ABC News Australia
23 July 2013
The man known as AH suffered years of abuse at the hands of Catholic priest Father James Fletcher, and today became the first victim to give evidence at the Special Commission of Inquiry into child sexual abuse in the Catholic church.
He grew up in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese and suffered years of abuse at the hands of Catholic priest Father James Fletcher.
Victim of child sex abuse gives evidence at Newcastle inquiry
A victim of a Hunter Valley paedophile priest says a Catholic bishop told him to “keep the faith” the day his abuser was found guilty.
The man known as AH was abused by Maitland-Newcastle priest James Fletcher and is the first victim to have given evidence at the New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry’s public hearings in Newcastle.
The inquiry is investigating claims the Catholic church covered up the crimes of Fletcher and another priest, Denis McAlinden.
AH said those responsible for the alleged cover-up of child sexual abuse by clergy must be held accountable.
He told the inquiry the day Fletcher was found guilty of abusing him, the bishop at the time Michael Malone rang and asked him to “keep the faith”.
He said he still wonders what faith he was talking about.
AH said the breach of trust by the church will affect him forever because he was “an innocent little kid with a big hope for the future”.
“They do need to be held accountable,” he said.
“It’s a prelude to the Royal Commission at the end of the day and that’s what needs to happen.
“I want the commission to actually just uncover the truth around the church’s inability to handle abuse, the constant moving around of priests.”
AH said the church “put more effort into damage control than into caring” for him.
“I thought they’d say yes we know about it,” he said.
“I thought that they’d believe me up front.
“I didn’t envisage I’d be standing here today, all these years later, with a commission going on.”
Fletcher was found guilty in 2004 and spent two years in jail before he died of a stroke.
The barristers and those in the public gallery clapped as AH left the witness box.
The former Maitland-Newcastle vicar general monsignor Allan Hart told the inquiry today he did not know about the police investigation into McAlinden.
Late last week monsignor Hart said it was not his role to tell police about allegations of abuse because the bishop had a committee, which included father Brian Lucas.
Father Lucas is a lawyer as well as the general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, and is scheduled to give evidence at the public hearings tomorrow.
The commission has already heard allegations that father Lucas did nothing after McAlinden confessed to him in 1993.
Abuse victim brings inquiry to tears
July 23, 2013
By Paul Maguire
A WITNESS has drawn tears from the public gallery and applause from the commissioner of a special inquiry as he told his story of abuse at the hands of a NSW Catholic priest.
The man, now 37, flew to Newcastle from interstate to tell how abuse at the hands of Father James Fletcher had contributed to his alcohol use, relationship breakdowns, depression, business failure and a suicide attempt.
He questioned how different his life would have turned out if the church “had done something about Fletcher years ago instead of moving him around. Would he have got to me?'”
He said Fr Fletcher did “a terrible job on me.”
“I had tried to block it out but there were many times I was tormented by memories and the shame, anger and embarrassment which had a really bad effect on me,” he told the inquiry into the police handling of child sexual abuse allegations involving Hunter Valley priests, Fr Denis McAlinden and Fr Fletcher.
“The breach of trust I have experienced at the hands of the Catholic church will affect me forever as I was an innocent little kid with a big hope for the future…I expected that when I finally got the courage to tell someone about it the church would not let me down…
“That wasn’t to be and I believe they put more effort into damage control than into caring for me.”
After he gave his evidence, commissioner Margaret Cunneen applauded his courage.
“You must always remember, no shame attaches to you,” she told him.
Fr Fletcher was convicted in a NSW district court in 2005 of sexually assaulting a boy and died in jail in 2006.
Later in the day, a senior Hunter Valley Catholic priest denied there was “a culture” of not recording details of pedophile priests in the 1990s.
Monsignor Allan Hart told the inquiry he believed it was sufficient to verbally pass information on to the bishop of the Maitland/Newcastle diocese at the time, Leo Clarke.
Monsignor Hart, who was second in charge of the diocese, admitted notes were never taken during meetings and conversations between 1993 and 1995 with two victims, a nun and bishop Clarke.
“These conversations raised matters of the gravest nature involving a priest where you did not take notes, was there a culture within the office to avoid there being a record?” barrister Maria Gerace, on behalf of a female victim of Fr McAlinden, asked.
“I passed the information on to the bishop, he got my record,” Monsignor Hart answered.
He said there was no policy to record these meetings.
Fr McAlinden died in Western Australia in 2005.
Documents obtained by the commission show church leaders knew from the 1970s Fr McAlinden had sexually abused Hunter Valley children since the 1950s.
In 1993, Bishop Clarke stripped him of his powers to act as a priest but until the end of 1997 he was living a “nomad” type of life, paid an allowance by the Maitland/Newcastle diocese and sometimes operating as a priest in various parts of the world. __
Tormented by shame, he brought applause
The Sydney Morning Herald
The black-haired man with sparkling eyes sat nervously in the witness stand, his voice faltering as he tried to count the cost to his life and his family of years of ”dreadful” sexual abuse by a Catholic priest when he was a boy.
By the time he was finished the courtroom wept with him – at the bar table, in the public gallery, in the media seats. Applause first rippled then resounded through the room.
I had no idea it would be so hard to get the words out.
Here, in the eighth week of hearings at the Newcastle Supreme Court, was the first victim to give public evidence at the state government inquiry into alleged church and police cover-ups of sexual abuse in the Hunter Valley.
AH, pictured, who cannot be named, brought cheers from the inquiry for his brave testimony. Photo: Darren Pateman
Now in his late 30s, the man known to the inquiry as AH said he had been “an innocent little kid with a big hope for the future” when Father James Fletcher began sexually abusing him.
Fletcher was convicted of the abuse in 2004 and died in jail in 2006.
The abuse left his victim feeling as an adult that he was “just stuffing up my life”. AH eyeballed his younger brothers, there in the court to support him with his mother and father, and confessed he was sometimes jealous of them.
Breach of trust: AH as a boy. Photo: Supplied
“I am so many years behind everyone else due to the abuse. I love my brothers, you have all got good jobs … It is the nature of brothers, I just look at you and feel I should be in front of you.”
He has left the Hunter because, he said, ”the memories are too much and the bastardisation from some elements of the community is very much alive and kicking”.
He now has an office job in the finance industry. In the six months since the NSW inquiry and the separate royal commission into institutional child sexual abuse were announced, strangers have sent him flowers at work and “completely random people have been divulging abuse they have endured”.
AH said he asked himself how his life might have been different: “If they [the church] had done something about Fletcher years ago instead of moving him around, would he have got to me?
“Would I have continued on with my cricket and be playing in the Ashes this year?” (They could do with some help, he joked.)
“Would I have gone to uni? I tried. Would I have completed a degree? I should have. Would I have had a better or different relationship with my partner?”
AH praised police whistleblower Peter Fox who took his statement. It took 11 months: “I had no idea it would be so hard to get the words out.”
AH, who said his mother had written a book about the effects on his life of the abuse, gave permission for his photograph to be published, even though his name is subject to a non-publication order at the inquiry.
He said he wanted that ”the right people be made accountable for how abuse has been handled or covered up”. The breach of trust he experienced at the hands of the Catholic Church would affect him forever, he said.
“The priest James Fletcher did a terrible job on me but I expected when I finally got the courage to tell someone about it, the church would not let me down and they would do the right thing.”
But that’s not how it happened, according to his statement. “I believe they put more effort into damage control than into caring for me,” he said.
AH said he had tried to block out the memories but had been tormented by shame, anger and embarrassment. After Fletcher’s trial ”I picked myself up and attempted to move on in life”.
He thanked Commissioner Margaret Cunneen, SC, several times for the inquiry, though he said it had been hard to see his life played out again.
As he went to leave the witness box, she called him back. “You must always remember, no shame attaches to you,” she said. His courage had placed the shame “squarely where it belongs”, she said.