Bishop sorry over priest’s behaviour

MAITLAND-Newcastle Bishop Bill Wright has formally apologised to three women – including a former nun – who were sexually harassed or  assaulted by the late priest Terry Sylvester.

The bishop has confirmed the allegations about the priest’s offences against a nun after it was revealed by the Newcastle Herald in September. The public apology came  after parishes across the diocese at the weekend were read a statement from the bishop, at his direction, that criticised the Herald for ‘‘misrepresenting’’ facts.

In a lengthy statement, Bishop Wright confirmed the diocese accepted that Father Sylvester had engaged in ‘‘a pattern of verbal harassment and a single incident of physical harassment of a sexual nature against an adult person’’ in the late 1970s.

Read the full statement from Bishop Bill Wright here.

The Herald has a document identifying the ‘‘adult person’’ as a Hunter nun. The matter was not reported to police.

The bishop confirmed that the diocese initiated two investigations, in 1998 and 2001, after the woman, who was no longer a nun, had complained about the priest.

The first investigation, by a Sydney firm engaged by the church’s NSW Professional Standards Office, found ‘‘no evidence at this stage to prove or disprove the allegations made”.

The second investigation, in 2001, was initiated after the woman had asked for a review. A second Sydney firm’s report ‘‘highlighted concerns that the incorrect burden of proof may have been used – in effect the criminal standard rather than the civil one’’. A later investigation substantiated the former nun’s complaint.

The bishop confirmed that the former nun had ‘‘reported a rumour that there were two other persons who had cause for complaint against Father Sylvester’’.

‘‘Both the first and second investigations made all possible efforts to pursue this lead. However, neither investigation was able to find any other person who wished to bring forward a complaint.’’

The diocese was unaware of the two women’s identities until they spoke with the Herald in September after Father Sylvester’s name did not appear on a list of Catholic clergy, under the heading ‘‘60 Years of Shame’’.

 Bishop Wright conceded that the diocese ‘‘may be criticised’’ for not removing the priest in June 2002 ‘‘as a punitive measure, and one which might have afforded some consolation to his victim. Today, 10 years later, further action would be taken in regard to Father Sylvester.’’

He apologised to the three women, including a Hunter woman who the priest had locked in a room and sexually assaulted in the late 1980s, and a Canberra woman he had sexually abused in 1967 when she was 17.

‘‘I am sincerely sorry that the person who made the complaint, and the two others of whom we are now aware, was harassed or abused by a priest of this diocese,’’ he said.

The Hunter woman said yesterday she felt relieved because the truth was out.

‘‘Everybody thought Terry was the best, and he came across that way, but he was hiding things under the carpet.

‘‘Everything has been hidden, and nobody was believed. But things are changing, and that makes me happy,’’ she said.

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