Systemic failure saw 13 girls abused by teacher

FORMER Toowoomba Bishop William Morris has admitted there was a systematic failure at the Catholic Education Office which allowed a teacher to sexually abuse 13 girls at a city primary school.

Bishop Morris told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Monday he was "still trying to get his head around" what happened in 2007 and 2008 and how it could have happened on his watch.

"It is stunning. I still cannot get my head around it," Bishop Morris said.

"It is not rocket science. Touching is not rocket science.

"The other day we saw a question put to a witness concerning hands in the pants and the question came back saying, was it at the bottom of the pants.

"I am thinking are we going to go down that tack again?

"Why don't they get it?"

Commissioner Jennifer Coate read out a paragraph from Bishop Morris' statement to the commission which gave an insight into his thoughts.

"In my view, what occurred is a deep lesson to me and hopefully all of those persons involved in child protection, that vigilance and care in handling complaints is key as is ensuring that children who have been, or may be, exposed to abuse are protected at the expense of any other competing matters."

Earlier, Bishop Morris admitted the kit the Catholic Education Office used across the Toowoomba Diocese had a limited definition of what constituted sexual abuse.

He said the student protection and risk management kit was cumbersome, but its main failure was not requiring users to report child sexual abuse allegations to police.

Counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness asked Bishop Morris his thoughts surrounding references to serious allegation which ultimately did not make their way into a letter from the school's principal Terence Michael Hayes to Gerard Vincent Byrnes, namely over the "hands up the skirt and down the pants allegations."

"It is a failure," Bishop Morris said.

Ms Furness asked whether it was a failure to remove Byrnes as a student protection officer at the schools after the allegations were made.

"Failure," Bishop Morris said.

Ms Furness asked Bishop Morris about why Byrnes was not adequately monitored following the allegations in September, 2007.

"Failure," he said.

Bishop Morris conceded Byrnes' re-employment after his resignation was a "significant failure" on the Catholic Education Office's behalf as it enabled the convicted paedophile to reoffend.

Commission Jennifer Coate asked Bishop Morris if he wanted to respond to "the bishop must not be compromised" comments several witnesses made last week.

"I have never heard that in my 18 years in the Toowoomba Dioceses," he said.

"No-one has ever said that so I have never heard that remark.

"You know, I was a bit stunned when I heard it because it had never been mentioned before and the thing is I do not need to be protected."

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