Newcastle Catholic Royal Commission to reopen

RECALLED: A former provincial (or head) of the Marist Brothers, Brother Michael Hill, giving evidence to the Royal Commission in September. The reopened hearing is set down for Friday.

RECALLED: A former provincial (or head) of the Marist Brothers, Brother Michael Hill, giving evidence to the Royal Commission in September. The reopened hearing is set down for Friday.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has announced a single-day sitting of its inquiry into the Maitland-Newcastle Catholic diocese, which was thought to have concluded in September.

The commission confirmed on Friday that a former provincial, or head, of the Marist Brothers, Brother Michael Hill, had been recalled to give further evidence after a new witness, code-named CQP, came forward to make a statement to the investigation. The commission confirmed that CQP was a survivor of abuse.

The Newcastle Herald understands that the commission may also have received evidence from someone involved in the Catholic education system.

In a statement on Friday morning, the commission said Case Study 43 – its investigation into the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese of the Catholic Church – would resume at Governor Macquarie Tower in Sydney at 9.30am on Friday, December 9.

Bob O’Toole of the Clergy Abused Network said he did not think the commission had previously reopened an inquiry so late in the piece.

“It appears they are recalling one witness, Brother Hill, after another witness has come forward to make a statement after hearing the evidence back in August,” Mr O’Toole said.

“It looks like some failing memories might be brought to account. It takes a lot of courage to step forward like this and we applaud the person who is doing this, and we applaud the royal commission for reopening the inquiry.

Case Study 43 focused on three Marist Brothers – Brother Patrick, Brother Dominic and Brother Romuald – as part of what the commission described as “a long and disturbing history of suffering by children” in the diocese.

Brother Michael Hill began giving evidence to the commission late on the fifth day of the hearing, Tuesday, September 6, and continued into the following day.

At the time, the commission heard Brother Michael joined the Marist Brothers in 1962 and rose through the ranks to head the organisation from 1995 to 2001.

Newcastle Herald journalist Joanne McCarthy, seated, with Bob O'Toole, Graham Rundle, David Owen, Audrey Nash and Peter Gogarty. Picture by Max Mason-Hubers.

Newcastle Herald journalist Joanne McCarthy, seated, with Bob O'Toole, Graham Rundle, David Owen, Audrey Nash and Peter Gogarty. Picture by Max Mason-Hubers.

In his examination of Brother Michael, counsel assisting the commission, Stephen Free, questioned him at length over his dealings with the disgraced brothers.

The chairman of the commission, Justice Peter McClellan, also questioned Brother Michael about problems within the order, saying: “Why do you think multiple Brothers engaged in this behaviour?”

Brother Michael responded: “I have no explanation for that, non whatsoever; it has exercised my mind for 20 years.”

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