever they have, which is to remove their tax-deductible status as a charity."
Ms Claydon said the Royal Commission had estimated that about 60,000 people were eligible for redress, but that only a little over 8000 people had applied.
"For some people, the evidence to the inquiry is that they find the process so traumatic that they are not applying," Ms Claydon said.
"Then, from the other direction, there is evidence that some survivors believe they can get a better deal through the common law court system, and are going down that path."
The Maitland-Newcastle Diocese of the Catholic Church declined to comment yesterday, but Greens MLC David Shoebridge said the mapping project would help throw "a fresh light" on events in the region.
"Mapping the extent of abuse and associated deaths in the Hunter is essential work and will throw a fresh light on the role of key organisations, especially the churches," Mr Shoebridge said.
"It may well help us understand the underlying causes of so many tragic deaths, including the 70 or more that in the Hunter alone that Bob O'Toole's group wants investigated by a coronial inquiry, a call that I support."
Dr McPhillips said there was ample evidence to show clerical child abuse took place in what amounted to clusters.
"Yet Catholic Church leaders have typically framed this activity as belonging to a small number of isolated deviant individuals, who were poorly managed ," Dr McPhillips said.
"Our mapping project uses documents on the public record, augmented by interviews with survivors of Catholic abuse, to examine some complex but very specific mechanisms that allowed organised paedophile networks to operate," Dr McPhillips said.
"The project will use what's called Social Network Analysis, and software, to 'map' the key relationships between perpetrators and managers in Catholic institutions."
In February last year, Melbourne media reported how similar research had confirmed 16 child sex abuse networks, operating over six decades, involving 99 Catholic priests and Christian brothers.