A KEY Hunter campaigner for the child sexual abuse royal commission has challenged Australia's Catholic bishops to let him speak at a landmark conference in October.
Child sex abuse survivor Peter Gogarty accused the bishops of "putting up the wall of silence again" after a damning report into church knowledge of Hunter child sex offender priests Jim Fletcher and Denis McAlinden.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has repeatedly declined to comment about the report's finding that Archbishop Philip Wilson, while a senior Hunter priest, should have reported McAlinden to police from at least 1995 because he knew Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Leo Clarke "had no intention of reporting McAlinden" to authorities.
McAlinden died in 2005 in a church-run facility in Western Australia without facing charges for serious sexual assaults against multiple very young girls in the Hunter from the 1950s until the early 1990s, and after the then Father Wilson played a key role in church attempts to secretly defrock him in 1995.
The silence of the bishops is in contrast to public statements by the ACBC and its president, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, in July, 2018 after Archbishop Wilson was convicted of failing to report child sex allegations about Jim Fletcher to police.
Archbishop Coleridge acknowledged the guilty finding but said Archbishop Wilson had been "praised by many for his work to support victims and survivors of child sexual abuse". Archbishop Wilson successfully appealed the conviction in December, 2018.
Mr Gogarty said Special Commissioner Margaret Cunneen's report about church knowledge of Fletcher and McAlinden's crimes, that remained confidential from 2014 until September because of the charging of Archbishop Wilson, vindicated survivors and undermined church claims the archbishop was hounded by survivors and the media and made a scapegoat for the church.
Mr Gogarty wrote to all Australian bishops, including Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Bill Wright, seeking "an acknowledgment of the deliberate protection of church interests and its paedophile priests at the expense of vulnerable children" in the wake of the Cunneen findings, but received no responses.
"The Cunneen Special Commission of Inquiry exposed how much church leaders in this diocese knew about Denis McAlinden, including Wilson, yet they're not prepared to say a word about that," he said.
Mr Gogarty also wrote to Archbishop Coleridge for an explanation after the archbishop was quoted in the Catholic newspaper Crux in Rome in 2018, saying things said about Archbishop Wilson "struck me as unjust, untrue and cruel", and there was a "determination to make heads roll".
The "symbolic impact" of Archbishop Wilson's trial for concealing Jim Fletcher's crimes was "colossal in Australia, but not just in Australia", Archbishop Coleridge told Crux.
Mr Gogarty, who with McAlinden victim Anthea Halpin complained to police in 2010 about the cover-up of McAlinden and Fletcher's crimes, said the Cunneen findings showed his statements about Archbishop Wilson were not "unjust, untrue and cruel" and the complaint to police, based on documents showing Archbishop Wilson's key role in the McAlinden attempted defrocking, was justified.
"What exactly does Archbishop Coleridge think Anthea Halpin and I should have done with documents showing Philip Wilson's direct knowledge of child sex allegations about McAlinden, at a time when Wilson was promoting himself as a child protection leader in the church?
"We went to the police because if we'd done nothing we would have been part of the problem.
"There's been absolutely no response from the bishops after the findings against Wilson. No one has said 'Sorry, we got it wrong. We protected Jim Fletcher and Denis McAlinden'," Mr Gogarty said.
"The silence is an indication the bishops haven't changed at all. If they come out now and say Wilson did the wrong thing, he knew about Fletcher and McAlinden and should have told authorities, they would also have to admit he was just following church policy.
"There were pious statements from the bishops to the royal commission when they were under scrutiny but now that time has passed, they go back to standard practice which is saying nothing."
Mr Gogarty said a Plenary Council of Australia's Catholics in October, announced after the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released its final report in December, 2017, and billed as a landmark event for church renewal and reform, looked set to be "nothing more than a talkfest".
"The bishops are not representative of the church that they serve, and they're not even representative of broader community values," Mr Gogarty said.
"The Catholic Church hierarchy in Australia has lost the humility and ability to do the tough thing because it's the right thing. Catholics might not be aware of this but they have a great deal of work to do and responsibility to bear in taking back control of their church as the church of Jesus."
Bishops, vicars-general and some heads of orders make up half the Plenary Council and have deliberative votes that count towards reform recommendations sent to Rome for approval, while priests and lay church members are likely to have consultative votes which do not count.
Issues that have been raised by Catholics for discussion at the Plenary Council include royal commission recommendations about changing the governance of the Australian church to include lay people in decision-making roles, women and married priests and making celibacy voluntary.
But a requirement that any Australian reforms be "consistent with the universal teachings of the Catholic Church" is expected to rule out significant changes, despite royal commission recommendations in areas that played a part in horrific and systemic child sexual abuse over decades.
Mr Gogarty challenged the bishops and Archbishop Coleridge to "invite me to come to the Plenary Council so they can hear what a survivor thinks is wrong with the Catholic Church", after the archbishop was quoted in the Crux article saying "outreach to survivors" was "another major element of the cultural shift" in the church after years of antagonism.
"There can't be outreach to survivors if the bishops won't even speak with you," Mr Gogarty said.
In a statement in September after release of the confidential Cunneen report Bishop Bill Wright said he had "no more information... than anyone else" on matters raised in the report "so I have no qualification to enter into a commentary upon them".
A spokesperson for Archbishop Wilson said he would not be commenting on the Cunneen report. The former Archbishop of Adelaide, who was forced to resign after public outcry in the wake of the conviction against him, has received treatment for bowel cancer.
A spokesperson for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said Maitland-Newcastle diocese "was and remains the relevant authority to respond".
Archbishop Coleridge did not respond to Newcastle Herald questions.