ARCHBISHOP Philip Wilson repeatedly threatened defamation action over serious questions about his handling of child sex allegations involving Hunter priests, including an extraordinary defamation threat against a Maitland-Newcastle diocese manager in 2010, a confidential report released after five years found.
Former Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Michael Malone was "not impressed" to receive a letter from Archbishop Wilson, the then Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president, raising the prospect of legal action over an email written by Maitland-Newcastle child protection officer Sean Tynan, the report found.
In evidence to a NSW Special Commission of Inquiry, contained in a 2014 confidential report that was not made public until last Friday, Bishop Malone described the archbishop's letter as "angry, patronising" and conveying a "certain arrogance".
Archbishop Wilson alleged Mr Tynan's email to senior diocesan officials, referring to media coverage in June, 2010 of the archbishop's knowledge of abuse allegations while a Hunter priest in the 1980s and 1990s, "contained certain defamatory imputations".
In the letter the then Archbishop of Adelaide also alleged someone in the diocese was leaking documents.
"From this, Malone thought Wilson was impugning his administration," wrote Commissioner Margaret Cunneen, SC, in a confidential fourth volume of her NSW Special Commission of Inquiry into Hunter abuse that was not released until legal proceedings were completed.
Archbishop Wilson in May, 2018 was convicted of concealing child sex allegations about Hunter paedophile priest Jim Fletcher, but the conviction was overturned on appeal in December.
Sean Tynan received a separate letter containing a threat of legal action if "certain remedial steps were not taken", Ms Cunneen found.
Bishop Malone told the inquiry Mr Tynan was "quite visibly distressed that his brief email had been taken amiss by Wilson".
"Further correspondence ensued in June and July, 2010 between Wilson and Malone and between Tynan and Wilson's lawyers," the confidential report found.
Bishop Malone told the inquiry the archbishop was "taking the high moral ground" in relation to his work on clergy sexual abuse.
"I think he's always prided himself on being active in trying to root out clerical sexual abuse," Bishop Malone said.
He told the inquiry there was "a real media fest" for "weeks and weeks" if not "months and months" on the question of Wilson's management of child sex allegations involving Jim Fletcher and Hunter priest Denis McAlinden.
But evidence "suggested the media 'hype' surrounding Wilson's knowledge of child sexual abuse" was "not in fact hype", the confidential report found.
Archbishop Wilson's legal firm sought an apology, a correction and expenses in letters to the Newcastle Herald sent in the same week as the letters to Bishop Malone and Mr Tynan.
The letters alleged articles about Archbishop Wilson's role in an attempted secret defrocking of Denis McAlinden in 1995 carried defamatory imputations that included he was "engaged in a 'cover-up'" of sexual abuse by McAlinden.
The Special Commission of Inquiry's confidential report found Archbishop Wilson's evidence about his knowledge of notorious Hunter paedophile priest Denis McAlinden in the 1980s and 1990s was "improbable", "unsatisfactory" and "implausible".
It found he should have reported McAlinden to police from at least 1995 because he knew Bishop Leo Clarke "had no intention of reporting McAlinden" to authorities.
While you're with us, did you know Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news - sign up here.
IN NEWS TODAY:
- Man accused of causing crash that killed girl, 9, at New Lambton Heights in court
- Devora Howard: Autopsy finds drowning as cause of death
- Former Hightrade boss extradited to face tax charges linked to a Hunter resort development
- Upper Hunter air quality monitoring network issues unprecedented alerts for poor air quality
- Aged care a sentence for 21-year-old Hunter man James Nutt
- Taco Bell lodges development application for an outlet in the Hunter, one of two in NSW