THE late Monsignor Frank Coolahan, a long-serving director of Catholic education in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese, was a major reason paedophiles were able to be shifted from school to school when their activities created problems, a new book on the Hunter's paedophile scourge alleges.
The details of Coolahan's activities and countless other details of life during the diocese's now-notorious years are contained in The Altar Boys, by former ABC journalist Suzanne Smith, whose Lateline programs sat beside reports by the Newcastle Herald's Joanne McCarthy in convincing Julia Gillard, as prime minister, to establish the Royal Commission.
Smith said yesterday that the diocese's Zimmerman Services had been told of Coolahan's abuse and that his accuser, former altar boy and St Joseph's primary school pupil Paul Hughes, had been determined to get his account on the record.
The Altar Boys is published today and its contents have already led to a call for a judicial inquiry, with Greens MLC David Shoebridge calling for a coronial inquiry into what the author says are more than 60 suicides of Catholic men within the diocese - and others who had died in a risky manner - after suffering child sexual abuse.
The politician is calling for a police investigation into circumstances surrounding the death of whistle-blower priest Father Glen Walsh, who took his own life in 2017 shortly before he was due to give evidence in the trial against Archbishop Philip Wilson that saw him convicted of concealing crimes of Hunter clerical paedophile James Fletcher, a verdict overturned on appeal in December 2018.
The Herald gave details of the Coolahan allegations and other matters to the diocese in a request for comment, but a spokesperson said it was "unfair" to expect a response without reading the book.
The Herald provided details of the Coolahan allegations and other matters to the diocese for comment, but a spokesperson said it was "unfair" to expect a response without reading the book. The diocese would not provide contact details for former Bishop Michael Malone.
Monsignor Coolahan, who died in September 2000, aged 61, is far from the only cleric examined in The Altar Boys.
The book uses material from a previously unseen document, the Jackson Report, commissioned by the church in 2005 from barrister David Jackson QC to investigate Bishop Michael Malone's handling of complaints against a then-high profile diocesan identity, Father Peter Brock, and other matters.
Brock was charged with multiple child sex offences but the prosecution withdrew the charges. The priest died of cancer in 2014 and the church subsequently acknowledged his offending.
One of his brothers, Roger Brock, was editor of the Herald between 2009 and 2012.
Jackson's inquiry cleared Bishop Malone of any wrongdoing.
The book examines other high-profile cases, including the suicide of 13-year-old Andrew Nash in 1974 and the hell that befell Daniel Feenan, leading him to courageously press charges against the notorious Father James Fletcher, who was subsequently convicted.
Some people spoke anonymously to Smith, including a relative of "the second victim of Father Fletcher to come forward to police", who goes by the pseudonym of Elizabeth Byrne.
Smith says in the preface to The Altar Boys that she never intended to write a book about the subject, but returned to "reporting this scandal" in January 2018 when her friend, Steven Alward, also committed suicide, aged 56.
It was a month before he was due to marry his partner of 38 years, fellow journalist Mark Wakely, who attended Marist Brothers Hamilton (now St Francis Xavier's College).
Alward was a senior ABC journalist whose career began with a cadetship at the Newcastle Herald after his graduation in 1978 from St Pius X High School at Adamstown, where one of his teachers, and later "a close friend", was the now disgraced Father John Denham.
Convicted of numerous child sex offences, Denham was jailed in 2008 with his earliest release date being 2029.
The Altar Boys follows Alward's life through school, the church and journalism, and traces his life-long friendship with Denham, who the book says admired Alward for his intelligence.
Smith says Alward confided to his brother, Peter, that Denham had abused him as a teacher, although not as badly as he did others.
The book also follows the life of Father Walsh.
The author says it was Alward who asked her to investigate Walsh's death, shortly before he, too, committed suicide.
Walsh - who the book says was abused as a trainee priest by a famous Catholic rugby league identity, Brother Coman Sykes - is characterised as the only cleric prepared to stand up to the notorious Father Fletcher: he was ostracised by the diocese for telling the police about him in 2004.
After years of hostility from the church, Walsh was finally acknowledged as a whistleblower and accommodated in a house next to St Francis Xavier's in February 2017.
He took his own life there in November 2017, having apparently been told there was "no future" for him in the diocese.
As the plethora of names in these paragraphs alone should indicate, The Altar Boys has a broad cast of characters, opening with a list of about 90 "key people and organisations" who feature throughout. Death by suicide is also a regular occurrence.
Describing the work of abuse survivor Bob O'Toole, who founded the Clergy Abused Network (CAN) in 2009, Smith writes: "It was soon after he set up CAN that he and others noticed the high number of suicides among graduates of three schools in the diocese: Marist Brothers Hamilton, Marist Brothers Maitland and St Pius X.
"At the request of Audrey Nash [mother of Andrew], Bob began a register of names of men who had suicided and others who had died in a risky manner.
"Most were aged between 40 and 60, but there were others like Andrew Nash, the youngest of them to suicide. Sixty men. A generation of men. All born between 1959 and 1980.
"Bob tendered this register with the Royal Commission in 2016.
"He's also provided it to the NSW Police Force. The names on the register include three brothers who were abused by Denham when he was a priest.
"Detective Sergeant [Kristi] Faber [head of the paedophile-pursuing Strike Force Georgiana] has seen this list. She said to Bob, 'You haven't got them all'."
On Monsignor Coolahan, Smith said it became apparent to her while researching that he had played a greater role than previously recognised in facilitating the movement of offending teachers and Brothers throughout the diocese, where he was in charge of some 60 schools.
Smith says she was also aware of the role that Monsignor Coolahan's brother, the late Ralph Coolahan, played in Anglican paedophile cases, both as a barrister and as a District Court judge from 1999 until his death in 2011.
Although not covered in the book, Ralph Coolahan was criticised during the Royal Commission over his handling of a high-profile case involving the Anglican Church in Newcastle.
In this, Judge Coolahan criticised former Anglican altar boy Steve Smith, saying it was "truly ridiculous" he had taken two decades to report abuse allegations against Anglican priest George Parker.
Herald files show a number of other paedophilia cases the judge presided over, but none in which the offender or alleged offender was described as having links to the Catholic Church.
Another Anglican case before Judge Coolahan - described by Herald after his death as "one of Newcastle's great minds" - that later gained attention at the Royal Commission was the 2002 trial of retired priest Father Allan Kitchingham, whose sentence of two years and nine months (15 months non-parole) was described by the victim as "a joke".
On Monsignor Coolahan, The Altar Boys recounts how Paul Hughes believes he was drugged unconscious and sexually assaulted as an 11-year-old in a church presbytery in The Junction while on a trip with the priest to St Joseph's retirement home at Sandgate.
The book does not give a year, but says Hughes was born in 1954, making the incident about 1965.
"'This is something special,'" Hughes says in the book. "'No one gets invited upstairs!'
"He remembers walking into that room. 'Then this immediate loss of consciousness happened again.' There's a long pause. 'I woke up, but again there was no sense of time passing. I woke up back down in the receiving room, and I was in a comfy chair, and Father Coolahan was sitting in a chair opposite me, near the window.
"'Oh well, it's time for you to go home.' 'And I did. But I felt uneasy. I felt not well.'
"Paul went home, a walk of about 10 to 15 minutes.
As soon as he arrived, he rushed to the outdoor toilet, and when he pulled down his underpants there was blood on them.
" 'The toilet was ... just next door to the kitchen where Mum was getting tea ready. I called out to her and said, "Mum, Mum! I've got blood on my underpants!" But nothing really happened about that. I was puzzled by the whole thing, by the whole experience of that day. Paul had received injuries that day that would haunt him later in life ..."
Smith says a friend of Mr Hughes had reported the accusations to the diocesan agency Zimmerman Services (now known as the Office of Safeguarding).
She writes that Monsignor Coolahan was appointed as assistant schools director by Bishop John Toohey in 1972, then filled the top job from 1974 to 1990.
"The collateral damage of a cluster of paedophiles with some in leadership positions at Marist Brothers Hamilton was revealed during the Royal Commission.
"But what about the other 60-plus schools in the diocese under the control of the director of Catholic education, who also had control of hiring and firing the priests and teachers?"
"It's a complex question with a complex answer," Smith writes of the reasons for the depth of paedophilia in the diocesan schools.
But the allegation that Coolahan was a "child sex offender while the principals in these schools were also child sex offenders clearly made it easier for this type of criminal behaviour to flourish and go unpunished.
"In the 1970s, Brother 'Christopher' Wade, Brother John 'Nestor' Littler and Father Tom Brennan were paedophile principals at Marist Brothers Hamilton, Marist Brothers Maitland and St Pius X respectively, and there were clusters of child sex offenders among the staff.
"What hope did the children have?"
- The Altar Boys will be launched Friday night at Newcastle City Hall. The Herald will feature book excerpts on Saturday.
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800. Lifeline 13 11 14.
CORRECTION: The original version of this report about the book The Altar Boys said Newcastle priest Father Peter Brock had been charged with multiple child sex offences but that the trial was aborted. In fact the charges against Father Brock were withdrawn by the prosecution at a committal hearing. A church report to the NSW Ombudsman later substantiated abuse allegations.
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