An Old Copper Speaks Out (Or: The More Things Change)


Image: Retired Detective “Dinny” Ryan with a photograph of himself as a young man (Source: The Australian)

It is not normally the practice, here, to give a book review. However, there has been a book just released which deserves wider attention than that afforded by the usual book review section of the popular media.

That book is “Unholy Trinity: the Hunt for the Paedophile Priest Monsignor John Day” by Denis Ryan (pictured above) and Peter Hoysted (Allen and Unwin).

Day died in 1978, without having ever been made to face charges. Ryan was a detective in the Victorian police, based in Mildura. He tells a tale of a “Catholic Mafia” within the force, at the time, which actively protected paedophile priests like Day, with collusion from the highest levels of the Catholic Church in Victoria.

Before going into the details of Mr. Ryan’s allegations, a couple of observations need to be made, in the interests of fairness. Sometimes, people are blinded by the prevailing attitudes of their era, and often would act differently in another era. Some people once, sincerely, thought taking Aboriginal children of mixed race away from their families was a good deed. The thoughtful reader will think of many other examples of misguided motives.

Once, otherwise good people protected the reputation of the churches. It was wrong, nevertheless. Many of those same people, today, would adopt a very different stance.

The second point is just because something was common in the past that does not necessarily mean that it is still common now. The benefit of the doubt is given, on these two points, to some of the players in Mr. Day’s book. This benefit does not mean that they can be excused for their actions, but it does mean that the cases should be seen in the light of just what can be learned from them, with a view to doing things better, now.

Ultimately, that is all that can seriously be expected from knowing the history of any matter causing shame. When the history becomes available, the opportunity to learn from it should not be squandered. It is also incumbent on the institutional players, both police and churches, to actually prove things have indeed changed. So far, this has not happened to the satisfaction of most people.

This is particularly so because the parallels between Detective Ryan’s experiences in the 1970s, and those more recently of Detective Fox (see previous postings), are too glaring to ignore.

The following extract is given verbatim from the book (hopefully a copyright infringement notice will not follow!):

[Fred Russell was a detective sergeant in the early 1960s. He would go on to be the head of the CIB in Victoria in the late 1970s. One afternoon I was part of a group of detectives enjoying a beer at a West Melbourne hotel when Fred pulled me aside. He and I wandered to a dark corner of the pub before he stopped and scanned the room. “Look, Dinny, what I’m about to tell you is in the strictest confidence.” I nodded my consent.

“I don’t know if you know this but there is a group of us who, at the request of the Cathedral, look into instances where priests have been charged with offences to see if we can have these matters dropped or dismissed so the Church’s good name will not be brought into disrepute.” Fred paused and looked at me intently before continuing with his spiel. “We know your strong belief. We’d like to invite you to join us. You should give this some consideration and let me know as soon as you can.”

No names were mentioned, but it was clear that the requests had come from the highest echelons of the Catholic Church in Melbourne. I was genuinely taken aback. I met up with Fred a couple of days later and told him I wasn’t interested in joining this shadowy group. He took my rejection in a matter-of-fact way. He certainly didn’t seem put out. “Oh, well,” he said. “Fair enough. It’s your decision.”

He had not told me who else was in this group. But they, like Fred, took their orders, in part at least, from St Patrick’s Cathedral. These men suffered from a distorted sense of loyalty to the Church. And that misguided loyalty drove them to ignore their oath to the police force and to the people of Victoria they purported to serve.]

This was not the end of the matter for Detective Ryan. His local priest (Ryan remained a committed Catholic) told him that another priest had been caught abusing children, yet was not charged. This priest wanted Ryan to charge the other priest. Ryan got the evidence, but was tipped off that his superior officer, his “boss”, was in thick with the offending priest.

So, like Detective Fox, he did not trust his superior. Instead, he went over his head to the regional Superintendent with the evidence he had collected. Again, Mr. Ryan says it so well that it is given verbatim:

[When I told Superintendent Jack McPartland, he fired back without hesitation: “I want you to give these statements to Inspector Irwin straight away and to cease any further inquiries. You are no longer involved in this investigation.”

“But … but … what you’re asking me to do will effectively destroy this investigation,” I blurted out.

“I’m going to tell you something now, Detective Ryan, and you’re not going to like it. I’m a Superintendent and you’re a nobody. Do as you’re f..king told.”

McPartland slammed the phone down in my ear. Irwin wrote a report in which he concluded: “It is my recommendation that no further police action be taken in this matter.”]

Detective Ryan continued his investigations covertly. He had statements from 12 victims, and word had gotten out that the Catholic Church could have serious problems with Monsignor Day. The local Bishop, Mulkearns, retired Day from his Mildura appointment. It should be noted that Mulkearns was blamed by the present Bishops at the Victorian Parliamentary enquiry recently for all of the problems there. Mulkearns was given leave not to appear because of age and ill-health.

It would have been very interesting to hear Mulkearns’s explanations for not doing anything about Monsignor Day. It would have been even more interesting to hear why Day was sent to Chicago and Portugal for “counseling” before returning to parish duties in Australia.

The officials of the Victorian Parliamentary enquiry claim that, even though they have finished rostered public hearings, they have the leeway to recall witnesses. It would be wise for them to revisit the matters raised in Detective Ryan’s book, particularly as they appear to lend great credibility to Detective Chief Inspector Fox’s thesis of a “Catholic Mafia” within Australian police departments.

Again, the final word can be given to ex-Detective Ryan, a man who has had to wait until he was in his eighties for history to catch up with his experiences:

[It has to be remembered that at that time no priest had been convicted of child sex offences in Victoria or even in Australia, as far as I can tell. What I did know was that I had a raving child sex offender who happened to be a monsignor in the Roman Catholic Church, and no one in the Church or the police force seemed to give two hoots about it.]

The more things change……….

Read more here:

TOMORROW: More from the NSW enquiry – second session

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.