Catholic church interferred in investigation
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
TONY JONES, PRESENTER: More dramatic evidence has been revealed at the new Special Commission of Inquiry into the handling of child sexual abuse in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese in NSW.
Former policeman, now state parliamentarian Troy Grant says a Catholic priest he was investigating was tipped off by a Catholic nun before his arrest. And he refuted claims he’d suggested a Catholic mafia existed within the police force.
Suzie Smith reports from Newcastle.
SUZIE SMITH, REPORTER: National Party MP Troy Grant joined the police force in 1988. As a 25-year-old he took on the case of Father Vincent Ryan. By the late 1990s, 31 Ryan victims had come forward. But Troy Grant says his investigation was obstructed by senior members of the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese.
The former policeman told the inquiry a senior nun visited his home during the investigation. The same nun also gave him a false statement.
TROY GRANT, MEMBER FOR DUBBO: The nun provided me with false evidence and played a active role in tipping off the priest the night before I arrested him.
SUZIE SMITH: Troy Grant also says he has documentary evidence of senior clergy being involved in covering up crime.
TROY GRANT: I’ll be giving that evidence to whatever inquiry wants to hear it. And it’s not evidence of just my opinion or my thought. I’ve documentary written evidence to that effect.
SUZIE SMITH: The National Party MP said he was frustrated by the lack of will by the Director of Public Prosecutions to charge senior clergy.
TROY GRANT: Ultimately I believed I had enough to prove the offence at the time which was misprision of a felony for what occurred in 1974 and ’75. The DPP disagreed with that.
SUZIE SMITH: In a statement to the inquiry, Troy Grant clarified a conversation he had with Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox between 2002 and 2003. Mr Grant disputed Peter Fox’s evidence that he spoke to him about a Catholic mafia operating in the police force hindering investigations into clerical abuse.
JOURNALIST: Mr Grant, do you maintain that you never used the expression “Catholic mafia”?
TROY GRANT: Yes, I do, consistent with the evidence I gave under oath. That’s correct, that’s my recollection.
JOURNALIST: Did you raise any concerns about police involvement or police trying to obstruct these sort of investigations.
TROY GRANT: I never did, never had, never had reason to. I was never obstructed. My investigations from a policing point of view went through as per normal, as is reflected in the results achieved both in the criminal and the civil courts for my matters.
SUZIE SMITH: But in his signed statement to the commission Mr Grant says he and Mr Fox spoke about, “Bishop Michael Malone and his level of help or hindrance, Monsignor Patrick Cotter, who at some point passed away, Sister Evelyn Woodward and Father Brian Lucas.”
Troy Grant ended his press conference with this character assessment of DCI Fox’s ability as a police investigator.
TROY GRANT: He didn’t leave any level of detail to chance. He pursued down every rabbit hole, every lead that was made known to him. As I’ve been quoted in the Sydney press, if I was a victim of crime, I would want him as my investigator. His level of victim care I think is second to none and I think that’s been demonstrated over a number of investigations he’s undertaken in the Newcastle area.
SUZIE SMITH: Following Troy Grant appearance, Peter Fox was cross-examined for the rest of the afternoon. He told the inquiry a key witness had contacted him to say the officers of Strike Force Lantel had been harassing her and this had caused her to consider walking away from the investigation.
Late today three police officers applied for leave to be excluded from giving evidence because of ill health. Greens MLC David Shoebridge has told Parliament he is concerned that police won’t be able to be cross-examined.
DAVID SHOEBRIDGE, NSW GREENS MP (male voiceover): “What actions has the Minister taken to ensure the police who have been requested to appear as witnesses will in fact attend the inquiry?”
MIKE GALLACHER, NSW POLICE MINISTER (male voiceover): “I would have thought that was a matter between the Special Commissioner of Inquiry and the Commissioner of Police. No-one has raised anything of that nature with me.”
SUZIE SMITH: Commissioner Margaret Cunneen is considering the medical evidence regarding the absent officers.
Suzanne Smith, Lateline.
The unholy conspiracy
Will an inquiry into decades of child sex abuse in Australia and alleged cover-ups by the Catholic Church serve justice?
In late 2012, Australia was rocked by fresh allegations of Catholic clergy child sex abuse by whistleblower, New South Wales Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox.
Fox has pursued allegations of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy for more than a decade, and he claims that as his investigations continued, a frightening picture emerged of a widespread cover-up by the Catholic Church of the child sex crimes committed by its clergy.
Fox repeated those claims publicly, and also accused the Catholic Church of deliberately obstructing police investigations, destroying evidence, and protecting paedophile priests, sparking calls for a national inquiry.
At the same time as Fox’s investigation, The Newcastle Herald’s senior journalist Joanne McCarthy, had also picked up the scent of a wider conspiracy by senior church officials to conceal sex abuse by its clergy.
Searching for clues – Joanne delved into the case of Father Vincent Ryan – a paedophile priest convicted in 1996.
Her first discovery was a police record of interview with Monsignor Patrick Cotter, who was Maitland’s acting Bishop in the 1970s.
She was stunned to learn Cotter had known for 20 years that Ryan was a paedophile, and that when it was first reported to him by parents of a victim – he had simply shunted the priest interstate – concealing the issue, rather than reporting it to the police.
She then discovered another bishop’s letter, outlining a plan to cover-up the crimes of one of the most dangerous paedophile priests in the Maitland-Newcastle area, Father Denis McAlinden.
Bishop Leo Clarke wrote to McAlinden with an offer – if he agreed to be laicised or, defrocked as a priest, the church would protect him: “Your good name will be protected by the confidential nature of this process.”
At the end of his letter, Bishop Clark urged McAlinden to agree to be defrocked because “some people are threatening seriously to take this whole matter to the police”.
The offer to conceal McAlinden’s crimes was proof of the church’s veil of secrecy and soon Joanne ascertained that the clergy members involved were amongst the most senior in the Australian Catholic church.
Now, a special commission of inquiry has been set-up by the New South Wales state government to determine whether their actions amounted to criminal conduct. The special government-appointed inquiry, known in Australia as a Royal Commission, has also been charged with investigating how the NSW police force handled the complaints.
The trigger for the Royal Commission came in July last year, when John Pirona, a 45-year-old firefighter in the city of Newcastle, ended his life after years of mental torment stemming from the sex abuse that he suffered as a child at the hands of a paedophile priest.
The abuse occurred at St Pius X High School, a Catholic boys’ school in Newcastle. Pirona’s suicide followed about a dozen suicides and many more attempted suicides by former students at the school. Shockingly, many people reported the abuse to the school principal who kept silent, punishing children who dared to complain.
As the impact of John Pirona’s suicide reverberated throughout the community, demands for a Royal Commission gained new impetus and in Newcastle, a public rally was held to boost the campaign.
Detective Peter Fox was at the rally and felt inspired to speak out about his struggle to expose crimes concealed by the church. Emboldened by speaking at the rally, he repeated his claims two months later on national television.
Four days later, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the establishment of a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. This historic judicial inquiry will be the biggest in Australia’s history.
It will hear testimonies, not only about the original sex crimes, but also the subsequent crimes of concealment by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, and other organisations.
The Australian inquiry goes way beyond the brief of any such inquiry anywhere in the world by promising to follow up with prosecuting sex offenders, and those guilty of concealing or covering up their crimes. A special investigation unit has been established to gather further evidence and prepare briefs for the police.
Although the commission itself cannot prosecute, the early establishment of these units means this important work in bringing about accountability can commence quite soon.
The effects of the royal commission could have widespread and unforeseen outcomes – such has been the force of religion in Australia, threatening to shake Australia’s social and political life when its findings are published.