NSW Enquiry, Session 2, Week 3 (Or: Try Proving Otherwise)

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This blog has previously argued that victims, and not just lawyers, should be able to interrogate church officials directly. Today, the NSW enquiry made Australian history when it allowed victim, Peter Gogarty, to directly question former Newcastle-Maitland Bishop, Michael Malone – in public hearings. The enquiry head, Margaret Cunneen is to be congratulated for this precedent-setting move. It is much more likely, now, that the Royal Commission will follow suit.

Mr. Gogarty was a victim of Fr. Fletcher, who died in prison in 2008. Mr Gogarty asked Bishop Malone if Fletcher’s abuse was ever discussed at the Australian Catholic Bishop’s conference. Bishop Malone replied that “The [Newcastle-Maitland] region has had its fair share of paedophilia issues to deal with, so in a generic way it came up.” However, he said Fletcher was not discussed specifically.

Bishop Malone said that the Fletcher issue “divided the diocese.” He admitted that some victims and their families were “ostracized” and had their homes pelted with eggs. Indeed, he noted that his own home was similarly pelted in what he described as a “quasi-violent attack.” He further attempted to gain sympathy by saying that he found reading about the Fletcher abuses “to be quite sickening.”

Previously, Malone had admitted that he had not notified two parish school principals about Fletcher, but maintained that he had informed another principal, Will Callinan. Mr. Callinan, however, denies that he was so informed. Indeed, his lawyer stated that Mr. Callinan was not at the school on the date in question.

Mr. Callinan further claims that Bishop Malone later phoned him to intimidate him, just before Fletcher was charged, and the NSW Ombudsman’s office began investigations into how the Fletcher matter had been handled. Mr. Callinan claimed that Bishop Malone told him Fletcher would be stood down, and that Callinan was to tell parents Fletcher was “sick.”

Malone denied all accusations, saying that “My memory is that I met with Mr. Callinan in the latter part of the day, and that it was definitely at [his school].” With regard to the “sickness” fairy tale, Malone said that “No. I would not have done that.” With regard to the alleged intimidation, when Mr. Callinan’s lawyer suggested that Malone had power over the principal by being able to remove him from his position, Malone replied that “Power is not a word I would use. I had some authority,” and that “I would never do that [threaten his position].”

The most important revelation of the day was the claim that Malone had altered his personal diary entry to cover for not having informed the principal of the danger posed by Fr. Fletcher. During an interview with the NSW Ombudsman, Malone said that his diary would confirm his tale. A photocopy of the relevant page was sent to the Ombudsman’s office.

The page noted “trip to Braxton [the school in question] to see Jim Fletcher.” The words “plus Will C” were written after this. Mr. Callinan’s lawyer claimed that this addition appeared to be written using a different pen, and that the addition was made after the interview with the Ombudsman.

Commissioner Cunneen was observed reading the diary during proceedings, according to news reports.

Bishop Malone’s reply was that “I am not a calligrapher….I couldn’t really see it….To me, it all looks the same.” Was this some sort of convoluted admission of a mistake in the technique used by him to, allegedly, cover his tracks?

If the principal’s account is found to be the truthful one, and the good Bishop Malone’s more of the nature of a fairy tale, then charges of lying to the enquiry would logically follow. This will be the real test of the NSW government’s resolve in fixing its child protection problem.

Read more here:

TOMORROW: NSW enquiry, session 2, week 3, day 2

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)

 

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