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Priest's credibility challenged

One of the leaders of the Catholic Church has admitted his way of dealing with claims of child sexual abuse against clergy was outside the church's protocols of the time, that it gave priests an inducement to avoid police action and it helped the church contain any scandal.

In hindsight, it may have been better not to have done it his way, Father Brian Lucas said at the state government inquiry into alleged church and police cover-ups of paedophile priest activity in the Hunter Valley.

On his second day in the witness stand, the general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishop's conference, a former barrister with particular legal expertise in issues of child protection and church confidentiality, came in for a grilling over the way he handled complaints against priests in the first half of the 1990s.

The credibility of his complete lack of recall of a crucial meeting with the disgraced serial child abuser Denis McAlinden in 1993 was repeatedly called into question.

From 1990 it was Father Brian's role to interview NSW priests accused of child sexual abuse. He has asserted the most effective way of protecting children's safety was to persuade offending priests to leave the ministry so they would not have intimate access to families.

''Part of the inducement offered to priests was this was a discreet way to deal with the problem of the complaint that may avoid police action?'' asked barrister Maria Gerace, cross examining on behalf of a victim of McAlinden.


''That was certainly the case,'' Father Brian responded. He also agreed that his practice of not taking notes preserved the priests' right to silence in the event of legal action later being taken, helped the church contain any scandal, was outside the church's protocol of the time requiring documentation.

He earlier told counsel assisting the inquiry Julia Lonergan, SC, that some accused priests had admitted their guilt to him but he had never passed the admissions on to police. "I never felt able to do that," he said.

Evidence before the inquiry is that Denis McAlinden had admitted to Father Brian in 1993 to sexually abusing children, and McAlinden was stripped of his priestly faculties.

The disgraced priest went on to work as a priest in a school of 7000 children in the Philippines.

Ms Lonergan suggested it was ''a disastrous outcome'' that an ''unrecognised paedophile continues to travel around the world with the risk that he may sexually abuse children''.

Father Brian said the risk had been substantially minimised. His process was only a failure if McAlinden had offended in the Philippines after their interview, but there was no evidence of that, he said.

He agreed he had never followed up to check whether any of the priests he had dealt with continued to offend.

In a series of questions, Ms Gerace put it to him that he could not remember any facts that ''might suggest you were guilty of an offence'' but he had a ''crystal clear memory'' of the ''one piece of evidence'' which he believed might ''exculpate you from any obligation to go the the police'', which in the case of a victim known as AL was that she didn't want the police involved.

Father Brian's response was to ''reject that completely''.

''I will take my chances under section 316 [law regarding the crime of concealing a serious offence] but I will not betray what the victims wanted,'' he said.

The cross-examination continues.


The original version of this story said Father Brian Lucas was a barrister. The inquiry has been told that, while he was formerly admitted as a non-practising barrister, that status no longer applies.