Australian Senator Criticized for Naming Catholic Priest Accused of Rape

An Australian senator has been criticized for using parliamentary immunity to name a Roman Catholic priest accused of raping a fellow priest more than 40 years ago.

Independent Sen. Nick Xenophon named Monsignor Ian Dempsey, a parish priest in the Adelaide suburb of Brighton, and gave the church an ultimatum - remove the priest from his duties or his name would be made public within 24 hours, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

Lawmakers believe Xenophon misused his parliamentary privilege that prevents him from being sued over comments made in the chamber. The privilege also precludes the Australian media from being held liable for reporting any false accusations the senator makes.

"I am deeply distressed that Sen. Xenophon has named the priest in Parliament," Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson said in a statement. "The damage to the priest's reputation is obvious and severe," he added. "What has happened is unfair and unjust."

Xenophon said his actions were justified because the church failed to deal with the rape allegations.

"This was a secret that, in good conscience, I did not feel I could - or should - keep," Xenophon told the senate, according to the Boston Globe.

The church is investigating Dempsey for allegedly raping John Hepworth in the 1960s. Dempsey denied the allegations in a statement to journalists saying, "I categorically deny the allegations which I note are said to relate to events that occurred some 45 years ago, and they have nothing at all to do with underage people," the AFP reported.

Hepworth told the Catholic Church in 2007 about the allegations, saying he was violently raped and sexually abused over 12 years from the age of 15 by Dempsey, two other priests and a seminary student, the AFP reported.

Hepworth did not want the police involved and told Xenophon that he did want Dempsey named in the senate, according to media reports.