Hunt on for victims of priest

A Waikato-based enquiry has been launched to find victims of a serial-paedophile priest who previously worked in the region.

Father Denis McAlinden is thought to have abused hundreds of girls aged between four and twelve in Australia and has at least one known victim in New Zealand.

But a researcher into sexual abuse by Catholic priests is certain the prolific Australian paedophile abused more than just one girl while he was working in the Hamilton Diocese in the 1980s.

Father McAlinden spent six months in the region in 1984, but only a single victim from his time here has so far come forward.

He was never charged and died in a rest-home in 2005.

A church spokesperson says an inquiry into McAlinden's activities here is now under way.

"We are looking at our historical information. The Hamilton Diocese is dealing with it because that is where the information sits."

Neither Archbishop John Dew or Bishop of Hamilton Denis Browne were available for comment yesterday.

Bishop Browne, who took over the leadership of the church in Hamilton in 1994, has condemned historical sex-abuse cases within the faith.

When it was revealed in 2008 that McAlinden had a New Zealand victim he released a letter speaking of the church's "horror and shame" over such incidents.

He also asked any further victims to come forward.

McAlinden was first reported to Australian church authorities as a child sex offender in 1953. Despite this, he was posted around Australia and Papua New Guinea and to the Hamilton Diocese.

He also moved around rural parishes as a relieving priest in the Gisborne district.

The sole episode of abuse that has come to light in New Zealand occurred when he was the parish priest at Tokomaru Bay. He was then sent to Western Australia.

The church in Australia did not report him to police until 2003.

Four years later it admitted he may have abused hundreds of girls.

In 2008 the Gisborne victim received a payout from the Newcastle-Maitland diocese in New South Wales where McAlinden was based.

Bernard Barrett from the group Broken Rites, which has dealt with abuse by Catholic clergy for more than 30 years, says it is unlikely that she was his only victim.

"McAlinden would have touched more than one woman in New Zealand. He was doing it all the time, seven days a week, from his first day in Australia.

He didn't stop doing it just because he went to New Zealand."

Mr Barrett says McAlinden's transfer to New Zealand would have been arranged through the two bishops of the different parishes.

He believes McAlinden's constant moves were an attempt by the Church to cover up his crimes. The Newcastle Herald reports Australian Police have interviewed general secretary of the Australian Bishops Conference Father Brian Lucas and former Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Michael Malone.

Archbishop Philip Wilson declined to be interviewed.

Police are believed to have now passed a brief on the affair to prosecutors, possibly clearing the way for a landmark criminal case involving church officials and attempts to conceal a serious crime.

Waikato Times