Senior Catholic cleric ‘pledged silence’ on child abuse

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The Australian

01 August 2012

by: Dan Box

ONE OF Australia’s most senior Catholic clerics allegedly told a priest facing claims he was a pedophile that any confession to child abuse would be kept between himself, the priest and the bishop.

Brian Lucas, the general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, was responding to a 1993 allegation from the family of Father Denis McAlinden that the priest had sexually abused a relative.

In a later letter to the then Maitland-Newcastle bishop Leo Clarke, McAlinden wrote: “Brian Lucas convinced me, against my better judgment, to accept that the information I gave him would be held in strictest confidence by the bishop.”

Father Lucas, who yesterday said he was unable to comment on the contents of that conversation, was interviewed in February by NSW police investigating “alleged cover-ups” by church officials of McAlinden’s alleged abuse.

Documents produced during an internal church inquiry into the allegations, which resulted in McAlinden being defrocked, suggest his niece’s immediate family did not want the matter reported to police.

Despite these documents identifying at least two victims, and “many others who would, if asked, come forward to give testimony under oath”, church officials did not notify police of these complaints until 2003.

Claims a second senior cleric, the Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, also knew about one allegation that McAlinden had committed abuse since at least 1986, when he spoke to the mother who claimed her daughter had been abused.

Neither he, nor the woman, reported this to the police. Almost 10 years later, in 1995, Bishop Wilson was appointed notary to the church inquiry into McAlinden’s alleged abuse. His signature appears on a statement in which one of the priest’s alleged child victims describes how he abused her while she gave confession.

“He got me to sit on his knee in between his legs while I was trying to say my confession to him. He was fondling me in between my legs, underneath my clothing,” this reads.

Clarke subsequently wrote to McAlinden saying that, “in light of your admission to Father Brian Lucas and other evidence” he would be removed from the priesthood.

“Your good name will be protected by the confidential nature of this process . . . I have it on very good authority that some people are threatening seriously to take this whole matter to the police,” the letter reads.

Clarke died in 2006. His successor, Michael Malone, has been interviewed by NSW detectives, while Bishop Wilson recently declined to be interviewed by police.

McAlinden was transferred among several parishes in NSW, Western Australia, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand during a career in which he is alleged to have abused a number of young girls. He died in 2005.

Two sisters who allegedly suffered abuse at his hands are also understood to be taking legal action against the diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

Bishops Wilson and Malone both declined to comment yesterday.

NSW Police Strike Force Lantle is expected to give a brief of evidence to the state Director of Public Prosecutions in weeks.

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