The Maitland-Newcastle diocese is centered on the city of Newcastle in the Hunter Region of New South Wales. It is a very small portion of Australia, yet it has had many cases of abuse by clergy for its size.
To date, there are a known 400 victims. Since 1995, 11 clergy have been convicted while a further three priests are now on trial. At least six teachers in Catholic Schools in the region have been convicted. These are extremely worrying statistics, yet local Bishop, Bill Wright (pictured above), was in denial when the local Newcastle Herald newspaper first broke the story.
Bishop Bill sent a letter around the parishes criticising the newspaper for bias and false reporting. The full letter can be viewed at the link below. In part, it read that, “As comments on the present practices of this diocese, these allegations, made in the present tense, are not true. The diocese reports all allegations of criminal conduct to the police, whether or not the person making the complaint wishes to have contact with police themselves. The diocese reports all complaints of reportable conduct to the Ombudsman. As to silencing victims, the settlements made with victims of abuse in no way limit their freedom to speak of what happened to them if they wish to do so. As to hindering police investigations, the diocese has supplied any and all information requested by the police on these matters. I believe the Newcastle Herald knows these facts but chooses not to report them.”
Bishop Bill may have needed to search his conscience over the effects on victims when the suicide of a victim was reported at the same time. His body was found in his car days after he left a farewell note to his family. The note spoke of the continuing pain of coping with the emotional and psychological aftermath his abuse, years ago, at the hands of a notorious predator priest in Bishop Bill’s area.
Local clergy claims of helping victims rings hollow when compared to the help offending priests received. Convicted priest Vincent Ryan was sent to Victoria when the church learned of his abuse, returning the following year after things cooled down to pick up where he left off.
The worst case involved Fr. Fletcher who was found guilty in 2004. The costs to Fletcher were in excess of $200,000 for his 11 day trial. His legal team included a Queen’s Counsel who had risen to prominence in the Lindy Chamberlain “dingo” trial. There was also a second barrister and a solicitor. Bishop Bill’s predecessor, Bishop Malone, said that Fletcher “availed” himself of an “offered loan facility” to help fund his defence. It is not known how the “loan” was supposed to be “re-paid”, especially seeing that Fletcher was about to be jailed for the crimes. It is not known why Bishop Malone called this payment a “loan”.
Bishop Malone also admitted he was aware of “one priest from one parish” donating part of the parish’s Christmas collection to help pay Fletcher’s lawyers. Merry Xmas, Mr. Fletcher.
There are laws against covering up of crimes, but so far the Catholic Church has avoided being held accountable. Last year, an attempt was made when, for the first time in Australia, a priest was duly charged. Many looked forward to this test case. However, fortunately for Bishop Bill, Father Brennan died of cancer six weeks later, and before the matter was heard in court.
Partly due to pressure from people like whistleblower Peter Fox, a second charge was laid against another priest, Lewis Fenton for cover-ups. Strike Force Georgiana detectives charged Fenton with misprision of a felony – failing to disclose a serious crime – and one count of accessory before the fact. 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. Fenton was charged with the older offence because the allegations relate to the 1980s.
If Fenton is convicted, the case will enter the textbooks and sound the end of the immunity for cover-ups currently enjoyed by religious organisations like the Catholic Church. Hopefully Fenton, who is 81, will live until the outcome is known in this important test case.
Bishop Bill has previously offered up prayers for his “straying” priests, so maybe he could pray for Fenton to have a long life – in prison.
Read more here:
TOMORROW: More on the NSW enquiry
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)