Former bishop "stunned" by teacher sex abuse allegations

FORMER Toowoomba Bishop William Morris said he was absolutely stunned when he first learnt about the allegations levelled against Gerard Vincent Byrnes while driving back to the city from Chinchilla.

He said he first learnt about the allegations through a media report.

Bishop Morris said, outside the commission, on Monday he honestly believed the school's principal Terence Michael Hayes tried to cover up the allegations when they first surfaced in September, 2007.

"At the start of it I did, I really did," he said.

"He explained it to me (the allegations) as inappropriate teaching practices.

"That was his statement to me.

"I do not know how they got it so wrong. It is not rocket science."

Bishop Morris said he would have had no hesitation in reporting the allegations to police if he had been made aware of them when they were first reported.

"You would hope it could not happen again today," he said.

"You would hope what happened in Toowoomba has made more people and schools aware.

"In this context, touching is touching; you report it and you get the professionals to investigate it."

Bishop Morris was highly critical of Mr Hayes' handling of the whole sordid affair during 2007 and 2008.

"I do not think Mr Hayes thinks he has done anything wrong," he said

"Even at this stage he does not think he has done anything wrong.

"It stunned me. I could not believe it when he reported to me that he was aware of sexual abuse right from the beginning. It really stunned me.

"I do not think Terry (Hayes) got it."

Bishop Morris revealed for the first time there was a significant and through forensic investigation carried out into Byrnes' life after his arrest.

He said he did not believe Byrnes had any other victims apart from the 13 young girls at the Toowoomba primary school.

"What he did was just so wrong and I cannot believe a human being would do that to another human being," he said.

"It surprised us that we did not find anything. It really, really surprised us.

"We went back to day one of his teaching career up until his arrest and we did not find anything.

"That is really stunning because normally speaking you find something in the background, but we never found anything, nothing."

Bishop Morris said he had no direct contact with any of Byrnes' victims or their parents since he left Toowoomba.


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