The former head of the then Maitland Diocese denied knowledge of the existence of church letters that exposed paedophile priests as far back as the 1950s.
Bishop Michael Malone said he had never seen a series of letters filed in the diocese office that were found by the special commission of inquiry staff investigating concealment of child sex abuse in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese.
“I’ve seen letters and statements in the last two weeks I’ve never seen before,” Bishop Malone told a packed gallery at yesterday’s inquiry.
Counsel assisting the inquiry, Julia Lonergan SC, asked Bishop Malone why, in his 16 years overseeing the diocese between 1995 and 2011, he had never seen the documents on paedophile activities by priests Denis McAlinden and James Fletcher.
“I didn’t have time to go trawling through archives,” the bishop said.
He said he had asked outgoing Bishop Leo Clarke for the “secret files” known to be kept in each diocese, but his questions went largely unanswered.
“The handover was no more than five minutes and he was out of there like a rocket,” he said.
Bishop Malone said he asked Bishop Clarke: “Aren’t you going to show me where the skeletons are – where the secret things are?”
He said Bishop Clarke pointed to a large briefcase in the corner of his office and, when asked what it was, he said: “Oh well you will find out.”
Documents in the briefcase were later filed in Bishop Malone’s office but he said he could not remember if any involved McAlinden or Fletcher.
When Ms Lonergan asked why he did not look at McAlinden’s file in 1995 when he was in the process of defrocking the paedophile, he said he had “sufficient conversations with Bishop Clarke to know the allegations were serious”.
He agreed “in hindsight” with Ms Lonergan’s suggestion it defied belief that he would not look for similar anomalies in the priest’s file.
Bishop Malone said he first learnt of child sexual abuse by the Hunter priest days after being appointed bishop and he did not question the retired bishop about it.
“The man was retired and he made it very clear – I thought it more respectful just to have a social visit,” Bishop Malone said.
He said he contacted the police in 1999 when McAlinden refused to
co-operate with the church protocol (to defrock him).
Bishop Malone said the first of McAlinden’s victims to come forward did not want police to become involved in the matter.
But he had told the Pope’s representative in Canberra the two female victims were threatening legal action in an attempt to force McAlinden out of the clergy.
Peter Gogarty, one
of James Fletcher’s victims, is expected to cross-examine Bishop Malone today.