Letters reveal Church's knowledge of paedophile priest's behaviour

THESE are the letters that show how much the Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Diocese knew about the behaviour of paedophile priest Denis McAlinden.

For decades, the region’s most senior clergy knew about his offending, shared information among themselves, and became increasingly worried that victims would go to police.

They saw fit to ostracise McAlinden, pictured, strip him of his priestly duties and send him overseas, even warning senior international clergy of his tendencies, but they never took the information to police.

The letters are among dozens so far tendered to the Special Commission of Inquiry  in Newcastle. Commissioner Margaret Cunneen on Thursday agreed to them being made  public.

In one, a psychiatrist hired to evaluate McAlinden’s state of mind said the priest admitted to becoming ‘‘a little over familiar with children’’.

He had a ‘‘habit of giving sweets to children’’, psychiatrist Derek Johns wrote in 1987, but McAlinden maintained ‘‘this was because of his fondness for them’’.

In another, McAlinden writes a note to one of his victims. In what the inquiry heard was reflective of his child ‘‘grooming’’ technique, McAlinden says he tells of his regret in disappointing ‘‘such a good little girl as you’’.

Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox

Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox

In other documents, former bishops John Toohey, Leo Clarke and Michael Malone write internal Church letters that indicate a knowledge of McAlinden’s offences.

Monsignor Patrick Cotter and Monsignor Alan Hart, among others, shared the knowledge. Some expressed their concern that victims who had contacted the Church would take their complaints to police.

In 1995, Bishop Clarke wrote: ‘‘I have it on good authority that some people are threatening to take this whole matter to the police.’’

The same year, Monsignor  Hart wrote that ‘‘those who have lodged complaints intend to consider instituting criminal charges and compensation charges against the Church’’.

In late 1995, the newly elected Maitland-Newcastle Bishop, Michael Malone,  wrote in a letter to McAlinden: ‘‘May I emphasise the seriousness of the allegations and the real possibility of police intervention.’’

None took the matter to police themselves.

Many of the letters relate to attempts by the Church to strip McAlinden of his priestly duties. Bishop Leo Clarke began the ‘‘laicization’’ process in 1993, but that was five years after he warned a priest in Papua New Guinea of McAlinden’s character.

‘‘I must tell you the following in strict confidence,’’ Bishop Clarke wrote to Reverend Kalisz in PNG on February2, 1988.

‘‘Towards the end of last year, allegations were made by some parents and the head teacher that Father’s behaviour with small girls was worrying them because of his imprudent relationship and expressions of affection.’’

In 1994, Bishop Clarke wrote to Reverend Pedro Bantigue in the Philippines, informing him of McAlinden’s character and the ‘‘evidence’’ against him.

In 1995, Bishop Clarke wrote again that McAlinden had made confessions to Father Brian Lucas.

Bishop Malone will give evidence to the inquiry as early as today. Monsignor  Hart and Father  Lucas are also expected to give evidence next week.

Yesterday, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox spent his third day telling the inquiry about his investigations into how the Church handled allegations of child sex abuse within the Maitland-Newcastle diocese.

After tendering the letters to the inquiry, counsel assisting the commission, Julia Lonergan, asked Mr Fox if those letters would have helped his 2003 investigation.

‘‘Yes, there is no doubt in my mind,’’ Mr Fox said.

Mr Fox spent the morning under a vigorous cross-examination by the barrister for  former Bishop Michael Malone, Simon Harben, who   pressed Mr Fox over his recollections of a meeting  with the bishop  in 2002.

The inquiry had earlier heard that Mr Malone told  paedophile priest Jim Fletcher that a complaint had been made to police about his offending.

Mr Fox alleged that Mr  Malone had also disclosed the name of the complainant.

Mr Fox said that he thought the Church had erred in not suspending Fletcher from his parish while a police investigation was undertaken.

Mr Fox said he grew particularly concerned when Fletcher’s parish was expanded shortly after sex abuse allegations were made against him.

He said Fletcher’s parish was extended by Bishop Malone to take in two schools in the Lochinvar area.

Mr Fox said the change gave Fletcher ‘‘greater access to children’’ and Bishop Malone was putting ‘‘a shortage of priests in the diocese above concerns about the welfare of children’’.

The inquiry continues today.

This story Letters reveal Church's knowledge of paedophile priest's behaviour first appeared on Newcastle Herald.