A SEVEN-member panel headed by a retired NSW Supreme Court judge will decide the future ministry of senior Hunter Catholic priests Bill Burston and Alan Hart.
Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Bill Wright has called for submissions to the panel, which is considering whether the clergymen should remain parish priests after adverse findings by NSW Special Commission of Inquiry head Margaret Cunneen, SC, in May.
The priests were ‘‘inconsistent’’ and ‘‘unsatisfactory’’ witnesses who knew of the crimes committed by child sex offender priests Denis McAlinden and James Fletcher, but failed to notify police, Ms Cunneen found.
Retired NSW Court of Appeals judge and prominent Sydney Anglican Church member Kenneth Handley, QC, will head the panel which includes senior Parramatta Catholic educator Patricia Crennan, University of Newcastle theology and ethics Professor Terry Lovat, and Parramatta Vicar-General Chris de Souza.
The panel also includes a serving police officer, a solicitor and a retired teacher described as ‘‘confidential’’ panel members. One of the three was sexually abused by a Catholic priest as a child.
Bishop Wright was criticised for failing to stand the priests down from parish work in the wake of the report, including in an extraordinary speech to Parliament by former NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell when he accused the bishop of ‘‘spin’’ over the Cunneen report.
Mr O’Farrell backed Hunter Clergy Abused Network (CAN) spokesman Bob O’Toole’s call for Father Hart to retire or resign for failing to notify police in 1993 that Denis McAlinden had sexually abused a child.
Mr O’Toole encouraged people to make submissions to the panel by the deadline of August 19, but criticised the inclusion of three ‘‘confidential’’ members.
‘‘Catholics have a right to know the names of the people who have been chosen by the bishop to provide advice to the bishop on their behalf,’’ Mr O’Toole said.
CAN member and retired teacher Lindsay Gardner, who was sexually abused by a priest as a child in the 1960s, strongly criticised the bishop’s appointment of a panel that did not include Maitland-Newcastle parishioners.
‘‘This panel is not a cross-section of Maitland-Newcastle diocese. It’s local Catholics who are the ones in the pews, the mums and dads of victims, and people who know victims, and who are the most affected by the bishop’s handling of this,’’ Mr Gardner said.
A decision on the priests’ ministry is expected by October.