Church pledges legal costs

THE church will continue to contribute to the legal costs of ordained former Marist Regional College teachers who may be charged with child sexual abuse as a result of the Royal Commission, the head of the Marist Fathers Australian Province has said.

Father Paul Cooney said the order paid the court costs of convicted paedophiles Roger Michael Bellemore and Gregory Laurence Ferguson because the ex-priests, who worked at the Burnie school in the late 1960s and early 1970s, did not have independent financial means.

But he said the funding would not be so generous if fresh charges were laid against anyone in the order.

"As a religious order, none of us have any of our own money and we don't get paid welfare," Father Cooney said.

"Anyone who is charged has no other means other than the order - I don't think we would just cut them off and say they were on their own."

Bellemore was before the court for three years, including an appeal, aborted retrial and final retrial before being convicted and jailed for three child sex offences in 2007.

Ferguson also spent three years before the court, including two separate criminal trials and one retrial.

Father Cooney said the two men were the only ones in the Australian Marist Fathers order to face child sex charges, and the experience had caused the order to draft a formal policy on legal fees, which would make a "limited amount" available.

He said the order was not involved in the trial of Paul Ronald Goldsmith, who was convicted in 2008 of molesting 20 boys during the time he was the college's sports coach, because he was not ordained.

Tasmanian Anglican Bishop John Harrower said the church did not pay for the trials of former Anglican priests Garth Stephen Hawkins and Louis Victor Daniels, who were separately convicted in 2003 and 2005 of repeated child sexual abuse.

Both men were defrocked by Bishop Harrower.