Australia inquiry into church child-sex cover-up claims

The Australian state of New South Wales has announced a special inquiry to look into claims the Catholic Church covered up for paedophile priests, silenced investigations and destroyed evidence.

Australia's New South Wales state has announced a special inquiry to look into claims the Catholic Church covered up for paedophile priests, silenced investigations and destroyed evidence. The inquiry, announced by state Premier Barry O'Farrell (pictured) on Friday, will examine the allegations made public by a senior police investigator.

The inquiry, announced by state Premier Barry O'Farrell on Friday, will examine the allegations made by a senior police investigator who outlined his charges in a letter published in the Newcastle Herald newspaper.

It followed Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox criticising the O'Farrell government on national television for its failure to probe the alleged abuse by clergy in the Hunter Valley, 170 kilometres (105 miles) north of Sydney.

"Often the church knows but does nothing other than protect the paedophile and its own reputation," Fox, who has been investigating sexual assaults for 35 years, said in the letter.

"I can testify from my own experience that the church covers up, silences victims, hinders police investigations, alerts offenders, destroys evidence and moves priests to protect the good name of the church."

Fox said he had "irrefutable" evidence, but had been ordered off the case by a superior officer.

"There is an archbishop, a bishop and a priest that are implicated in a potential cover-up," he said, adding that he was told to give all his material to other officers and then taken off the case.

He was not sure if he would face disciplinary action for publicly speaking out, but said: "I don't care."

O'Farrell said that while he had "full confidence" in the police force, the matters raised were serious.

"They go to the question about whether there has been interference, either within the police force, or by the Catholic Church, in relation to specific allegations of paedophile activity in the Hunter," he told reporters.

"These matters have been raised by a senior serving officer and deserve to be fully investigated."

The New South Wales probe comes hot on the heels of a similar inquiry in Victoria state, in which the Catholic Church has denied claims by police that it covered up paedophilia and talked victims out of reporting sexual abuse.

While denying the cover-up allegation, the Victorian Catholic Church in September revealed that at least 620 children had been abused by its clergy since the 1930s.

That inquiry is ongoing.

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