SENIOR Catholic clergy in the Hunter knew since 1995 that disgraced priest Denis McAlinden had sexually abused hundreds of victims in the Hunter, but failed to report him to police, an inquiry heard yesterday.
Newcastle police also had evidence of the cover-up for almost 12 months, and took little or no action against the Church.
The sensational evidence was dropped like a bomb before the Special Commission of Inquiry in Newcastle yesterday by Newcastle Herald journalist Joanne McCarthy.
Ms McCarthy revealed she had been given a copy of an internal Church report into Father McAlinden's offending by a victim of the notorious priest.
She gave the report to police on April 23, 2010, but 12 months later when she lodged a complaint with the Police Integrity Commission, on April 11, 2011, police had yet to take any action against senior clergy.
Counsel for Ms McCarthy, Winston Terracini SC, asked Ms McCarthy during cross-examination if the diocese's internal report mentioned that Father Brian Lucas was aware of Father McAlinden's activities.
"Yes," Ms McCarthy replied.
"Was there any attempt by the police at this point to interview Lucas?" Mr Terracini asked.
"No," Ms McCarthy said.
"The material tends to indicate the systemic protection of paedophiles?"
"The material that the police had obviously shows . . . an intention to alert McAlinden [that the Church was aware of his actions]. If that isn't trying to protect a paedophile, I don't know what is," Mr Terracini said.
"Yes, I agree," Ms McCarthy said.
"Lucas knew that McAlinden had been interfering with children and the priest did nothing about it?"
A copy of Ms McCarthy's complaint to the Police Integrity Commission was formally tendered to the commission yesterday. The commission, headed by Commissioner Margaret Cunneen SC, agreed to release a copy to the Herald last night.
In it, Ms McCarthy reveals that the diocese's 1995 report into Father McAlinden contained a letter from Bishop Leo Clarke to McAlinden. In it, Bishop Clarke recommended that Father McAlinden agree to his proposed defrocking "and go to live somewhere pleasant, like the Philippines".
Bishop Clarke notes that "in light of your admission to Father Brian Lucas and other evidence", Father McAlinden should agree to his defrocking "for the good of the Church".
Bishop Clarke assured Father McAlinden "your good name will be protected by the confidential nature of this process".
All the information was given to Detective Shaun McLeod, who was working with police Strike Force Georgiana at the time. He recommended a thorough investigation of the matter and alleged cover-ups by senior clergy, but he went on stress leave soon after.
A subsequent police investigation, Strike Force Lantle, was also aware of the material provided by Ms McCarthy, but it was plagued by staff shortages and lack of resources when all three police officers assigned to it went on extended sick leave.
In evidence given to the inquiry earlier yesterday, Ms McCarthy said the diocese knew about other paedophiles within its ranks.
Under questioning from Wayne Roser SC, who is acting for senior police, Ms McCarthy said that if police investigated all the Hunter priests who had been convicted of child sex abuse, they would find that the Church knew something about "every one of them", but did nothing.
In other evidence, Ms McCarthy denied repeated suggestions that she was acting in collusion with Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, who blew the whistle on police investigations.
Asked if she had "encouraged" or "urged" Mr Fox to breach police protocols or commit a criminal offence, she said "no", repeating earlier evidence that while she was aware of strained relations between Mr Fox and other officers, "I didn't want anything to do with that".
"My obligation was to the victims . . . to make sure they were looked after by police," she said.
The inquiry continues today.
Father Lucas, the general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, made a brief comment to the Herald last night.
"I'll deal with this in front of Commissioner Cunneen," he said.