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Paedophile Robert Best still a Christian Brother -

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PETER LLOYD: Australia's most senior Christian Brother has condemned the crimes of his colleagues in the Victorian city of Ballarat.

The child sex abuse royal commission has heard evidence of the brutal sexual and physical abuse of children by Christian Brothers in the city in the '60s and '70s.

But Brother Peter Clinch told the commission there has been no attempt to remove one of the worst offenders, jailed paedophile Robert Best, from the congregation.

Samantha Donovan reports from Ballarat.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Christian Brothers Robert Best, Edward Dowlan and Stephen Farrell have all been convicted of sexually abusing children in the Ballarat area.

The commission heard today Robert Best remains a member of the congregation even though he's serving a 14 year jail sentence for his crimes against 11 boys.

Senior counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness asked Australia's most senior Christian Brother Peter Clinch why that's the case.

PETER CLINCH: Because he hasn't gone through the exclaustration or dispensation and he has not requested that and as far I'm aware, at this early stage of my leadership, the congregation hasn't taken any initiative in that area either.


PETER CLINCH: I cannot answer that directly but I know that in our chapter, any brother now is become, offends from now on will no longer remain a member of the congregation. Prior to that, that means prior to 2013, there is no legislation in our constitutions for that to happen.

GAIL FURNESS: Have you gone to Rome about Best?

PETER CLINCH: No I have not.


PETER CLINCH: The matter has not come to my attention yet because he's still in prison and it hasn't come to my attention to take it further at this stage.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Brother Peter Clinch leads the Christian Brothers in the Oceania region.

He confirmed at the commission today, the congregation has paid more than $1.5 million dollars in legal fees for Robert Best. It also paid Edward Dowlan's legal bill of $77,000 and $23,000 for Stephen Farrell.

Brother Peter Clinch told commissioner Peter McClellan he believes the Christian Brothers are able to fund compensation and ongoing help for abuse victims.

PETER CLINCH: It's my understanding that we would have assets at this stage for ongoing - yes.

PETER MCCLELLAN: We've heard in diocesan arrangements of the problem of assets being tied up in trusts and not accessible. Is that the position with the brotherhood? How are the assets held?

PETER CLINCH: The information I have that, that money is being available and we have downloaded I know some monies recently to meet the settlement payments that are going at a rapid pace in Perth this year. I know that some property has been sold, yes.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Late last year the Truth, Justice and Healing Council which is coordinating the church's response to the royal commission outraged many in the Catholic hierarchy worldwide by acknowledging a possible link between the vow of celibacy and the abuse of children.

The commission chairman Peter McClellan asked Brother Clinch if he believes there is a link.

PETER CLINCH: But I don't believe it's solely that. It could exacerbate it if a person is not suited to the celibate way of life and I think it comes to me back is the ability to have mature adult relationships. So those brothers that I know that have offended, often they have shown signs of immaturity with adults.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Commissioner McClellan asked Peter Clinch why some Christian Brothers treated children so brutally.

PETER MCCLELLAN: The evidence that we have received, it's not uncommon to find that the abuse of the child is both sexual and physical. Very considerable violence is visited upon children. Can you tell us why it happened?

PETER CLINCH: As a recent conversation that I had with a very elderly brother in Brisbane, an 88-year-old and he had a very good insight. He said, "We lost our way and we came to see reputation of our schools and institutions as number one rather than the service of children," and that physical violence, corporal punishment as we softly called it, but it was violence, became a nearly common practice. Some, as I only heard during this week, were just beyond any realm of punishment. It was just brutality.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Commissioner Andrew Murray suggested to Peter Clinch that the Christian Brothers who abused children had not only lost their way but were unsuited to a Christian mission.

PETER CLINCH: I can say there is a pathology, they were very sick men and I'd say the environment in which they were living exacerbated that sickness along.

ANDREW MURRAY: Would you describe them as un-Christian?

PETER CLINCH: Certainly their actions are totally un-Christian and abhorrent to me and abhorrent to the gospel.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: The Catholic Church has this afternoon confirmed that no church parties will seek to question the survivor witnesses about their evidence at this week's Ballarat hearings.

PM understands that means the two witnesses who accused Cardinal George Pell this week of bribery and knowing about abuse in Ballarat will not be cross examined.

Cardinal Pell has indicated he is happy to provide a statement to the commission. The hearings continue in Ballarat on Monday.

PETER LLOYD: Samantha Donovan reporting.