The Catholic Church had “extensive knowledge dating back to the 1950s” of the sexual abuse of children by the paedophile priest Denis McAlinden which continued over four decades on children as young as four and five, an inquiry has heard.
One boy who was abused by McAlinden between the ages of five and nine at Singleton was required to do penance after he told his parish priest, “apparently for his sin in being abused”, the inquiry into an alleged cover-up of child sexual abuse in the Catholic church in the NSW Hunter region has been told.
In 1975 there were further allegations of abuse by McAlinden against primary school children in the Forster area. A meeting of church officials on May 16 1976 recommended he be given permission to seek work in the Geraldton diocese in Western Australia.
A “very significant” letter the following day from one of the church officials, Vicar Capitular Monsignor Cotter , to then Bishop Clarke said said the allegations against McAlinden were “not extremely serious”.
The letter said the priest had admitted “paedophilic tendencies” towards “the little ones only” and recommended he get treatment. There was no evidence treatment was sought or obtained, counsel assisting the inquiry Julia Lonergan SC said.
“Fr Mac. has an inclination to interfere (touching only) with young girls, aged perhaps seven to 12 or so… There has never been any physical assault or damage, but inevitably it leads a psychological scar on the child’s mind and attitude and religious outlook”, the letter also said.
It said McAlinden wanted very much to go to Geraldton now because “it will afford a good cover-up for his resigning the parish”.
Five years later a letter from Bishop Clarke recommending McAlinden to the Bishop of Geraldton diocese referred to “problems” with him in 1976 but said “These problems are over now.”
McAlinden was charged in Western Australia in 1992 with indecently dealing with a 10 year old girl, but was acquitted.
The inquiry heard church correspondence dating from 1993 referred to admissions by Father McAlinden that he had abused children. He was removed from the priesthood in 1993 but never faced charges for his activities in the Hunter region. He died in Western Australia in 2005 while NSW police were seeking to extradite him.
The Bishop of the church’s Maitland-Newcastle diocese Bill Wright made an unreserved apology from the witness stand on Monday morning to victims and their families.
Bishop Wright acknowledged that McAlinden and another priest James Fletcher, also now dead, were “sexual predators” who “repeatedly committed acts of sexual abuse against children”. Their abuse was “exacerbated on occasion by the failures of church leaders” and had caused “real and enduring harm” to the victims, their families and many others, Bishop Wright said.
Another victim whose parents had complained to the then-Bishop of her abuse by McAlinden in 1953-54 made a formal complaint in 1999. A warrant was issued for his arrest but the investigation went no further after the investigating officer was told McAlinden was overseas.
In 2001 a woman alleged to police she had been sexually assaulted by McAlinden in 1977 when she was four years old. The investigating officer was informed by the Maitland diocese that “they did not know where he was”.
Another victim in 2002 put in writing to the Maitland-Newcastle diocese that her statement should be made available to corroborate other allegations of abuse against McAlinden. This request was not passed on to police until 2005, by which time McAlinden was dying from cancer in Western Australia.