Senior church officials knew Denis McAlinden abused an 11-year-old girl in 1953 and still allowed the priest to move between Hunter parishes where he continued to sexually abuse children over four decades, a sex abuse inquiry has heard.
The shocking facts were recounted by counsel assisting – Julia Lonergan SC – who told the special commission of inquiry, internal church correspondence showed clergy members had “extensive knowledge dating back to the 1950s of the serious risk to children posed by McAlinden”.
Part two of the inquiry, which began yesterday, will for the next three weeks examine whether church officials hindered police investigations into paedophilia by failing to report offences, discouraging witnesses from coming forward, alerting offenders about possible police action and destroying evidence.
One of the men who knew of the priest’s paedophilia, Monsignor Patrick Cotter, extracted a confession from McAlinden in 1976 after he sexually abused a primary school student in Forster.
In a letter to the then Bishop Leo Clarke, Monsignor Cotter wrote: “Fr Mac has an inclination to interfere (touching only) with young girls – aged perhaps seven to 12 or so ... I had a long session with Fr Mac at the presbytery. Slowly, very slowly he admitted some indiscretions but then agreed that it was a condition that had been with him for many years.
“He feels no such inclination to towards the mature female but towards the little one only.”
The minutes of a meeting between the diocesan consultors show an agreement was made that McAlinden be moved elsewhere.
In the same letter to Bishop Leo Clarke, Monsignor Cotter wrote: “Last night we had a further meeting of consulters and agreed to accept Fr Mac’s resignation ...
"The reason why Father wants to go so very much now is because it will afford a good cover-up for his resigning from the parish.”
Records show a plan was made for McAlinden to be sent to England in 1993, at the time Bishop Clarke moved to defrock him over
admissions that he sexually abused a number of young children.
“McAlinden went on to have contact with children in various locations both within and outside the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese and he continued to commit sexual abuse upon some of those children,” Ms Lonergan said.
The inquiry heard three investigations had been conducted into McAlinden’s offending including attacks on a five- to nine-year-old boy in Singleton in 1975.
The boy disclosed the abuse during one of his first confessions to his parish priest and was given penance for his sin.
Detective Inspector Mark Watters, who investigated sexual abuse by McAlinden in the 1950s, told the inquiry he did not experience any hindrance or obstruction by the church during his investigation.
“I found them [the clergy] helpful, it wasn’t like a wall was put up and they said: ‘We can’t tell you anything’ - they spoke quite freely,” Inspector Watters said.
In her opening address to a packed gallery Commissioner Margaret Cunneen said any sexual abuse of children was abhorrent.
“Child sexual abuse by a priest involves a gross breach of trust of the highest magnitude.
“It breaches the trust of the victims and their families in a manner that is reprehensible and may cause irreparable harm.”