Whistleblower Peter Fox knows of three Hunter sexual abuse victims who refuse to come forward to police because they fear retribution from the church.
The detective chief inspector told the special commission of inquiry yesterday that reprisals from members of the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese not only extended to victims but church officials, including a Lochinvar nun whose order ostracised her because she gave evidence against paedophile priest James Fletcher.
The sister told Chief Inspector Fox she was asked to leave the order – St Joseph’s of Lochinvar – after her evidence assisted in the prosecution of the sexual predator in 2005.
During his second day in the witness box, the chief inspector said he knew of victims and their families who were no longer welcomed at church, whose cars had been vandalised and eggs thrown at their homes after reporting the abuse.
He said one victim “broke down” and said he could not give a statement because he did not want to put his wife and children through the ostracism he had seen other victims suffer.
Chief Inspector Fox said abused victims’ lives usually revolved around the church and once they came forward “they are cut off from pastoral care” that they had relied on.
He believed some priests condoned the abuse and told the inquiry a “continual procession of clergy” visited and prayed with James Fletcher during his trial but not one consoled or spoke with the victims or their families.
In other evidence at the inquiry, which is also examining how the church dealt with defrocked priest Denis McAlinden, it was revealed the most senior members of the Australian Catholic Church, including the Pope’s representative in Canberra, went to extreme measures to prevent police becoming involved in child sexual abuse allegations against him.
In a letter to McAlinden in 1995, the late Bishop Leo Clarke, explained plans were in motion to have him defrocked after abuse accusations were made against him in Maitland, Forster and Western Australia.
“The resolution of the problems associated with your ministry has been a concern to me for some time,” Bishop Clarke wrote.
“I beg you, for the sake of souls and the good of the church, to co-operate in this matter so that it may be speedily resolved.
“A speedy resolution of this matter will be in your own good interests, as I have it in good authority that some people are threatening seriously to take this whole matter to police.”
In a letter to the apostolic pro-nuncio, the Pope’s representative in Canberra, Bishop Clarke said Father Brian Lucas, the current general secretary of the Australian Bishops Conference, had extracted confessions from McAlinden that he had abused children.
Eight years later during a police investigation into McAlinden, Chief Inspector Fox asked Bishop Clarke if he knew of any complaints made against the priest.
The former bishop said he had no knowledge and referred Chief Inspector Fox to the then Bishop Michael Malone.
Chief Inspector Fox said Clarke’s knowledge of the matter and his letters would have opened a “Pandora’s box” and greatly assisted investigators.