THERE are four volumes in the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry report released by Commissioner Margaret Cunneen, SC, yesterday.
But within those hundreds of pages is a single key line that validates, vindicates and justifies the efforts of so many.
There is ‘‘sufficient evidence warranting the prosecution of a senior Catholic Church official in connection with the concealment of child sexual abuse’’ relating to the late Hunter priest Jim Fletcher, the report found. And this is significant for so many reasons.
It is significant in world terms.
Although many Catholic priests in Australia and across the globe have been successfully prosecuted and jailed for sexually abusing children, the number of church men prosecuted for concealing those crimes or failing to report them can be counted on one hand.
WATCH JOANNE McCARTHY'S RESPONSE TO THE INQUIRY FINDINGS HERE:
A bishop in France was prosecuted for a conceal-related offence about a decade ago. A senior American Catholic cleric was convicted of a similar offence in 2012 but subsequently appealed.
In 2012 the late Toronto priest Tom Brennan became the first Australian Catholic priest to be charged with concealing the child sex crimes of another priest, John Denham, but died before the matter went to trial.
The commission’s finding is also significant for other reasons quite particular to the Hunter.
Since 1995, with the charging of paedophile priest Vince Ryan, the region has struggled to come to terms with the extent of child sexual abuse committed by people in positions of authority – and not only in the Catholic Church.
Since 2007, with revelations the church knew of Ryan’s crimes for more than two decades and did not stop him, has come the appalling realisation that people have put the reputation of churches before children on a systemic basis over decades.
And when the evidence of church knowledge of offenders became overwhelming, victims, their families and victims’ groups were entitled to turn their attention to those systemic issues. That is why I took documents to the police in 2010 showing senior Catholic clergy had knowledge of the child sex offending of Denis McAlinden.
It was time.
That single line is vindication of the Hunter community that has supported the victims in their fight for justice, in their campaign for a royal commission, and in their need to see that no one, no matter how powerful, is above the law.
The commission report has criticised Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox for the allegations he made about police on ABC-TV’s Lateline program in November 2012.
Commissioner Cunneen found Inspector Fox was ‘‘obsessive’’, and I have sympathy for a person who reaches that point while trying to negotiate the ugliness of the sexual abuse of children for too long.
Five Hunter police I had direct contact with in 2010, after giving a Strike Force Georgiana detective the McAlinden documents, were on stress leave shortly after I had contact with them. Three of those five police, including Mr Fox, had been involved in significant child sexual abuse investigations.
The consequences of child sexual abuse go much further than victims and their families.
The report criticises Detective Fox for sending me material that police referred to as ‘‘leaks’’. The bulk of that material related to his views on other police officers, which did not translate into articles by me.
I formed my views about the police handling of the McAlinden documents based on my own experiences of trying to communicate with them.
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