NSW Enquiry Session 2 Week 3 Day 4 (Or: Where Did I Leave My Keys?)


Caption: Burston (center) leaving the enquiry (source: http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2013/s3805435.htm)

“He has given his life to the Catholic Church”: Commissioner Cunneen., concerning William Burston (pictured above), second-in-charge of the Newcastle-Maitland diocese under former Bishops Clarke and Malone. Ms. Cunneen claimed that Burston had been “subjected to rudeness” by some members of the public. She said she would consider laying charges against them, if they can be identified. She further issued a warning about “people pre-judging events”.

[A search of transcripts does not reveal the good Commissioner referring to whistleblower Detective Chief Inspector Fox as having “given his life to the NSW police department”, or cautioning people who were less than courteous to him.]

Burston said, at least 60 times, that he could not remember events, which prompted Counsel Assisting, Mr. David Kell, to suggest that he was being “highly selective” and that it was “inconceivable” he could not recall details of things involving obviously inappropriate behaviour. The list of things Burston could not recall is too long to detail here (some are given in the references below).

This response to questioning had caused the public gallery to (according to media reports) respond with “audible groans”, and “gasps of shock and disgust”. [Ms. Cunneen’s stern warning came at the end of proceedings.]

Fr. Burston attributed his poor memory to the effects of several operations’ anesthetics over the past ten years, although he had not consulted a doctor regarding it and ,so, had no medical opinion to back his claims. When Counsel Assisting remarked to Fr. Burston that his memory was precise on some aspects and not on others, the priest agreed, but said he was not trying to hinder the enquiry.

At the enquiry, Burston was able to remember the events surrounding the 2002 allegations against Fletcher.

He explained that the accusations against Fletcher stuck in his mind because he was a friend. Burston was also able to recall the dates on which a colleague had taken leave, and the names of his secretaries from around this time.

Everything else was a blank.

His successor, Fr. Saunders, also has a memory problem. He told the enquiry that much of his memory regarding both paedophile priests, Fletcher and McAlinden, over the last 30 years, is very hazy.

Saunders said he first met McAlinden when he, Father Saunders, was 13 or 14 years old and that he had shared a parish with McAlinden in 1977. Father Saunders said he could not recall the details but he acknowledged that there were rumours in the late 1980s about “McAlinden and kids”. He did not recall being asked by Bishop Malone to help to try to find McAlinden in Western Australia. He also could not remember visiting local school principal, Will Callinan (see previous posting) with Bishop Malone to warn him about a priest. Malone earlier had told the enquiry he did this, but the lawyer for the principal had disputed it.

In a very oblique non-denial of Malone’s version of events, Fr. Saunders said “That’s not denying that it happened but I can’t recall.”  The neural circuits for composing convoluted replies to questions do not seem to have been affected by the anesthetics. Neurobiochemists studying the brain’s gamma-aminobutryic acid neurotransmitter system would be rather interested in this pattern.

[Postscript: Burston’s claim is essentially that he suffers from Post-Operative Cognitive Decline (POCD). It usually only affects short-term memory, is reversible and in rare cases, can last up to one year. A substance, 3HL-655,708, has been developed to treat the condition.]

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TOMORROW: NSW enquiry, session 2, week 3, day 5

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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