News Headlines > Top Australian church official faces prosecution for covering up abuse

09 June 2014 | by Mark Brolly

Top Australian church official faces prosecution for covering up abuse

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A state inquiry into child sexual abuse has found that there is sufficient evidence to warrant the prosecution of an unnamed senior church official for protecting a paedophile priest.

The inquiry, which concerned the police investigation of abuse allegations in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, also described the conduct of a deceased bishop as “inexcusable” and criticised another former bishop and several senior clergy.

But the inquiry rejected widely publicised claims by a senior policeman, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, that a "Catholic mafia" existed in the Hunter region of New South Wales (NSW), north of Sydney, that had thwarted investigations of abuse allegations against two priests, James Fletcher and Denis McAlinden, both now deceased.

A three-volume report of the findings was published on 30 May. A fourth volume containing findings that may lead to criminal charges being laid against a senior church official remains confidential and has been passed to the state prosecutor.

The report by barrister Margaret Cunneen was scathing about Detective Chief Inspector Fox’s claims that a Catholic mafia blocked police investigations in the Maitland-Newcastle region saying the commission regarded them as “wholly unfounded".

But Ms Cunneen strongly criticised Bishop Leo Clarke, who led the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese from 1976 to 1995 and failed to report McAlinden to the police or to any church outsiders. "A motivating factor in this failure was concern that such reporting would bring scandal on the Church ... During the period of inaction by the diocese and Clarke, McAlinden continued to sexually abuse children, in the late 1970s, the 1980s and into the 1990s ... Clarke’s conduct – and thus also that of the diocese of which he was head – was inexcusable," says the report.

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