THE Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle has cut its ties with a Hunter Valley priest 20 months after first standing down the clergyman when it received a complaint he was unfit for ministry.
Bishop Michael Malone has told Dungog-Gresford parishioners and his clergy that the diocese had withdrawn the approval for Father Guy Hartcher to minister in the region regardless of the outcome of an investigation into the cleric's past.
Father Hartcher was stood down in September, 2004, after the diocese received a complaint that the cleric was "unfit for ministry of children" because he had once faced charges of child abuse.
Father Hartcher, a member of the Vincentian Order of Priests, had been accused in the 1990s of abusing two students at a Bathurst school some 20 years before.
The allegations were never proved in court, with at least one allegation being dropped at committal proceedings because of a lack of evidence.
At the time of the 2004 complaint, both Father Hartcher and Bishop Malone defended the decision not to disclose the allegations to parishioners when Father Hartcher was posted to Dungog-Gresford in 1999.
With the "independent investigation" into Father Hartcher's past currently before the NSW Ombudsman, Bishop Malone has released a statement to his clergy and Dungog-Gresford parishioners regarding Father Hartcher's future.
Bishop Malone said consideration had involved consultations with Father Hartcher, his representatives, parish representatives, the Vincentian order leadership, as well as "many hours of investigation, deliberation and prayer".
"Regardless of the final outcome of matters now with the Ombudsman, Father Hartcher will not be returning to the diocese," Bishop Malone's statement says.
"Please be assured that this decision has been given the most careful consideration from every perspective.
"After much discernment and advice, as your pastoral leader I believe I am acting in the best interests of all people involved, including Father Hartcher and the parish community of Dungog-Gresford."
The Vincentian order's head, Provincial Greg Cooney, said Father Hartcher's future would be decided once the Ombudsman's report was completed.