A SENIOR cleric, a victim’s mother and a Taree parish priest gave evidence yesterday to the Special Commission of Inquiry in Newcastle.
The day began with the general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Father Brian Lucas, resuming a period in the witness box begun on Wednesday.
Just before 12.30, a woman known as BJ – the mother of James Fletcher victim AH – took the stand, telling in emotional terms of a campaign of ostracisation she said followed AH’s decision to press charges against his long-time tormenter, who was also a close family friend.
The day finished with Taree priest Father Desmond Harrigan, who was mentioned in earlier evidence this month given by whistleblowing police officer Peter Fox in relation to the Fletcher investigation.
After application from Father Harrigan’s counsel, Elizabeth McLaughlin, supported by various other counsel, commissioner Margaret Cunneen granted a non-publication order over all of Father Harrigan’s evidence, which was given before a gallery of about 50 people.
As he had previously, Father Lucas said he had very little if any recall of his involvement in early-1990s complaints against serial paedophile the late Denis McAlinden.
Senior counsel assisting the commission, Julia Lonergan, ended Father Lucas’s session by saying his evidence of recalling ‘‘nothing’’ of McAlinden ‘‘defies belief’’.
‘‘I find that a very hurtful proposition, I’m very sorry, I find that a very hurtful proposition,’’ Father Lucas said.
In a public statement distributed after his evidence was finished, Father Lucas said the church ‘‘did not appreciate the full impact on victims of such unspeakable and damaging conduct and the difficulties they encountered in bringing their stories forward’’.
He said ‘‘the respect given to the wishes of the victims was, in some cases, overstated’’.
‘‘We should continue to do more to make it easier for victims to take complaints to police,’’ Father Lucas said.
Questioned by Maria Gerace, counsel for McAlinden victim AJ, Father Lucas agreed AJ was an ‘‘ardent Catholic’’ who would rely heavily on the church for advice and guidance in many matters.
Although he could not recall talking to AJ, Father Lucas agreed that a reconstructed account of their meeting indicated she was told nothing to indicate there were ‘‘limits’’ to what the church could do with McAlinden if she didn’t want to go to the police.
On Thursday, Father Lucas had heavily criticised a Filipino Bishop, Monsignor Pedro Bantique, for not checking that McAlinden’s credentials before letting him work as a chaplain to thousands of children from kindergarten up.
Yesterday, counsel for the Maitland-Newcastle diocese, Lachlan Gyles, took Father Lucas to 1994 correspondence that indicated Monsignor Bantique appeared familiar with McAlinden’s history.
If that was correct, Father Lucas said, ‘‘I would take a different view’’.
The commission resumes on Monday with Nelson Bay priest Father Bob Searle scheduled to give evidence.