FLANKED by his parishioners, the senior Catholic clergyman accused in parliament of raping another priest has denied the allegations and said he may seek to make a statement in the Senate to clear his name.Monsignor Ian Dempsey fronted the media outside his Brighton parish in Adelaide's southern suburbs yesterday to deny having raped the leader of the Traditional Anglican Communion, Archbishop John Hepworth, more than 40 years ago.
"I am aware of John Hepworth's unsubstantiated allegations against me through an inquiry instigated by the archbishop," Monsignor Dempsey said yesterday.
"I have made it clear in writing to the inquiry that I categorically deny the allegations, which I note are said to relate to events that occurred some 45 years ago and have nothing at all to do with under-age people."
He later told The Australian that he was relieved to have finally spoken about the allegations, before going on a month of annual leave. Monsignor Dempsey said he would consider applying to the president of the Senate to address the allegations levelled against him by South Australian senator Nick Xenophon. "If they are the same privileges as the senator used last night, it could be an avenue whereby I could be able to correct some of the things he said which were inaccurate," Monsignor Dempsey said.
On Tuesday night, Senator Xenophon named Monsignor Dempsey as Archbishop Hepworth's last surviving alleged abuser, after the Adelaide Archdiocese ignored the independent MP's demands that Monsignor Dempsey be stood down during an investigation into the claims.
Senator Xenophon told the Senate that people of the parish had a right to know that the allegations had been outstanding for four years, and that the church leadership had failed to make "appropriate inquires" or stand the priest down.
The Archbishop of the Adelaide Diocese, Philip Wilson, yesterday attacked Senator Xenophon for naming Monsignor Dempsey and saying the church had not responded properly.
"We have shown Archbishop Hepworth every courtesy, sensitivity and care in the process," Archbishop Wilson said.
Senator Xenophon also questioned the appropriateness of the federal government's appointment of David Cappo, the vicar-general of the Adelaide Archdiocese, as chairman of Julia Gillard's new Mental Health Commission, due to the alleged delay in investigating Archbishop Hepworth's complaint.
Archbishop Wilson said he was "fully supportive of the manner in which Monsignor Cappo has given priority to this matter and the sensitive way in which he has dealt with it".
"I am deeply distressed that Senator Xenophon has named the priest in parliament," Archbishop Wilson said. "The damage to the priest's reputation is obvious and severe and -- in my opinion -- this serves to undermine the presumption of innocence which all of us are entitled to enjoy."
Archbishop Wilson said Monsignor Cappo had met Archbishop Hepworth on at least eight occasions between the time the issue was first raised in 2007 and February this year.
"On my behalf, Monsignor Cappo urged Archbishop Hepworth, at the end of each meeting, to give his permission to proceed with an investigation into the allegations," Archbishop Wilson said.
"On each occasion Archbishop Hepworth declined, indicating that he was not in a proper emotional state to deal with an investigation.
"He was also informed that if he was alleging any form of abuse, including rape, that this is a criminal allegation and he should go to the police."
Archbishop Hepworth said yesterday he had been encouraged to go to police only twice.
Archbishop Hepworth raised allegations on the weekend that he had been raped and sexually abused by Melbourne priest Ronald Pickering and father John Stockdale, who have both since died, while studying at the seminary in Adelaide aged 15. He also alleged he had been raped later by another priest, who Senator Xenophon named in parliament as Monsignor Dempsey.
Archbishop Hepworth did not regret Senator Xenophon naming Monsignor Dempsey in parliament.
"I have a sense of peacefulness now because I've done the best I could," he said.
Monsignor Dempsey has a right of reply in the Senate if he feels he has been defamed. He can write to the Senate president to have a formal right of reply, which is then referred to the Senate privileges committee. The committee can then decide on whether to release the statement and publish it in Hansard.
Senator Xenophon was yesterday criticised from all sides of politics for using parliamentary privilege to name Monsignor Dempsey.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith said members of parliament needed to tread carefully when airing allegations under privilege.
"If you are a member of parliament and have the benefit of parliamentary privilege you need to use that very carefully," Mr Smith said. "And when you name an individual or individuals in the parliament you firstly have to be sure and clear of your ground and you have to have made a considered and deliberate judgment as to why that's necessary."
Liberal senator Simon Birmingham said parliamentary privilege should be used "cautiously, judiciously, sparingly".
"It's not the role of politicians to play police, prosecutor, judge and jury," Senator Birmingham said.
Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce said that using parliamentary privilege circumvented rights and liberties.
"We've got to make sure that everybody has got a certain presumption of innocence until proven otherwise," Senator Joyce said.
"If you have got the story wrong, then you've done an incredible injustice to the person."
Senator Xenophon told The Australian he did not regret his actions but said he was baffled by the church's decision not to tell him that the priest was being sent on leave.
"All this could have been avoided (on Tuesday)," Senator Xenophon said.
"I just want to make it clear that all I was asking for was a proper investigation and if they had told me the priest in question was going on leave it could have changed the course of action."
Acknowledgements: Additional reporting: Milanda Rout