The NSW Enquiry Pushes On (Or: Anatomy of a Cover-Up)


Father Denis McAlinden came to Australia in 1949 and died here in 2005. In between, he abused an unknown number of little girls. What is known now, is that the Catholic Church was aware of his offending from as far back as 1953 and protected him in the intervening decades. His first brush with the law occurred in 1999, but not because the Church alerted authorities. He was hidden during the six years an arrest warrant was in effect. He died without ever facing a court. How could this have happened?

Thanks to people like Joanne McCarthy and Peter Fox (see previous postings), at the New South Wales government enquiry into clerical child abuse in the Newcastle-Maitland diocese, the answers to that question are at last beginning to emerge.

The Maitland-Newcastle diocese has been described as the probable epicenter of Catholic clerical abuse in Australia. There are 400 known victims. Seven priests have been convicted, the church has paid compensation to the victims of eight others, and four are currently facing abuse or concealment charges. Four religious brothers and six lay teachers have also been convicted, and two brothers are facing charges. Quite a record for a small diocese in regional Australia.

At the NSW enquiry this week, Bishop “Bill” Wright (see previous postings) described McAlinden as a sexual predator who used his position to gain access to children and conceal his acts. “I acknowledge that the children, so abused, sometimes suffered further hurt when they were not believed because the offender was a priest. I acknowledge that when matters were reported, church authorities sometimes failed to act or to act effectively to support abused children and their families or to ensure that other children were protected from abuse by these offenders in the future,” Bishop Bill said.

The first recorded case of McAlinden’s abuse was in 1953, when the parents of a victim reported it to the then Bishop, the late Leo Clarke. Correspondence between church officials found the allegations to be “factual” but excused the behaviour as “unusual but not extremely serious”. Newcastle-Maitland diocese Monsignor Patrick Cotter recommended that McAlinden be moved to another parish “because it provides a good cover-up,” according to the records. He continued to offend.

Eventually, McAlinden confessed to Monsignor Cotter that he “inappropriately touched girls as young as seven.” The Monsignor recommended that McAlinden receive “therapy” for “paedophilic tendencies”. There is no record of him ever being sent for therapy, however. In a letter to Bishop Clarke, Cotter said that his activities were “towards the little ones only” and that he had “an inclination to interfere (touching only) with young girls, aged perhaps seven to twelve or so” and that “There has never been any assault or damage.”

By 1975, when McAlinden was a priest in the NSW rural town of Forster, the parents of a primary school girl complained to the diocese. By May the next year, several children had provided statements against Mc.Alinden. The Catholic Church’s response was to arrange to send him to Western Australia, and that this was (again) a “good cover-up” because it was well known that he would like to go there (Geralton), and such a transfer would not “raise suspicions.”

Sending McAlinden to the other side of the country was presumably not far enough away. Instead, they then sent him out of the country – to New Guinea, in fact. There he continued to work as a priest. New Guinea officials were not warned of his past behaviour. Eventually, Bishop Clarke wrote to them, saying “These problems are over now. I would really think he is worth a try.”

McAlinden was moved later to New Zealand and the Philippines, before eventually returning to Australia. He continued to offend.

In 1992, McAlinden was charged, but acquitted, in Western Australia. Bishop Clarke stripped him of his “priestly faculties,” but did not de-frock him. In 1993, McAlinden was again sent out of the country. There is also evidence that moves were made to station him in the U.K.

By 1995, it was becoming more difficult to cover-up for McAlinden. The then vicar-general of the Newcastle-Maitland diocese, Philip Wilson, took a written statement from a victim. Bishop Clarke then initiated the process of defrocking McAlinden. The process was never completed because McAlinden would not co-operate, despite being promised by the Bishop that his “good name would be protected.”

[Philip Wilson is now the Archbishop of Adelaide, and is due to give evidence to the enquiry, behind closed doors (see previous posting).]

The first direct complaint to police came in 1999, but there has never been a complaint through the church itself. He continued to be protected, including not giving his where-about to police for six years, despite a warrant being issued. By the time police caught up with him, through his social security records, he was a few days from death with cancer. Apparently, he laughed in the face of the arresting officer.

When a victim lodged a complaint in 2001, she specifically requested that the complaint statement be available as corroboration for other victims. This was not passed on to police, however, for several years. She was told, in 2002, by Newcastle-Maitland Bishop Michael Malone (see previous posting) that McAlinden “has a known history of child abuse and a file you couldn’t jump over.”

McAlinden was never punished for his half-century long crime spree, but surely those who made it all possible will be held to account. Otherwise, the Report of the NSW Special Commission into clerical child abuse in the Hunter Region must be stamped with the word, “FARCE.”

TOMORROW: The NSW rnquiry continues

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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