Former school principal, William Callinan, has told the Newcastle inquiry into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church that former Bishop, Michael Malone, did not warn him that Father James Fletcher was under police investigation for sexual assault and rape.
Source: Lateline | Duration: 3min 40sec
EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: A Catholic bishop in Newcastle has been accused of doctoring his diaries and misleading a New South Wales Government inquiry into the cover-up of child sexual abuse.
A school principal today denied claims by Bishop Michael Malone that the bishop had warned him about a paedophile priest at his school.
From Newcastle, Suzie Smith reports,
SUZIE SMITH, REPORTER: It was 20th June, 2002 and Father James Fletcher had just been placed under investigation for sexual assault and rape of a victim known as “A.H.”
Bishop Malone and several priests travelled to Fletcher’s presbytery at Branxton, near Newcastle to support the accused. But Bishop Malone has admitted that this had the effect of tipping off the priest and ruining the element of surprise for police investigators.
This inquiry has already heard that the investigating officer Peter Fox urged Bishop Malone to stand Father Fletcher aside and end his access to children. Instead Bishop Malone widened Father Fletcher’s duties to take in the neighbouring parish of Lochinvar.
Bishop Malone told the inquiry that on the day of the visit to Fletcher’s presbytery at Branxton, he met with the principal of a neighbouring school to warn him about the police investigation.
Through his legal counsel, that principal, William Callinan, denied the meeting ever took place, because he says he was at another school.
The next year in 2003, after the NSW Ombudsman had launched his own investigation into the matter, the former principal said that Bishop Malone had made a phone call to him where he tried to force him to agree that there indeed had been a meeting between him and the bishop where the bishop had warned him about Father Fletcher.
WILLIAM POTTER, LEGAL COUNSEL FOR WILLIAM CALLINAN (male voiceover): “Would it be right to say you as Bishop, if you choose to exercise it, you have the power to see that Mr Callinan lost his job?”
MICHAEL MALONE, BISHOP (male voiceover): “Oh, that is a bit tough. I suppose ultimately I had that authority, but I am not the sort of person who uses authority like that.”
WILLIAM POTTER (male voiceover): “I am not suggesting you would, but I’m talking about the structure of the system … that structure I would suggest to you made you confident in March, 2003, when you said to Mr Callinan: ‘You and I discussed this last year …,’ that he wouldn’t question you about that?”
BISHOP MALONE (male voiceover): “No, not really, no. I mean, you’re suggesting I have intimidated Mr Callinan? I would never have done that.”
SUZIE SMITH: Mr Callinan also alleged Bishop Malone had changed a diary entry to reflect this falsehood when the diaries were requested for the Ombudsman’s investigation in 2003. Bishop Malone denied the allegation.
The principal also alleged Bishop Malone ordered him to tell people that Father Fletcher was “sick” and use “illness as an excuse” rather than divulge the police investigation. Again, this was denied by Bishop Malone.
After his evidence, Bishop Malone made a statement of profound regret and apology.
MICHAEL MALONE: My 17 years as Bishop of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle saw a gradual awakening in me to the horror of sexual abuse in the Church. During those years the Diocese moved from shock and disbelief to an angry rejection of such criminal behaviour of some clergy and Church personnel. It will probably take some years to rebuild lost confidence in the Catholic Church.
SUZIE SMITH: Suzie Smith, Lateline.