The archbishop, the paedophile priest, the compassionate church employee and the damage done

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The Newcastle Herald

26 May 2018

Rejected: Newcastle woman Anthea Halpin whose failed attempts to meet with Archbishop Philip Wilson in 2008 have changed history. Picture: Simone De Peak.

Rejected: Newcastle woman Anthea Halpin whose failed attempts to meet with Archbishop Philip Wilson in 2008 have changed history. Picture: Simone De Peak.

IT’S one of the most spectacular own goals in Catholic Church history – how Archbishop Philip Wilson’s refusal to meet with a Newcastle child sex victim in 2008 laid the groundwork for his conviction for concealing a crime, a special commission of inquiry and a royal commission.

It’s the extraordinary story of Anthea Halpin, notorious paedophile priest Denis McAlinden, the face-to-face apology from Wilson that never came and the documents that have helped change history.

It’s also the remarkable story of Maitland-Newcastle diocese child protection officer Helen Keevers’ key role in the Wilson case and her sudden death days before his conviction. Her memorial service was held only hours after Tuesday’s landmark decision that Wilson concealed the crimes of child sex offender priest Jim Fletcher.

For the first time the Newcastle Herald can reveal how Wilson’s refusal to meet with Mrs Halpin in 2008 – in part because she used “totally inappropriate” obscenities in some emails to him and wanted a face-to-face apology – launched a series of events directly challenging the Vatican.

I have remembered you in my prayers constantly and have offered mass for you, asking the Lord to give you a deep sense of peace and healing.

Archbishop Philip Wilson in 2008 to child sex victim Anthea Halpin

Mrs Halpin was eight when McAlinden first sexually abused her and 11 or 12 when it ended. The abuse occurred on “many occasions”, including once during confession, she said in a statement to the then Father Philip Wilson on October 13, 1995.

He was appointed notary by the then Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Leo Clarke and tasked with obtaining two statements from McAlinden child sex victims to use in a secret defrocking attempt against him.

Bishop Clarke assured McAlinden – an Irish-born priest sent to Australia in 1949, aged 26 – that “Your good name will be protected by the confidential nature of this process”.

Convicted: Archbishop Philip Wilson leaves Newcastle Courthouse on Tuesday after his conviction for concealing priest Jim Fletcher's child sex crimes.

Convicted: Archbishop Philip Wilson leaves Newcastle Courthouse on Tuesday after his conviction for concealing priest Jim Fletcher’s child sex crimes.

By 1995 the Australian Catholic Church had nearly five decades of child sex allegations against McAlinden, with the first negative reports only weeks after he arrived in the Hunter.

“Given his prolific offending, it is readily conceivable that the total number of McAlinden’s victims is more than 100,” a commission of inquiry later found. He died, aged 82, in a Western Australian church-run nursing home in 2005 without ever being convicted of a crime.

In 2007 Mrs Halpin contacted the Herald after articles naming McAlinden as a serial church child sex offender who left a trail of destruction across Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, the Philippines and Ireland.

The articles, which named Wilson as the notary in the secret defrocking case, led to an historic apology from the then Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Michael Malone to child sexual abuse victims. He also personally apologised to Mrs Halpin.

In 2008 Mrs Halpin, supported by Helen Keevers and survivor advocate Peter Gogarty, first contacted Wilson, by then Archbishop of Adelaide, seeking a meeting and an apology for his role in the McAlinden secret defrocking attempt.

Wilson said no.

Concerns: Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Michael Malone and the late former diocese child protection officer Helen Keevers.

Concerns: Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Michael Malone and the late former diocese child protection officer Helen Keevers.

In a letter to Mrs Halpin on November 20, 2008 he said his involvement “ended at the moment that I handed the information to the bishop”.

“However, I would not want you to think I do not appreciate your situation,” Wilson wrote.

“Listening to your story (in 1995) has been one of the saddest experiences of my life. My heart on that day was filled with anger at what you recounted, and deep feelings of compassion for you.

“My heart is still full of the same compassion today. I have remembered you in my prayers constantly and have offered mass for you, asking the Lord to give you a deep sense of peace and healing.”

Her anger does not excuse or justify the use of such language in formal communications. I do not propose to meet with Mrs Halpin.

Archbishop Philip Wilson to Helen Keevers

Wilson was not so compassionate in a letter to Mrs Keevers rejecting a meeting with Mrs Halpin, despite the archbishop acknowledging a meeting was “still very important” to her. He rejected suggestions he had failed to offer Mrs Halpin any support after taking the statement from her in 1995.

“There is nothing for which I should apologise to Mrs Halpin,” he wrote to Mrs Keevers.

He complained that “the hostile, threatening and obscene language which she has used from time to time has been totally inappropriate”.

“Her anger does not excuse or justify the use of such language in formal communications. I do not propose to meet with Mrs Halpin. Her issues should be directed to the Maitland diocese and not to me.”

Mrs Halpin did not back down. In a letter to Wilson on January 5, 2009 she asked the archbishop: “What planet do you live on?”

What planet do you live on? How come it was okay for Denis McAlinden to do the things he did to me as a little girl, but me getting angry about it now is unacceptable?

Anthea Halpin to Archbishop Philip Wilson

“How come it was okay for Denis McAlinden to do the things he did to me as a little girl, but me getting angry about it now is unacceptable?” she wrote.

“I wonder how polite you would be if the same things happened to you. Has no one explained to you the rage that is felt by people who have been abused as I have?

“I don’t believe your words of compassion. I need to see your face as you say those words to me. I need to know you are truly sorry for what happened to me. I also need to know that you now understand that the way you treated me when I came forward with my story was wrong.”

They didn’t meet.

A commission of inquiry noted Helen Keevers gave documents from the diocese’s McAlinden file to Mrs Halpin in 2009 with Bishop Malone’s consent. They included a copy of her statement to Wilson, letters from Bishops Clarke and Malone about the attempted secret defrocking, a letter from McAlinden to Bishop Malone and a document confirming the “veracity” of Mrs Halpin’s statement, which was consistent with “many reports of Father McAlinden’s behaviour from other people”.

The documents were handed over after the diocese exhausted attempts to secure a meeting between Wilson and Mrs Halpin.

Prolific: Notorious Hunter paedophile priest Denis McAlinden.

Prolific: Notorious Hunter paedophile priest Denis McAlinden.

“The least we could do was give her her documents,” Mrs Keevers said at the time.

In late 2009 Mrs Halpin contacted me about the documents and gave me copies over a cup of tea.

In April, 2010 I gave the documents to a Strikeforce Georgiana detective. For the rest of 2010 NSW Police grappled with a prospect less than a handful of police jurisdictions in the world had ever considered – charging not the perpetrators of child sexual abuse but those who concealed their crimes.

Handing Mrs Halpin’s documents to police “became the catalyst for the Strike Force Lantle investigation”, NSW Special Commission of Inquiry commissioner Margaret Cunneen, SC, said in her final report in 2014.

The commission was established on November 9, 2012, the day after Hunter chief inspector Peter Fox controversially criticised police on the ABC’s Lateline program and accused them of conducting a “sham” Strikeforce Lantle investigation into the McAlinden cover-up. Ms Cunneen rejected that allegation.

Three days after the then NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell established the Cunneen inquiry, the then Prime Minister Julia Gillard established a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. She acknowledged the Hunter region’s crucial role in that decision, and a Herald campaign for a royal commission that “got into my head”.

Strikeforce Lantle Detective Sergeant Jeff Little charged Wilson in March, 2015 with concealing the crimes of Jim Fletcher. Wilson was convicted on Tuesday and will be sentenced in June. The decision came three weeks after Cardinal George Pell was committed to stand trial on sex charges, and five months after the royal commission released a final report with recommendations challenging the Vatican and many of its core tenets.

“Wilson should have had that cuppa with me,” Mrs Halpin said.

4 Responses to The archbishop, the paedophile priest, the compassionate church employee and the damage done

  1. Sylvia says:

    Thank goodness for Anthea Halpin’s perseverance.

    A reminder that you can make a difference. It may take time, but, you can make a difference.

  2. Rachael O Reilly says:

    The narrative surrounding Newcastle and Maitland paedophile cleric Denis McAlinden, makes for disturbing reading.

    Essentially he was “dumped” in Australia by the Redemptorist seminary in Limerick, Ireland by his superiors there. Maitland- Newcastle’s bishop at the time Edmund Gleeson, a Redemptorist, though warned of McAlinden’s anti social tendencies appointed him to numerous parishes from the time of his arrival in 1949. Within weeks he was abusing children.

    McAlinden subsequently landed in Papua New Guinea, the Geraldton diocese, Western Australia and Hamilton diocese, New Zealand , Once again the Maitland- Newcastle and then on to the Bunbury diocese in Western Australia and on to the San Pablo diocese in the Philippines- abusing and destroying lives as he went with Church support.
    McAlinden talked in Maitland-Newcastle about working in Aboriginal communities in Western Australia. This is an alarming issue which would need to be investigated in Western Australia.

    Essentially this was a conspiracy to protect a child abusing priest involving successive bishops of the Maitland-Newcastle diocese and their counterparts elsewhere.

    The ‘secret defrocking’ was a last ditch evasive action. It’s objective? Evade responsibility.

    Wilson an obese, pasty faced old man- he may refuse to talk to me for saying that – has been compelled to take responsibility for his and others hubris. However so many many more Catholic personnel are involved in ensuring that the child sex abusing McAlinden went to his grave in comfort.

    Catholicism for these people is not a divine vocation but simply a full time career they drift into from an early age. McAlinden and his enablers such as Wilson demonstrate this point perfectly

  3. Rachael O Reilly says:

    Latest Update on Wilson

    Philip Wilson, The Archbishop of Adelaide as appeared at the Newcastle Local Court, Sydney for sentencing.

    His defence counsel have submitted medical reports stating his unfitness to serve a custodial term.

    Mr. Harrison,for the Crown submitted statistics to the court stating that there was a need for deterrence

    ” that 16 per cent of offenders convicted of concealing a serious indictable offence received a jail term”

    While Wilson’s defence counsel Mr Temby handed up a raft of character references, which he said showed Archbishop Wilson was a “true leader of the church”

    I think he was being genuinely serious here

    The presiding judge has adjourned the case until Mid-Day EST (Australia). He has indicated he may adjourn sentencing to a later date.

    Wilson continues to manipulate the legal system to his own advantage- I remind readers that it has taken many years and 4 attempts by Wilson to derail the start of this trial- and to the cost of justice.

    I refer readers to the link which outlines in further detail the matters that were presented to the court earlier.

    https://www.theherald.com.au/story/5473100/adelaide-archbishop-philip-wilson-should-be-spared-jail-term-for-covering-up-child-sexual-abuse-defence/?cs=305

  4. Rachael O Reilly says:

    Philip Wilson, Archbishop of Adelaide update;

    Magistrate Roger Stone says he will take two weeks to consider the submissions on sentencing. No sentencing today. The court will resume on July 3 for final sentencing. Bail is continued

    Crown: Prosecution finishes its submissions saying it wants an immediate jail term starting today. The sentence must reflect ‘ general deterrence’ – the concealment of child sex abuse by members of a powerful institution
    Defence- reiterated it wants a Bond only- on grounds of health and a fear that he would not survive jail

    My view- Ill health cannot be a licence to commit crime and a custodial sentence will recognise the harm done to the victims. The community will no longer tolerate the endemic cover up of sexual abuse by bishops on the most vulnerable members of the community

    We have to wait for July 03.

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