VICTIMS of sexual abuse by Hunter-based clergy say they are bewildered that only one senior church figure has been recommended for possible prosecution.
The Special Commission of Inquiry on Friday made adverse findings against at least six senior members of the Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Diocese, but only one as-yet-unnamed figure has been referred to the Department of Public Prosecutions.
Many victims spoken to by the Newcastle Herald echoed the sentiments of one yesterday who said: ‘‘The evidence that the Church knew about [Father Denis] McAlinden for so long is there in black and white.
‘‘Senior clergy went to great lengths to not only cover it up, but protect his name and the Church’s name. It’s all right there in the findings. So why aren’t they all being referred to the DPP?’’
In many ways, commissioner Margaret Cunneen SC was restricted by the complex laws which relate to the concealment of serious offences. Also, much of the evidence her inquiry revealed in relation to concealment matters within the diocese are historic in nature.
She is also not able to comment further.
Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione is also yet to respond to the report released on Friday, but may do so as early as Monday June 2.
Ms Cunneen found ‘‘a substantial body of evidence’’ that senior Church officials were aware of complaints that disgraced priest Denis McAlinden had sexually abused children.
Former Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Leo Clarke (now deceased) knew of McAlinden’s offending for 20 years, Ms Cunneen found, but he kept quiet to protect the Church from scandal.
‘‘During this period of inaction by the diocese and Clarke, McAlinden continued to sexually abuse children in the late 1970s, 1980s and into the 1990s,’’ her report found.
His inaction was ‘‘inexcusable’’.
Similarly, Monsignor Patrick Cotter first knew about McAlinden’s offending in 1976.
Monsignor Allan Hart was ‘‘aware from at least 1993’’ while Father Brian Lucas also possessed information, including admissions, from the same time, Ms Cunneen found.
None ever made an attempt to report McAlinden’s actions, or complaints from his victims, to police.
Bishop Michael Malone, who admitted saying that the Church had kept a file on McAlinden ‘‘so big you can’t jump over it’’, was also found to have withheld information from police.
While Bishop Malone later co-operated with police, the commission also found that he was selective in what information he gave them.
The current bishop of Maitland-Newcastle, Bill Wright, maintained his silence yesterday as the Church sifts through Ms Cunneen’s findings.
He is expected to make a formal response today but it is not known if any internal Church action will be taken against those named by the commission.
Bishop Wright was allowed to provide an opening statement to the special commission when he gave evidence last year. In that, he offered an ‘‘unreserved apology’’ to the victims of child sexual abuse by priests, and acknowledged that some members of the church ‘‘failed to act’’ in protecting them from these ‘‘predators’’.
UNNAMED SENIOR CLERGYMAN
‘‘Significant matters relating to [the crimes of Father James] Fletcher are dealt with in the confidential volume of this report in order to protect potential future criminal proceedings. In this respect, the commission finds there is sufficient evidence warranting the prosecution of a senior church official in connection with the concealment of child sexual abuse relating to Fletcher.’’
MAITLAND-NEWCASTLE CATHOLIC DIOCESE
‘‘The commission finds that senior officials of the Catholic church had information relating to suspected child sexual abuse by McAlinden and Fletcher that would have facilitated and/or assisted a relevant police investigation.’’
‘‘A substantial body of evidence before the commission confirmed that senior diocesan officials were aware at various times of reports or complaints that McAlinden had sexually abused children - the first instance of reported abuse occurring in 1954 and involving victim AE. It took more than 40 years, however, for the diocese to report to police any aspect of McAlinden’s offending history [such reporting ultimately occurring through Malone in August 1999]. The evidence reveals a disturbing story of repeated inaction and failure on the part of church officials to report McAlinden to police.’’
BISHOP LEO CLARKE
‘‘Throughout the 20 years he was bishop, Clarke failed to report McAlinden to the police or to any church outsiders. A motivating factor in this failure was concern that such reporting would bring scandal on the church.
‘‘During this period of inaction by the diocese and Clarke, McAlinden continued to sexually abuse children in the late 1970s, the 1980s and into the 1990s.
‘‘Clarke’s conduct, and thus that of the diocese which he was head, was inexcusable.’’
MONSIGNOR PATRICK COTTER
‘‘From 1976 Cotter had information that would have facilitated a police investigation of McAlinden. He took no steps to report McAlinden to the police. His conduct in arranging permission for McAlinden to resign and go on loan outside the diocese revealed a willingness on his part not to disclose to any church outsiders, including the police, the continuing risk McAlinden posed to children lest this bring scandal on the church.
‘‘Cotter’s conduct in failing to report McAlinden to the police was inexcusable.’’
MONSIGNOR ALLAN HART
‘‘Was aware from at least 1993 that McAlinden had sexually abused AJ when she was a child. ‘‘Hart had been aware of previous allegations of McAlinden sexually abusing children. He also became aware, through Clarke, that McAlinden had made admissions about sexually abusing children when Father Brian Lucas interviewed him in 1993.
‘‘While Hart reported AJ’s complaint in 1993 to his bishop, Clarke, he took no steps to report McAlinden to police or to counsel and encourage AJ or Clarke to take such steps. He should have done so.’’
FATHER BRIAN LUCAS
‘‘From 1993 onwards, Lucas possessed information, including admissions of sexually abusing children, that would have been of interest to the police and would have facilitated a police investigation of McAlinden. Lucas failed to report McAlinden to the police. He should have done so in 1993, as should have the diocese.’’
‘‘In 1993, Lucas also obtained details of child sexual abuse of another McAlinden victim, AL. ‘‘The approach Lucas took, supported by the diocese, of attempting to have McAlinden resign from the ministry rather than being reported to the police, was short-sighted and failed to have proper regard to the continuing risk McAlinden posed to children. This risk to children would have persisted even if McAlinden had resigned from ministry and had been moved to a new location.
‘‘In their conduct in connection with McAlinden in 1993, Lucas and the diocese failed to have proper regard to what should have been the overriding consideration from ministry - the protection of children.’’
BISHOP MICHAEL MALONE
‘‘Malone had a file on McAlinden that he described in 2002 as ‘so big you can’t jump over it’.’’
‘‘Malone failed to take steps to report McAlinden to police at any time between 1995 and August 1999, even though he must have known the diocese had information that would have facilitated and/or assisted a police investigation of McAlinden.
‘‘Malone arranged to ‘blind report’ McAlinden to police in August 1999 through the church’s Professional Standards Office ... but Malone provided notice of allegations relating to only two McAlinden victims, AK and AL. There is no good reason why he did not report AK and AL to the police until 1999.
‘‘In June 2002 Malone received details from a further McAlinden victim, AC. (He) did not arrange to report information about AC to the police until March 2003 and, even then, failed to advise the police that AC was willing to have her complaint used in corroboration of the evidence of other McAlinden victims.
‘‘The information Malone conveyed to police about AC was both late and inaccurate.’’