THE suicide in 2017 of Catholic priest Father Glen Walsh just weeks before he was due to give evidence of the trial of Archbishop Philip Wilson needed an urgent new police investigation in light of the matters raised in The Altar Boys, Greens MLC David Shoebridge said in Newcastle on Thursday.
Joined by The Altar Boys author Suzanne Smith, Mr Shoebridge made the call outside the Sacred Heart Cathedral at Newcastle West, addressing a group of abuse survivors and their families and supporters.
Although Father Walsh's death was the most urgent issue, Mr Shoebridge joined with Bob O'Toole, a survivor and founder of the Clergy Abused Network (CAN), in calling for an inquiry into what they say are more than 60 suicides of men who suffered abuse while attending Catholic institutions as boys in the Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Diocese.
"If this book doesn't stir up Catholics in this diocese to demand to know exactly what's going on here, I don't know what will," Mr O'Toole said.
Mr Shoebridge, who has played a sustained political role in seeking justice for victims of institutional abuse, told the gathering of about 50 people that the issues raised in The Altar Boys were "anything but historical".
In this he was joined by 94-year-old Audrey Nash, whose son Andrew committed suicide at 13 in 1974 in what church officials originally dismissed as a "prank gone wrong", before decades later acknowledging that he had been the victim of abuse.
Mrs Nash said she and her family would give all their support in the call for a coronial inquest into Father Walsh's death.
"After he went away, he always wanted to come back to this diocese," Mrs Nash said. "He was a lovely person. I miss him very much."
Another of Mrs Nash's children, Geoffrey Nash, also spoke to the crowd, saying that Glen Walsh was "the only good priest" to come out of the diocese.
Mr Shoebridge said Father Walsh was "a genuine whistleblower priest" who had gone to his superiors about the abuse he was aware of but had been shunned and ostracised by his brother priests.
The Church "told him he had no place in this diocese," Mr Shoebridge said, referencing the book, which was released this week.
"He became a key witness in the trial against Archbishop Philip Wilson. And what was the Church's response?
"He was recalled to Rome to be interrogated by Pope Francis.
"He was ultimately driven to the point where he took his own life just two short weeks before he was supposed to give evidence in the criminal prosecution of Archbishop Philip Wilson as a prosecution witness."
Mr Shoebridge said that as well as being told shortly before he was due to give evidence that he had to leave the house the Church had provided for him, the Marist Brothers had contacted him about his own sexual abuse claim, after years of silence.
"Was this an attempt ... to destabilise him?"
Responding to a question, Mr Shoebridge said it was impossible to know what impact Father Walsh's evidence would have had on the Wilson trial.
Mr Shoebridge said the police needed to investigate the "multiple pressures" that were on Father Walsh "in the weeks and months before his death from every level of the church hierarchy".
"There is also a compelling case for a detailed investigation of all these suicides," Mr Shoebridge said.
Ms Smith and Mr O'Toole both said that the Church was wrong to describe the events in the book as "historic".
"We need to know what happens inside the culture," Ms Smith said.
"The Catholic Church has told us that everything has changed since the Royal Commission, it's all different, it wouldn't happen now ..."
Mr Shoebridge said "the collective hurt in this town will not go away until there has been genuine truth".
"And a large part of that truth is telling the story of Glen Walsh."
A spokesperson for the diocese said the church had no comment.
While you're with us, did you know the Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news - sign up here
IN THE NEWS:
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.