THE NSW Coroner has been asked to institute an inquest into 71 deaths of men educated in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.
Greens MP and justice spokesperson David Shoebridge has provided State Coroner Magistrate Teresa O'Sullivan and NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman with a register of the 71 suicides or sudden deaths and their known connections to the diocese. Clergy Abused Network chairman Bob O'Toole compiled the list with a few other members.
"On the material provided the overwhelming majority of these deaths would readily be considered reportable deaths for the purposes of the Coroners Act," Mr Shoebridge wrote.
"The list discloses a devastating personal toll that has swept through the lives of men educated in institutions run by the diocese. Many of the deaths are recorded as suicides, others have died of drug overdoses or other misadventure.
"There is compelling evidence to suggest that the great majority of these men were the subject of child sexual abuse by priests or other religious officers of the diocese."
The Newcastle Herald reported last week Mr Shoebridge had also called - in light of matters raised in Suzanne Smith's newly released book The Altar Boys - for a new investigation into priest Father Glen Walsh's 2017 suicide, just weeks before he was due to give evidence in the trial of Archbishop Philip Wilson.
Mr Shoebridge said he accepted that a number of the deaths were considered by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which also considered the role of the diocese in failing to protect the men as students and boys.
"However at no time did the Royal Commission consider, as it was not its role, the scope of matters the Coroner's Court may consider in making recommendations in accordance with s82 of the Coroners Act.
"Further to this certain conduct of the Church that would properly be the subject of an inquest post-dated the Royal Commission."
He said the diocese's conduct following initial abuse should be the subject of "close consideration", including in relation to Father Walsh. Mr Shoebridge said while reviewing each death may be beyond the Coroner's Courts resources, "a specific reference from the Court to the NSW Police to review the list with the aim of preparing a brief of evidence covering a representative sample of these tragic deaths would appear appropriate".
"These deaths could then be considered in a single inquest and the role of the church and diocese in their deaths considered in detail."
Mr O'Toole said it was "long overdue to look closely and forensically" at the deaths, which he said were "not historic" matters.
The Maitland-Newcastle Diocese issued a statement on Friday night, saying that it would support a police investigation into Father Walsh's death.
"The Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle has, continues to, and will always acknowledge both the terrible levels of historic child sexual abuse that occurred within the Diocese and the failures of some of its past leaders to protect children from that abuse," it said.
"As stated previously, the Diocese does not believe there is substantive gain to be had from further judicial inquiries. However, given the serious allegations raised by Ms (journalist Suzanne) Smith and others, the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle would welcome a police inquiry regarding Father Glen Walsh and the tragic circumstances of his suicide."
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