The former head of the Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Diocese Bishop Michael Malone said after several years trying to defend the church against sexual abuse allegations he chose to put its victims first.
Bishop Malone told the special commission of inquiry he had to decide between protecting the offending priests or their victims.
“I couldn’t sit on the fence anymore,” he said.
In the years following his appointment as bishop in 1995 he said he struggled to come to terms with the multiple complaints of sexual abuse and he got “caught up in the ethos of the church”.
He said that having been a priest for nearly 50 years and a bishop for 20, he developed a tendency to “defend the organisation which you belong”.
Bishop Malone said his open apology to the victims, published in the Newcastle Herald in 2010, had put other bishops and clergy offside.
He said he faced a “sense of non-co-operation” from the clergy up until his resignation 12 months later and still today.
“A number of people were just hoping I would go away, which I eventually did.”
He told the inquiry he went through a “growing process”, learning how to assist police in sexual abuse investigations which had not been easy in the beginning, but it became his practice to be “open house” with investigators and offer up documents.
The inquiry heard the bishop did not follow canon law by destroying priests’ confidential documents after their death.
The canon states that in the diocese: “There is also to be a secret archive, or at least in the ordinary archive there is to be a safe or cabinet, which is securely closed and bolted and which cannot be removed. In this archive documents which are to be kept under secrecy are to be most carefully guarded.
“Each year documents of criminal cases concerning moral matters are to be destroyed whenever the guilty parties have died, or 10 years have elapsed since a condemnatory sentence concluded the affair. A short summary of the facts is to be kept, together with the text of the definitive judgement.”
Bishop Malone said he wasn’t a canonist and didn’t rigorously observe that aspect of it.
“I didn’t destroy any documents during my time as bishop, perhaps I should have,” the bishop, whose comment stirred laughter from the full public gallery, said.
When counsel assisting the inquiry, Julia Lonergan SC, questioned the bishop whether that was his genuine belief or he was making a joke he said: “I wasn’t saying I should have ... Only in so far as we wouldn’t be in this room now had I destroyed them.”
He said he authorised an employee of Zimmerman House (a child protection branch of the church) Helen Keevers to give some of Denis McAlinden’s documents to one of his victims because he believed it would help her because she would see that the church was taking action.