THE former acting Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle Catholic diocese, Monsignor Patrick Cotter, orchestrated a cover-up of the activities of pedophile priest Vince Ryan for nearly two decades, admitting as early as 1975 that he had "decided to say nothing" despite repeated allegations against the priest.
So serious were allegations of a cover-up against Monsignor Cotter that he was interviewed by police in 1996, along with Bishop Leo Clarke, and a brief of evidence recommending Monsignor Cotter be prosecuted for concealing a serious crime was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Although Ryan admitted to him as early as 1974 that he had indecently assaulted two boys, aged six and eight, Monsignor Cotter not only failed to act, but sent Ryan to Melbourne one year later after the priest committed more serious sexual assaults.
A year later, he was either actively involved in, or did nothing to stop, Ryan's return to the diocese where the priest resumed sexually assaulting young boys.
And despite repeated complaints to the monsignor in subsequent years, including in 1991 when a
woman spoke to police after telling Monsignor Cotter, "Are you aware that Father Ryan is molesting boys?", he did nothing about it.
He never reported Ryan to police.
Ryan was eventually sentenced to a total of 16 years' jail after pleading guilty to more than 50 sexual assault charges involving 26 victims aged six to 14, between 1972 and 1991.
The police case against Monsignor Cotter never proceeded, in large part because of his age.
Monsignor Cotter died last month.
On August 7, Bishop Michael Malone and priests from across the region celebrated the funeral of a man described as a "dearly loved uncle, grand uncle and fellow priest" at the Catholic Cathedral at Hamilton.
Documents obtained by The Herald include police interviews with Ryan, Monsignor Cotter, the late Bishop Clarke, a psychiatrist, three nuns and people who complained about Ryan.
The documents confirm what the Maitland-Newcastle diocese has not acknowledged for 10 years, since Ryan was first charged with sexually abusing 26 boys that one of its senior members knew he was a pedophile from the early 1970s.
In a letter to a psychiatrist/priest on December 16, 1975, when Ryan was sent to Melbourne after allegations of serious sexual abuse, Monsignor Cotter wrote: "The problem which now brings him [Ryan] under your care became known to me about one year ago.
" Monsignor Cotter noted Ryan "suffered" embarrassment because he "knew that I was aware of what happened".
He admitted: "I decided to say nothing. "
"Unfortunately this was a mistake on my part, because apparently such a condition does not come right without the help of treatment," he wrote.
In an interview with police in January 1996, while he was being investigated for allegedly concealing a serious crime, Monsignor Cotter, then 82, repeatedly said he had no recollection of parents approaching him with allegations of Ryan's sexual misconduct from as early as 1974.
When shown a copy of the 1975 letter seized by police during a search, Monsignor Cotter said he had "some recollection" of it but could not recall writing it.
Monsignor Cotter acknowledged, however, that the letter carried his name.
At the end of the police interview the monsignor denied knowledge of an incident he was being questioned about.
"I had knowledge of the rumour about that, I had no definite knowledge about it," he said.
He agreed with police that "sexual assaults on children was wrong".
Asked if allegations of sexual assaults on children should be reported, the monsignor said: "Of course, if they're substantiated.
" A spokesman for the Broken Rites website for victims of sexual abuse by priests said the Ryan case, and the cover-up of his activities by superiors, was "very much a live issue as far as we're concerned".
Broken Rites was contacted by one victim as late as July 2003, seven years after Ryan was jailed, to say he had been indecently assaulted by Ryan in 1973, aged 10.
In a phone call in 1991, the mother of one victim, who had just revealed he had been sexually abused by Ryan as a child, told Monsignor Cotter that Ryan was "still a priest, and a pedophile, so what are you going to do about it?".
In a statement to police she said the monsignor replied: "He's not doing any of it any more."
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