A Catholic priest under investigation for the sexual abuse of a young girl is suspected to have taken his own life after being confronted by the child’s mother.
Popular and well-known parish priest Father Joseph Tran, pictured, who worked as a chaplain at several Catholic Perth schools, was found dead by police on Thursday.
WA Police confirmed to The Weekend West yesterday that it was the same day police had launched an investigation into an allegation of child sexual abuse by a priest from a southern suburbs Catholic Church.
“During the investigation the priest was located deceased,” a spokeswoman said. “His death is not being treated as suspicious and a report will be prepared for the Coroner.”
Father Tran was accused of abusing the girl, who is now 13, over several years. It is understood her mother confronted him this week after the alleged abuse came to light.
The 49-year-old had been the parish priest at Armadale’s St Francis Xavier for the past year after 15 years at Whitfords parish.
Known as “Father Joe”, he came to Australia as a refugee from Vietnam. Sacred Heart College notified its school community of his death, saying staff were “deeply saddened” by his passing and remembered his “compassion, humour and deep care for all”.
The Archdiocese of Perth and the Catholic Education Office refused to comment yesterday on the abuse allegations or Father Tran’s death, including whether or not they had been aware of the accusations before his death and, if so, had notified the schools where he acted as chaplain.
Morning mass at St Francis Xavier was cancelled yesterday, with a notice at the door stating “due to circumstances beyond our control, there is no reconciliation today”.
His death comes days after Perth Catholic Archbishop Timothy Costelloe issued one of his strongest statements on abuse, conceding the Church was facing a “diminishment of numbers and influence”.
Issuing a special Lent message in the wake of the conviction of George Pell, Archbishop Costelloe expressed his “horror, grief and confusion” over recent events engulfing the Church and warning the institution was facing a “crisis of fidelity”.
“Can anyone believe that a person who has his or her eyes truly fixed on Jesus would have been capable of abusing a child or young person,” the Archbishop asked.
“Can anybody believe that a Church leader deeply steeped in his or her identity as a disciple of Jesus would have been able to turn a blind eye to, or summarily dismiss, someone who had the courage to come forward with a story of abuse?
“That these things did in fact happen unmasks for us a confronting truth: we have forgotten who we are.”
He said the Church was not only facing a crisis of credibility, but grappling with a loss of respect in society.
“We are facing a crisis of faith,” Archbishop Costelloe said.
He said all efforts at reform in the wake of the royal commission into abuse and all the apologies would amount to nothing unless there was an unflinching acknowledgement of “infidelity to the Lord Jesus” and a deep shame about all that happened.
If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.