A CONVERGENCE of events has got me thinking about a question I raised during the 2013/14 Special Commission of Inquiry into Hunter Catholic paedophile priests James Fletcher and Denis McAlinden.
They were the preparations in New Zealand for a child abuse royal commission, a chat with a friend, and the debt of gratitude offered to courageous Newcastle woman Anthea Halpin by the Philippines ambassador to New Zealand for her role in having McAlinden removed from the Philippines in 1995.
The question is what the Catholic Church has done to identify and support victims of the paedophile priests it knowingly and deliberately exported all over the world – a reality proven by formal inquiries in Australia, Canada, the United States and Ireland. I remain particularly concerned about victims in developing countries where faith in the Catholic Church has rarely been questioned – much less shaken.
In the Hunter inquiry it was revealed that from 1949 until 1996 Denis McAlinden abused children, that people in the church including Bishop Leo Clarke, Vicar General Patrick Cotter, Bishop Michael Malone, Monsignor Allan Hart and Father Brian Lucas had knowledge of McAlinden’s offending, but he was not reported to police until shortly before his death. Instead he was moved from place to place, and those places included England, Ireland, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines.
The Philippines ambassador expressed its debt of gratitude to Anthea Halpin because she was the only person to make a direct intervention against McAlinden’s tenure in that country – an intervention which led to his return to Australia and undoubtedly saved many children from sexual abuse.
In 2014 the Hunter inquiry found that while McAlinden was known to have 28 local victims, he may have abused as many as 70 more children in places he was relocated to by Maitland-Newcastle diocese. Commission lawyers told me the church had done nothing to find and support his international victims.
I’ve sent letters to the Truth Justice and Healing Council and the Apostolic Nuncio to Australia asking whether the Catholic Church, either locally or internationally, had ever done anything to find victims resulting from McAlinden’s years spent in PNG and the Philippines. My fresh questions to the church have yielded no reassuring response.
This question is important because it goes to the credibility of Catholic Church assertions that it has learnt its lesson and that it will care for the victims it created.
We have heard “sorry” so many times, we have heard that things have changed, but we have still seen precious little evidence that the church is genuinely concerned for the life-long needs of tens of thousands of lives damaged or lost as a direct result of its policies of indifference and self-interest.
This matter is also important because it may inform deliberations in New Zealand at the moment regarding the scope of its royal commission.
The New Zealand government has said it will only consider abuses associated with children in state care, but as we have seen here, such limitation will only tell a fraction of the story.
The New Zealand royal commission ought to include an examination of religious institutions and should ask the Catholic Church how many paedophiles it exported, where they went, for how long, and whether any attempt has been made to find and help their victims.