BISHOP Michael Malone says he has never seen files obtained by the Special Commission of Inquiry even though some had been in his office for all of his 16 years at the head of the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese.
In an extraordinary afternoon of evidence, Bishop Malone told the inquiry he eventually ‘‘tipped off the police’’ about paedophile priest Denis McAlinden in 1999 but that at no time did he look at McAlinden’s personnel file, or that of any other priest in his diocese.
This was despite the files being contained in an office he inherited from his predecessor, Bishop Leo Clarke, sitting in filing cabinets until their discovery by the commission’s investigators.
Late on Wednesday afternoon, counsel assisting the inquiry, Julia Lonergan, said to Bishop Malone that it ‘‘defied belief’’ that he ‘‘did not familiarise’’ himself with McAlinden’s file during the years the diocese was battling to defrock him.
Bishop Malone said that ‘‘in hindsight, yes’’, but he believed he had enough evidence against McAlinden without having any more.
Pressing Bishop Malone about documents he referred to as ‘‘secret’’ under the church’s canon law, Ms Lonergan asked Bishop Malone about ‘‘a significant amount of material’’, some of it dating back to the 1970s, that investigators had retrieved from his office and from other parts of the diocese headquarters in Hamilton.
Bishop Malone said he hadn’t gone hunting for things he didn’t know existed.
He said his days as bishop were largely mapped out with church business and he ‘‘didn’t have the luxury to go trolling through the archives’’.
In the witness box from Wednesday’s 2pm resumption, Bishop Malone was asked about his taking control of the then-Maitland diocese in late 1995 from his predecessor, Bishop Leo Clarke.
Bishop Malone said that after a formal handover that took about five minutes, Bishop Clarke was ‘‘out of there like a rocket’’.
Questioned by Ms Lonergan, Bishop Malone had the gallery of more than 50 people in laughter at times as he spoke about his final conversations with Bishop Clarke.
Asked why he had been chosen to replace Bishop Clark Bishop Malone said: ‘‘I’m scratching my head about that still. It was completely out of the blue.’’
Believing there would be ‘‘secret’’ documents in the diocese, Bishop Malone said he asked Bishop Clarke, who said they were in a briefcase in the corner of his office.
When he finally saw inside the briefcase there were documents in there, but ‘‘not that much’’, Bishop Malone said.
Earlier Bishop Malone said he had asked Bishop Clarke about any skeletons or ‘‘secret’’ things and he said: ‘‘You’ll find out.’’