CANBERRA, Australia — An Australian senator came under fire Wednesday for using his special immunity from prosecution to name a Roman Catholic priest accused of raping a fellow priest more than 40 years ago.
Nick Xenophon, an independent senator, had presented the church with an ultimatum: remove the priest from his duties or his name would be made public within 24 hours.
On Tuesday night, Xenophon made good on his threat and told the Senate the priest's identity and said he was being investigated by the church over an alleged rape in the 1960s.
Xenophon cannot be sued for anything he says in the Senate and the Australian media cannot be held liable for reporting any false accusation that he might make.
Lawmakers on Wednesday attacked Xenophon's action as a misuse of his parliamentary privilege.
The priest denied the allegation in a news conference and said there was no suggestion of pedophilia. The church routinely removes clerics accused of child abuse from their duties for the safety of other children.
His alleged victim went to the Catholic church in 2007 with his allegation against the priest. But he did not want the police involved and told Xenophon he did not want the priest named in the Senate.
Xenophon said he decided to identify the priest because the church had failed to deal with the allegation promptly and remove the suspect from his parish duties.
"This was a secret that, in good conscience, I did not feel I could – or should – keep," Xenophon told the Senate.
Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson rejected Xenophon's claim of church mishandling, saying the alleged victim had only agreed in February to a formal church investigation and had not yet provided a requested list of witnesses who could help in the probe.
"I am deeply distressed that Sen. Xenophon has named the priest in Parliament," 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."
Wilson said he could not remove the priest from his duties under the circumstances.
Senior government minister Anthony Albanese said Xenophon should have taken his allegations to the police rather than the Senate.
"I think it's very important that the Parliament not become a forum for subverting proper processes," he told Sky News television.
Senior opposition Sen. Barnaby Joyce told reporters, "You've got to be very, very cautious about being judge, jury and executioner in the chamber."
The alleged victim said late Wednesday that he been contacted by police and is now considering filing a criminal complaint.