A MAITLAND-Newcastle Diocese priest who died in 2005 leaving a trail of child sex allegations, a compensation payout and an outstanding warrant for his arrest for allegedly sexually assaulting an 11-year-old Lower Hunter girl, moved from the Hunter to Western Australia and overseas over five decades, a Herald investigation has found.
Bishop Michael Malone declined to answer questions yesterday about the movements of Father Denis McAlinden, an Irish priest who arrived in the diocese in 1949, and whose official church records show had long periods of "leave", at least one of which coincided with molestation allegations against him.
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president and former Maitland-Newcastle vicar-general Archbishop Philip Wilson confirmed yesterday that he had been involved with the Father McAlinden matter but declined to give detail.
"I have always maintained that sex abuse complaints be treated with highest priority and be handled justly," he said. "That was my approach in this matter, as it is in all matters I deal with."
Although Father McAlinden was listed as "on leave" from the Maitland-Newcastle diocese from 1993 the year after he was acquitted in a Western Australian court of three indecent assault charges involving a 10-year-old girl it was not until 1999 that Hunter police were first contacted about allegations against him in this region.
This is despite a school principal twice reporting his concerns about Father McAlinden to senior diocese members in the mid-1980s, and the priest's sudden removal from a Newcastle parish over a weekend in 1987.
NSW Police confirmed a warrant was issued in December 1999 for the arrest of Father McAlinden, then aged 76, after a complaint was investigated and senior Maitland-Newcastle diocese representatives were spoken to.
They confirmed the priest was still attached to the diocese but was out of the country. He was believed to be in Ireland.
The diocese was advised police wanted to talk to Father McAlinden about an allegation that he had had sexual intercourse with an 11-year-old girl in the Lower Hunter in the late 1950s or early 1960s. Records show Father McAlinden was known to transport children from home to school in his car during this period.
The diocese finalised a compensation case relating to the priest in mid-2002.
A senior Maitland-Newcastle diocese representative phoned Hunter police in October 2005 to advise that Father McAlinden was dying of cancer in a Catholic Church-run aged-care centre at Subiaco in Western Australia. Western Australian police visited the priest and confirmed he was too ill to be extradited to NSW.
He died one month later and is buried in Perth.
A nun at the centre said Father McAlinden was "very happy there".
Records showing when he moved to the centre were not available yesterday.
The national directory of Australian Catholic Clergy shows the priest was at Wickham, 2000 kilometres north of Perth in the Pilbara mining region, in 1982 where he is alleged to have indecently assaulted a girl aged 10.
He returned to the Upper Hunter in the mid-1980s but was back in Kojunup in Western Australia in 1991.
Hunter Catholic school teacher Mike Stanwell, who tried to report his concerns about the priest to the church in 1987, recalled Father McAlinden talking about working in Aboriginal communities in Western Australia.
Talk about the priest started shortly after he arrived in the diocese from Kilkenny, Ireland, in 1949, in the year he was ordained.
A Newcastle woman, who works in the Catholic system, remembers her father warning her to "keep well clear of the young curate" only months into his first position in the diocese.
"I was just a child, but my memory is he was always visiting a certain house where there was a mother and a young daughter, and that was well known," she said.
In 1996, after Vince Ryan was charged, the woman raised the name of McAlinden at her workplace and was told he was in New Zealand or Western Australia.
Hunter police received a report in 2001 about the priest molesting a girl aged between seven and 12 in the Newcastle area in the 1970s.
From 1994 he remained listed in the national registry of priests as being on leave from the Maitland-Newcastle diocese. His address was the diocese's post office box number.
His name does not appear on the registry from 1999.
Bishop Malone referred The Herald to statements he released on September 21 and 22 after reports about Monsignor Patrick Cotter's cover-up of pedophile priest Vince Ryan.
"The sentiments I expressed in those statements remain relevant, and there is nothing more to add," he said.