A HUNTER priest who retired more than 15 years ago has become the second Catholic priest in Australia charged with concealing child sex crimes.
Father Lewis Fenton, 81, of Eleebana, was charged at Charlestown police station on Friday morning in relation to offences committed by a Hunter man against children in the mid-1980s.
Father Fenton was charged only four months after retired Hunter priest Tom Brennan made international news as the first Australian Catholic priest to face charges of concealing another priest’s sex crimes against children in the 1970s.
Father Brennan died of cancer six weeks later, and before the matter was heard in court.
Strike Force Georgiana detectives charged Father Fenton with misprision of a felony – failing to disclose a serious crime – and one count of accessory before the fact after investigating allegations about two Hunter men convicted of child-sex crimes in the 1980s.
One of the men worked in the publishing industry and the other was former Hunter Catholic primary school teacher Anthony Bambach, who was a teacher at a Nelson Bay school in the 1980s when Father Fenton was parish priest.
Mr Bambach was placed on a five-year good behaviour bond in 1989 after he was convicted of sexually assaulting a Nelson Bay school boy, 10. He died in 2006.
Father Fenton’s solicitor said on Friday that the priest had nothing to say after he was bailed to appear at Newcastle Local Court later this month.
‘‘He won’t be making any comment,’’ the solicitor said.
Catholic Church records show Father Fenton was listed at Cardiff parish in 1979, was parish priest at Nelson Bay in 1988, parish priest at Gateshead in 1994, and retired to live at a Catholic aged care facility at Eleebana in 1997.
A woman who made a statement to police alleging she spoke to Father Fenton in the mid-1980s about concerns her son was being sexually assaulted was in tears yesterday after she was advised the priest had been charged.
‘‘This never goes away,’’ she said.
‘‘When children are sexually assaulted it changes their lives forever.’’
Dr Bernard Barrett, of victims’ support group Broken Rites, said it was a milestone when the late Father Brennan was charged, and yesterday’s charges against Father Fenton were also a milestone because of the rarity of conceal charges against clergy around the world.
‘‘We’ve seen child-sex offenders charged for more than 20 years, but we’re only now seeing charges relating to who knew about offences, and what did they do,’’ Dr Barrett said.
Three Hunter women who made statements to police about their efforts to raise concerns about Anthony Bambach, including an alleged meeting with Father Fenton, expressed relief. ‘‘That’s the best news I’ve heard in 25 years apart from the birth of my grandchild,’’ one woman said.
Another woman said it was ‘‘a wonderful way to start 2013’’.
The charge of misprision of a felony was replaced in the NSW Crimes Act in 1990 by a package of concealing serious crimes offences under section 316.
Father Fenton was charged with the older offence because the allegations relate to the 1980s.