The priest who extracted a confession from paedophile Denis McAlinden has admitted he advised other clergy not to take notes of criminal admissions because it could be used as evidence in legal proceedings.
Father Brian Lucas, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference general secretary, yesterday gave a number of reasons it would be counter productive to create a permanent record of conversations with accused priests.
He told the special commission of inquiry into alleged Hunter clergy sexual abuse cover-up: “If you’re sitting in front of him taking notes he isn’t going to say anything, that’s my experience.”
Senior counsel assisting the commission Julia Lonergan SC put it to Father Lucas the real reason he was adverse to taking notes was because he knew it could be used in legal proceedings against the offending priests.
“[That’s a] reasonable comment,” Father Lucas said.
Before he was ordained a priest in 1980, Father Lucas completed a law degree and practised in the Sydney Children’s Court.
He was part of a committee in 1989 that prepared protocol for bishops in dealing with allegations of criminal behaviour.
Father Lucas said between 1990 and 1995 he had heard of 35 complaints against priests while working on a team established to persuade paedophile priests to resign.
Ms Lonergan later asked Father Lucas whether he had attempted to minimise scandal within the church.
His response was: “If you don’t deal with these people decisively and appropriately that’s what causes the scandal.”
Father Lucas said he was not so much interested in the adverse consequences for the church and he couldn’t “care less about the reputation of the [offending] priest”.
The inquiry heard the priest told a nun that McAlinden was the hardest nut he’d ever had to crack.
He said it did not sound like the sort of language he would use, but he did not denying saying it.
Father Lucas was questioned about a confidential document he had written to the state’s bishops in 1988 warning that they must be careful not to act as an accessory or cover-up evidence.
When asked what he meant, the priest said he believed he was referring to the destruction of evidence.
Ms Lonergan asked if he considered failing to take notes a cover-up.
“I would never have regarded that as a cover-up,” Father Lucas said.
He was further questioned about a 1996 article he wrote for a conference of the Canon Law Society of New Zealand titled Are our archives safe?
“Safe from what?” Ms Lonergan asked.
The priest replied “search warrants” and explained that the “general tenor” of the article was that shredding was not the answer and he used the expression “to shred or not to shred” to get the attention of his audience.
Earlier in the day he was questioned about another article he had written on misprision of felony – failure to report knowledge of a felony.
He agreed with Ms Lonergan’s proposition that if a victim did not want to report the matter to police that would be a lawful excuse for the person to whom the victim had confided not to report the matter.