For all the ridiculous stunts he has pulled at different times in his political life, Nick Xenophon’s underlying compassion for the downtrodden and the abused has never seriously been questioned. The worst that could be said of him is he is a political opportunist who knows how to push the populace’s buttons.

This time, however, he has pushed into new territory that raises troubling issues about his motives and judgment.

In the Senate last night, Xenophon used parliamentary privilege to name and shame an Adelaide priest accused of s-xual abuse 50 years ago. The man concerned has categorically denied the allegation, he has never been charged and the allegations have never been tested in a court of law.

Thanks to Xenophon, the priest’s identity and the Adelaide suburban parish where he serves are now in the public domain. His name has been widely reported by the ABC and in The Australian (though not in local newspaper The Advertiser on the grounds that evidence of the allegations has not become publicly available).

Xenophon says he had to name the priest because the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide had failed to adequately investigate the r-pe allegations, which were made by the now-primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion, John Hepworth. Xenophon evidently has issues with senior figures within the Catholic Church.

The Archdiocese says it’s shocked and dismayed with his statement. Quite.

Despite the priest’s denial and the presumption of innocence, Xenophon has totally destroyed the man’s character — a brave call on unproven allegations.

Xenophon is an experienced lawyer who still provides pro bono advice on issues close to his heart.

It cannot be said he acted in the emotional heat of the moment, given he had already given the Catholic Archdiocese an ultimatum to suspend the priest by noon yesterday or he would name him. He delivered his parliamentary coup de gras after due consideration, with a cool head, fully aware of the dire consequences.

Hepworth, who alleges he was repeatedly r-ped by three priests over a 12-year period while training in a Catholic seminary, says he didn’t want Xenophon to name the priest.

“As long as the process goes on that is fair and just, I will be comfortable with that,” Hepworth told the ABC.

Xenophon has smashed that “fair and just” process to pieces.

No doubt there are complex layers within layers to this matter, otherwise the priest would likely have been formally charged long ago. The alleged r-pe was 50 years ago and the chance of sustaining a charge now must be next to zero. There are no other matters of suspicion hanging over the priest so far as is known.

So what happens next? Presumably the priest will now be stood aside as the Catholic Church continues its drawn-out investigation of the Hepworth allegations. It seems not to be a clear-cut case, except in Hepworth’s and Xenophon’s minds.

Not that it matters. The mud has well and truly stuck. Denied natural justice, it’s hard to imagine how the man’s situation could be any worse. He is finished without ever being charged.

Xenophon has made the decision for everyone and he has gone too far.

*This article was originally published at InDaily

Peter Fray

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