An executive assistant to three Maitland-Newcastle diocese Catholic bishops has told a Hunter sex abuse inquiry the files of priests were separated into “good” and “bad” sections.
Elizabeth Doyle, who has performed a secretarial role to bishops Leo Clarke, Michael Malone and Bill Wright, was one of four witnesses to come before the special commission of inquiry yesterday.
Ms Doyle told the inquiry she did not know “bad” files existed when she began working for the diocese in 1993 but knew priests’ files were kept in Bishop Clarke’s office.
She said she became aware of the files when Michael Malone allowed her to access them for administration purposes.
The good files, or personnel files contained employment documents, while the bad files or “special issues” file contained confidential documents that could include complaints not necessarily to do with sexual abuse.
Ms Doyle said if a priest had a “bad file” it would be kept behind the “good file” in a cabinet. She said she did not use the term “special issues” when referring to the confidential files.
When asked by counsel assisting the inquiry Warwick Hunt whether Ms Doyle knew about a briefcase containing secret files she said she heard about it after Bishop Clarke left but did not remember who told her.
She said in the mid 1990s, around about the time priest Vince Ryan was arrested on abuse charges, Bishop Malone told her to give police whatever documents they requested.
Earlier in the day, former vicar general Father William Burston resumed his evidence after he was excused more than a week ago due to stress caused to him by protesters outside the Newcastle court.
Counsel assisting the inquiry David Kell asked Father Burston if the stress had impacted on his ability to give truthful evidence.
Father Burston replied: “I don’t think so.”
In a letter tendered to the court, the priest’s GP, Dr Adam Frost, said there had been a decline in Father Burston’s memory over the past 10 years. The inquiry heard Dr Frost said no formal diagnosis had been made but he frequently came across patients who suffered memory loss as a result of general anaesthetic.
Father Burston previously told the inquiry he believed his memory loss was the result of effects of 10 general anaesthetics between 2004 and 2012.
Another priest who gave evidence yesterday, Father Bob Searle, denied telling whistleblower Peter Fox that a sexual abuse victim accused priests of doing “filthy things” to children in the 1990s.
Father Bob Searle was working as the Nelson Bay parish priest in the late 1990s when he said a drunk parishioner came to the presbytery about 7.30pm and yelled: “Nobody loves me”.
The man, known as AH who was abused by paedophile priest James Fletcher, read a statutory declaration to inquiry last week.
Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, whose claims of a church cover-up sparked the inquiry, has previously told Special Commissioner Margaret Cunneen that Father Searle told him AH was drunk and yelling about priests doing “filthy things” to young boys.
Father Searle yesterday told the inquiry he was “definite” he never heard those words or told Chief Inspector Fox that he did.
“He [AH] didn’t use those words ... The only words I recall him saying is nobody loves me,” Father Searle said.