FOR decades, the Catholic Church not only knew of serious multiple allegations against some of its Hunter clergy, it had admissions of inappropriate behaviour with children on its files.
What the Church knew might have resulted in criminal charges against clergy long before some of these were actually laid, had the Church seen fit to tell the police its information.
The Church’s failure to reveal potentially criminal behaviour allowed serial offender Denis McAlinden – who molested scores of children over a long disgraceful career as a priest – to continue his offences.
People suffer deep emotional scars today – scars that could have been avoided – because the Church put concern about its own public image ahead of its responsibility for the welfare of some of the youngest and most vulnerable members of its flock.
The Newcastle Herald has been saying as much for years, and the federal royal commission now under way – set up largely because of Joanne McCarthy’s award-winning reports in this newspaper – will illuminate the topic further.
But for now, the NSW government’s special commission of inquiry puts the matter beyond doubt in hundreds of pages of densely typed summaries of allegations, evidence and conclusions.
Indeed, some of the worst condemnation is found in documents penned by senior Church figures themselves, released under compulsion to the commission.
These documents trace the unholy career of Denis McAlinden back to the 1950s, clearly demonstrating just how long the Church was aware of his tendencies.
The documents show that senior Church officials and clergy repeatedly vacillated over how much of their knowledge to share, and with whom. At times some even appeared reluctant to provide appropriate warnings to their counterparts in other parishes, upon whose members a dangerous child molester was about to be unleashed.
The commission of inquiry was established to inquire, first, into allegations by Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox about circumstances surrounding his own investigations into child sex abuse by Catholic clergy. On that count its findings have not supported his key contention that he was inappropriately dissuaded from investigation.
Its second task was to examine the extent to which the Church itself may have hindered or obstructed police investigations.
The findings are complicated and detailed, and not all of them are yet public, with possible charges pending.
But if anybody doubted that the Church had, for many decades, put the preservation of its own image ahead of the welfare of children, the commission’s findings sink those doubts forever.