A SENIOR cleric has blamed his counterparts in the Philippines for letting disgraced paedophile Denis McAlinden act as a priest in a school with thousands of children.
Father Brian Lucas, general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, told the Special Commission of Inquiry sitting in Newcastle yesterday that he was absolutely disgusted that any bishop would allow someone in McAlinden’s position to work in the diocese.
Asked whether he knew the church this end had told the Philippinos about McAlinden’s offences, he said there was no need to because McAlinden should not have been able to work without the proper documents.
He said he was appalled the Philippino bishops would have been ‘‘so fundamentally careless’’ in not following the fundamentals of church policy.
A sometimes tense exchange between Father Lucas and counsel assiting the inquiry, Julia Lonergan, finished a long-awaited first day of evidence from one of the nation’s most high-profile Catholic clerics.
Earlier, Father Lucas admitted to not taking notes of his investigations as to not leave a paper trial.
Although various church documents stated McAlinden had confessed to him in the mid-1990s, Father Lucas said he could not recall ever meeting McAlinden.
Despite this, Father Lucas said he had ‘‘crystal clear’’ memories of some aspects of a meeting with one of McAlinden’s victims and a sister who was acting as her support person at the time.
Although he acknowledged evidence at the inquiry that McAlinden had confessed to him personally during an interview in the 1990s, Father Lucas said he had no recall at all of that meeting.
Counsel assisting, Julia Lonergan, had a photograph of McAlinden handed to Father Lucas in the witness box.
Father Lucas said the photograph was one he had seen in newspapers but it did not help him recall any meeting with McAlinden.
Father Lucas said repeatedly that he did not report McAlinden to the police because the victims who had come forward did not want this to happen.
Father Lucas agreed that this put him and other church officials in the theoretical position of having committed ‘‘misprision of felony’’ – or concealing offences – and said this was a conflict that he had tried to deal with.
He said that even now, if it was a choice between respecting the wishes of a victim and misprision of felony, he would ‘‘respect what the victim wanted done’’.
Father Lucas, who trained as a lawyer before joining the priesthood and who continued his theological and legal studies as a priest – including a Churchill Fellowship – acknowledged having a leading role from the late 1980s until 1995 in formulating the church’s response to child sexual abuse by its clergy.
He was on a committee that was formed to deal with the issue after allegations were raised in Melbourne, the United States and Canada.
He said that in those years until the Towards Healing protocol took effect in 1996 he dealt with about 35 priests accused of child sexual abuse.
Questioned at length by Ms Lonergan, Father Lucas dismissed her contention that it would have been logical for him to keep notes of his conversations with accused priests.
Father Lucas agreed with Ms Lonergan that it was his ‘‘published view’’ that it was a good idea not to have written notes, so that a subsequent legal process could not be successful.
He said he held that view at the time, back in the 1990s, and he held it now.
He said he did not regard not taking notes as a cover-up because a cover-up was destroying evidence or hiding facts without reasonable grounds.
Father Lucas said the best outcome for dealing with paedophile priests was for the victim to go to the police with their accusation.
But in cases where the victim did not want to go to the police, Father Lucas said canon law had become unworkable and a new way of dealing with allegations against priests was needed.
He said what he was doing was outside canon law and a lot of his colleagues had been very critical of him for it.
He said that under canon law if a priest did not agree to resign then there was nothing a bishop could do about it.
Before the lunch break, Ms Lonergan began a sequence of questions about what the church did to alert the public to McAlinden in particular, and to paedophile priests in general.
Father Lucas agreed that nothing was written to say that a priest was no longer with the church because he was a paedophile, and that people in this position were generally described in the church register as either having retired or having no appointment.
Ms Lonergan said this would be untrue, because they hadn’t retired, they’d been forced out of the priesthood because they were paedophiles.
Father Lucas denied being motivated by a desire to ‘‘protect the church from scandal’’, saying that this was ‘‘irrelevant’’ and that ‘‘not dealing promptly’’ with paedophile priests was what caused the scandal.
The hearing continues.