Moving evidence at abuse inquiry

Last updated 00:00 24/07/2013

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A witness has drawn tears from the public gallery and applause from the commissioner of a special inquiry as he told his story of abuse at the hands of a NSW Catholic priest.

The man, now 37, flew to Newcastle from interstate to tell how abuse at the hands of Father James Fletcher had contributed to his alcohol use, relationship breakdowns, depression, business failure and a suicide attempt.

He questioned how different his life would have turned out if the church "had done something about Fletcher years ago instead of moving him around. Would he have got to me?'"

He said Fr Fletcher did "a terrible job on me."

"I had tried to block it out but there were many times I was tormented by memories and the shame, anger and embarrassment which had a really bad effect on me," he told the inquiry into the police handling of child sexual abuse allegations involving Hunter Valley priests, Fr Denis McAlinden and Fr Fletcher.

"The breach of trust I have experienced at the hands of the Catholic church will affect me forever as I was an innocent little kid with a big hope for the future...I expected that when I finally got the courage to tell someone about it the church would not let me down...

"That wasn't to be and I believe they put more effort into damage control than into caring for me."

After he gave his evidence, commissioner Margaret Cunneen applauded his courage.

"You must always remember, no shame attaches to you," she told him.

Fr Fletcher was convicted in a NSW district court in 2005 of sexually assaulting a boy and died in jail in 2006.

Later in the day, a senior Hunter Valley Catholic priest denied there was "a culture" of not recording details of pedophile priests in the 1990s.

Monsignor Allan Hart told the inquiry he believed it was sufficient to verbally pass information on to the bishop of the Maitland/Newcastle diocese at the time, Leo Clarke.

Monsignor Hart, who was second in charge of the diocese, admitted notes were never taken during meetings and conversations between 1993 and 1995 with two victims, a nun and bishop Clarke.

"These conversations raised matters of the gravest nature involving a priest where you did not take notes, was there a culture within the office to avoid there being a record?" barrister Maria Gerace, on behalf of a female victim of Fr McAlinden, asked.

"I passed the information on to the bishop, he got my record," Monsignor Hart answered.

He said there was no policy to record these meetings.

Fr McAlinden died in Western Australia in 2005.

Documents obtained by the commission show church leaders knew from the 1970s Fr McAlinden had sexually abused Hunter Valley children since the 1950s.

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In 1993, Bishop Clarke stripped him of his powers to act as a priest but until the end of 1997 he was living a "nomad" type of life, paid an allowance by the Maitland/Newcastle diocese and sometimes operating as a priest in various parts of the world.

- AAP

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