ANTHEA Halpin and Denise Laverie are sisters whose complaint to police about being sexually abused by one of Australia’s most notorious Catholic priests, their uncle Denis McAlinden, started a process that led to Archbishop Philip Wilson’s conviction for concealing another priest’s crimes.
They stood on the steps of Newcastle Courthouse on Tuesday and sent a message to Australian bishops who continue to argue priests should be exempted from reporting child sex allegations disclosed during confession.
“That really upsets me, that anyone could place anything above protecting children, after all we know about what the church has done,” said Mrs Laverie.
“That has to change. And if the Catholic Church won’t do it then governments have to. The community demands it.”
Mrs Halpin, who recently revealed her part in Wilson’s conviction, said she was disgusted to read of cases where priests had committed crimes, been absolved by priests and had gone on to commit crimes against more children.
In an opinion piece on the weekend Chrissie Foster, whose two daughters were sexually abused by a priest, highlighted the case of Queensland priest Michael McArdle. In a sworn statement in 2003 he said he confessed to sexually assaulting children 1500 times to 30 different priests over a 25-year period.
Mrs Halpin said the case was shocking, but it was even more shocking to think of the number of priests who might have used the “sanctity” of the confessional to hide their crimes.
“If priests know about children being sexually abused that seal of the confessional should be broken, or the crimes continue. The rest of society seems to understand that. I don’t understand why the church seems to think it’s entitled to be treated differently, and I don’t accept it. It’s pretty clear a lot of Australians don’t accept it,” Mrs Halpin said.
“They place their own rule above protecting children. Politicians should be making sure that doesn’t continue.”
Mrs Halpin, 65, and Mrs Laverie, 68, sat in court together on Tuesday to hear prosecutor Gareth Harrison call for a jail sentence for Archbishop Wilson, because the community “will no longer tolerate or accept the endemic cover up of child sexual abuse on the most vulnerable members of the community, children”.
In 1995 Mrs Halpin and Mrs Laverie made statements to the then Father Wilson about their sexual abuse by Father McAlinden. Their statements were used in an attempted secret defrocking of the priest with his “good name protected”.
Mrs Halpin and Mrs Laverie said they hoped the archbishop was jailed but his conviction for concealing the crimes of Jim Fletcher was “a victory, validation and vindication”.
Outside the court survivor advocate and Fletcher victim Peter Gogarty, who supported Mrs Halpin and Mrs Laverie in 2010 when they made their complaint to police, said Wilson had to stand down as Archbishop of Adelaide. If he didn’t, Pope Francis had to sack him, Mr Gogarty said.
After evidence from Wilson’s barrister, Ian Temby, QC, that the archbishop had a range of serious health issues and was cognitively impaired, Mr Gogarty said it was unacceptable that Wilson remained an archbishop.
He also called for Wilson to be jailed.
Mr Gogarty dismissed Mr Temby’s argument that Wilson faced difficulties in jail because of his offence and the high profile nature of his case.
“My response to that is if you are not prepared to suffer the consequences of your criminal behaviour, then don’t do the wrong thing,” Mr Gogarty said.
He was concerned that the Vatican “has been sadly silent about things” since the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse handed down its final report in December, and Cardinal George Pell pleaded not guilty to sex offences following a committal hearing.
Mrs Halpin and Mrs Laverie said they will be in court on July 3 when Newcastle magistrate Robert Stone sentences Wilson.
“We’ve waited a long time for this day. I’m happy he’s been found guilty. It means a lot. It recognises they’re not above the law,” Mrs Laverie said.