Australia

Andrew Bolt slammed for 'completely irresponsible' comments about St Kevin's sex offender

Andrew Bolt and Gerard Henderson on Tuesday. Source: Twitter

Andrew Bolt is under fire for a segment on the controversy around St Kevin's College in Melbourne.

Advocates of child sex abuse survivors have slammed Sky News commentator Andrew Bolt for appearing to defend convicted child sex offender Peter Kehoe during a segment about the St Kevin's College scandal.

Mr Kehoe was convicted of grooming a student when he was an athletics coach at the prestigious Melbourne school with the ABC revealing this week that outgoing principal Stephen Russell had supported him.

But on Tuesday night, Mr Bolt questioned the seriousness of Mr Kehoe's crime.

"[He] hit on a boy, no sex occurred."

Mr Bolt also asked "how terrible was it really" that Mr Russell wrote a character reference for Mr Kehoe after his conviction.

Conservative commentator Gerard Henderson responded: "Well not at all, it was a terrible pile on against St Kevin's, within the ABC tradition of attacking mainly Catholic institutions".

President of advocacy group the Blue Knot Foundation Cathy Kezelman said Mr Bolt and Mr Henderson were "minimising" the crime.

"Grooming is a crime … The impacts are so profound and longstanding. To minimise something that steals a child's innocence and in some cases, sadly, a child's life due to suicide is just indefensible," she told SBS News on Wednesday.

"[Mr Bolt and Mr Henderson] are completely irresponsible, they are uninformed and their ignorance is destructive to the social fabric of the country."

Their ignorance is destructive to the social fabric of the country

Cathy Kezelman 

She pointed out how the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse "showed there was a culture of minimisation, denial, cover up and a lack of understanding about grooming and how insidious it is".

"To perpetuate this despite everything we know, despite the royal commission, despite the recommendations, despite changes to legislation, it just boggles the mind."

Their comments have also been criticised by some in the religious community.

Responding to Mr Henderson's comment, Father Rod Bower of Gosford Anglican Church said the outrage about St Kevin's College was not "anti-Christian", but "anti-child sex abuse". 

"What's so appalling about Bolt and Henderson's comments is they were minimising the devastating effects that grooming can have," he told SBS News.

Peter Kehoe faces questioning from Victoria Police.
Peter Kehoe faces questioning from Victoria Police.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation/Four Corners

"It minimises the harm that was done … It seeks to invalidate the experience of harm. And that's a devastating thing to a survivor of child sex abuse."

Father Bower is best known for the thought-provoking signs outside his NSW Central Coast church and advocacy for progressive causes.

"First and foremost, survivors of child sex abuse need to be heard and they need to be understood," he said.

Many social media users also expressed dismay.

Earlier Wednesday, Mr Russell announced he was stepping down over the school's handling of the child-grooming case.

The survivor's lawyer, Judy Courtin, said the removal of senior staff at the prominent Catholic school showed a "shift in the power base" between victims and institutions.

"Power was in institutions. This shows survivors are not willing to give up," she said.

Outgoing principal Stephen Russell.
Outgoing principal Stephen Russell.
St Kevin's College

St Kevin's dean of sport Luke Travers, who also gave a reference, has been stood down, pending an investigation.

In a letter issued to parents on Wednesday, Mr Russell said students' wellbeing was his biggest priority and "the current situation means that the best way to achieve this is to resign".

A spokesperson for St Kevin's said the resignation was effective immediately.

Mr Russell's letter did not directly address the controversy.

Edmund Rice Education Australia (EREA), the governing body of St Kevin's, said current St Patrick's College, Ballarat principal John Crowley would take over as headmaster until the end of the 2020 school year.

"EREA accepts the gravity of the matters raised in recent days," the statement said.

On Tuesday, Education Minister James Merlino confirmed the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority would investigate the school.

A school spokesperson told SBS News on Tuesday that they would cooperate with the review.

Additional reporting: AAP

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

Anyone seeking information or support relating to sexual abuse can also contact Bravehearts on 1800 272 831 or Blue Knot on 1300 657 380.

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