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Senior church figures ordered to attend sex abuse inquiry

Ordered to attend inquiry ... the Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson.

Ordered to attend inquiry ... the Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson. Photo: David Mariuz

The Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, is among a number of senior church figures who have been ordered to appear at the NSW Commission of Inquiry into the alleged cover-up of child sex abuse by the Catholic Church in the Maitland-Newcastle region.

The summonsing of the archbishop, along with the secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishop's Conference, Father Brian Lucas, came during the formal opening of the inquiry by Commissioner Margaret Cunneen SC on Wednesday.

The inquiry will examine allegations that members of the Maitland-Newcastle diocese covered up the abuse of young children by the now-deceased priests Father Denis McAlinden and Father James Fletcher.

It will also examine allegations by a child abuse investigator, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, that he was ordered by senior police to stop investigating such matters and had been directed to hand over his files in the Fletcher and McAlinden matters.

Both allegations were first aired by Inspector Fox on the ABC's Lateline program in November last year.

Archbishop Wilson is expected to come under scrutiny for the early period of his career where he was a priest in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese.

Father Lucas was also a priest in the diocese early in his career, and is likely to be questioned about this period.

"The sexual abuse of children is abhorrent," Ms Cunneen said in her opening address. "It exploits their vulnerability, irreparably damages their innocence and and casts a shadow over their whole lives.

"When sexual abuse is committed by those in positions of trust and authority, it is even more abhorrent."

Ms Cunneen announced that the inquiry would have two separate sets of public hearings in Newcastle.

The first, to be held in May, will focus on the circumstances in which Inspector Fox was asked to cease investigating child sexual abuse - the inquiry's first term of reference.

The second hearing, in June, will focus on the extent to which church officials hindered or obstructed police investigations.

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