Diocese acted on wishes of clergy abused victims: special inquiry hears

MAITLAND Newcastle Catholice Diocese officials should not be ‘‘unfairly’’ criticised for their handling of clergy abuse when they always acted in accordance with the wishes of victims, who did not want to report priests to the police, an inquiry in Newcastle has been told.

Lachlan Gyles, SC, for the Diocese, told the Special Commission of Inquiry this morning no adverse findings should be made against it as officials had not obstructed police inquiries nor actively discouraged victims of Father Denis McAlinden or Father James Fletcher from reporting their abuse.

There was no clear evidence as to why McAlinden had moved about 30 times between parishes and overseas over several decades, Mr Gyles said.

Commissioner Margaret Cunneen SC interjected to question whether the moves were made because McAlinden feared his ‘‘indiscretions with children’’ were about to be exposed.

But Mr Gyles said other possible explanations for the moves, and for claims he was ‘‘run out of town’’ from Forster-Tuncurry, were that McAlinden was known to be restless, had a temper, old-fashioned doctrinal beliefs and may well have been ‘‘disliked’’ in the communities he resided.

‘‘[There] seem to be very few redeeming features,’’ Ms Cunneen said of McAlinden.

Mr Gyles said the reluctance of victims to report abuse to police meant the Church dealt with their complaints internally.

Even today, abuse victims were reticent  to come forward and ‘‘expose one’s self to public scrutiny’’, he said.

As well, ‘‘one could not underestimate’’ the capacity for abusers like McAlinden and Fletcher to ‘‘ingratiate themselves with persons both in and out of the Diocese’’ and ‘‘hide what they were up to’’.

Mr Gyles warned the commission against seeking to find ‘‘scapegoats’’.

He also said the abuse matters before the commission had occurred within the diocese at a time other institutions in society were also grappling with internal abuse allegations, as observed from the recent hearings of the national Royal Commission.

The Catholic Church ‘‘does not have a mortgage’’ on child abuse, Mr Gyles said.

The inquiry is continuing.

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