Church plan to transfer pedophile priest

Plans to move a known pedophile Catholic priest from the NSW Hunter Valley region to work in Western Australia in 1976 were "a good cover up", a special commission of inquiry has been told.

The special commission is examining how police and church officials handled child sexual abuse allegations involving Dennis McAlinden and another Hunter Valley Catholic priest, James Fletcher.

Counsel assisting the commission, Julia Lonergan, says the idea of a cover up about McAlinden was put forward in a letter from senior Hunter Valley Catholic priest, Monsignor Patrick Cotter, to the then Bishop Leo Clarke.

Church officials "had extensive knowledge (of the serious risk McAlinden posed to children) dating back to the 1950s", Ms Lonergan said.

In 1975 he was a priest in the NSW town of Forster when allegations surfaced that he had abused a primary school girl there.

By May 1976 several children had made statements to a solicitor that they had been sexually abused by McAlinden and these were given to church leaders.

A meeting of "diocesan consultors" met on May 16 and agreed that McAlinden seek work in Western Australia's Geraldton diocese and the next day he resigned from the Forster parish, Ms Lonergan said.

She said Msgr Cotter's letter said in part: "The reason why Father (McAlinden) wants to go so very much now is because it will afford a good cover up for his resigning the parish.

"(Other people) will not wonder because his desire to go to Geraldton a few years ago was well known", the letter said.

Ms Lonergan said that despite this plan, McAlinden continued to sexually abuse children at various locations in and outside the Maitland/Newcastle diocese.

In October 1976 McAlinden received permission to work in the Papua New Guinea diocese of Kerema and the Maitland Central Clergy Fund paid his one-way travel ticket.

The special commission of inquiry, before Commissioner Margaret Cunneen, was triggered by a whistleblower policeman - detective chief inspector Peter Fox - who alleged in newspaper, radio and television interviews from 2010 that the church leaders had covered up numerous serious child sex crimes by priests.

He said they were aided by a "Catholic mafia" within police ranks.

Ms Lonergan said church documents obtained by the commission showed that McAlinden, who died in 2005, was known by church officials to have repeatedly abused young girls and boys in a variety of parishes from 1953.

In her opening address on Monday, Ms Cunneen said: "The sexual abuse of children should no longer be a crime for which the conspiracy of silence continues to the grave.

"It has a devastating and long-lasting effect on victims and their families and on the community generally".

Ms Cunneen then encouraged anyone with information about such crimes to contact the commission.

The commission has previously heard three weeks of public evidence in the Newcastle Supreme Court and is scheduled to run for another three weeks.

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