The Pope's representative in Australia knew of ''serious accusations'' against the notorious priest Denis McAlinden from at least 1995, the inquiry into alleged cover-ups of paedophilia by two Hunter region priests has heard.
Leo Clarke, then bishop of the Maitland-Newcastle diocese, wrote to the Holy See's diplomatic representative in Australia in 1995 seeking his help with a ''very delicate matter'' relating to ''serious accusations concerning a priest of the diocese, McAlinden'', counsel assisting the inquiry Julia Lonergan, SC, said on Wednesday.
The letter referred to steps being taken to remove McAlinden from the priesthood. It said during an interview with Father Brian Lucas, that ''Father McAlinden admitted that the allegations were true''.
The Manuka, ACT-based Apostolic Nuncio, as the papal ambassador is known, was also informed that McAlinden had agreed to seek counselling in England.
According to the evidence Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox asked Bishop Clarke, by then retired, about rumours he'd heard that the bishop might know about more victims of McAlinden. Bishop Clarke told him "no", Chief Inspector Fox said.
But this was a ''blatant lie'' which covered up a ''Pandora's box'' of evidence which, had he known of it, would have set of ''many other avenues and lines of inquiry'', Chief Inspector Fox said. A series of letters from Bishop Clarke to other church officials and to McAlinden himself between 1976 and 1995 detailed in the inquiry Wednesday referred to admissions made by McAlinden to sexually abusing children.
Chief Inspector Fox said there was ''a lot'' of evidence of other possible offences by church officials in the documents from Maitland-Newcastle Diocese tendered on Wednesday.
''I would have been looking at certainly with McAlinden, offences of assault, probably aggravated assault, and child sexual assault offences … I would have been speaking about misprision of a felony or concealing a serious offence so far as the hierarchy of the church were concerned in relation to their knowledge and dealings with Father McAlinden and failure to pass that information on the police'', Chief Inspector Fox said.
Bishop Clarke's correspondence also included addresses and references to places where the disgraced McAlinden was living and sometimes working including in Western Australia, in Britain, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines.
But a police investigation in McAlinden in 1999 was stymied because he could not be located.
McAlinden died in Western Australia in 2005 without being convicted. Bishop Clarke died in 2006.
The inquiry continues.
Catherine Armitage is ideas and innovation writer and an editorial writer at The Sydney Morning Herald. She is a highly experienced career journalist who has won multiple awards for her work across a wide range of topics including business, science, higher education, social issues, education and legal affairs. She is former higher education editor and China correspondent.
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