One of the Australian Catholic Church’s most senior priests has spent a second day defending his decision not to report paedophile priests, including Denis McAlinden, to police on the basis it would betray victims’ trust.
Father Brian Lucas, a non-practicing barrister and the general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said he faced a constant dilemma when victims refused to go to police.
He told the special commission of inquiry, which is investigating how the Catholic Maitland-Newcastle Diocese dealt with paedophile priests Denis McAlinden and James Fletcher, it was his role to encourage offending priests to resign from ministry.
Father Lucas, who was also part of a committee that designed a protocol for bishops in dealing with allegations of criminal behaviour in the 1980s and 1990s, said he was “mostly successful” at persuading paedophiles to resign.
Senior counsel assisting the commissioner, Julia Lonergan SC, put it to the priest that he could have reported the men to the police but didn’t.
Father Lucas said he would have told police if they had interviewed him.
Ms Lonergan said it was a chicken and egg situation, whereby the police would not have known he had information about paedophiles unless he told them.
Father Lucas said that “would be betraying the victims and I would never do that”.
Later in the day he said: “In hindsight – perhaps it may have been better not to have this process and force victims to go to police.”
He denied Ms Lonergan’s suggestion that his procedures failed after McAlinden was found working as a priest in the Philippines two years after their 1993 meeting.
He said it was a “catastrophic failure” on the part of the bishop of the Philippines to hire McAlinden.
Ms Lonergan put it to Father Lucas that the onus was on the then Maitland-Newcastle bishop Leo Clarke to warn other bishops McAlinden had his faculties removed because he had sexually abused children.
“The obligation is not on the bishop to notify every one of the 5500 bishops in the world, it is on the 5500 bishops to check his incardination,” Father Lucas said.
The inquiry heard Bishop Clarke did write to the Philippines, only to say McAlinden had his faculties removed and he [McAlinden] knows why he should not be there.
When asked what he expected the bishop to do, Father Lucas said: “I would have made a telephone call to the bishop of the Philippines and put Monsignor [Allan] Hart on a plane to the Philippines to bring him [McAlinden] home.”