Child sex survivor breaks silence to challenge Australian Catholic Church on 'unfinished business'

A WOMAN who forced the Catholic Church to remove a notorious Hunter paedophile priest from the Philippines in 1995 after he “retired” there to live near a school with 7500 children said the Australian church is yet to take responsibility for crimes against children in developing countries.

Anthea Halpin, a victim of Father Denis McAlinden, was owed “a debt of gratitude for her courage” in standing up for Philippines children after the Australian church allowed the priest to live near the San Pablo schools complex for more than a year despite knowing of his decades of offending, said Philippines ambassador to New Zealand, Jesus ‘Gary’ Domingo.

The Australian church had unfinished business in countries like the Philippines where offender priests were sent, he said. Survivor group Broken Rites said it was aware of multiple cases where church offenders were sent overseas, including to developing countries.  

Mrs Halpin agreed to be identified for the first time this week in an appeal for church action after the 2013 NSW Special Commission of Inquiry found there were “undoubtedly” other McAlinden victims in countries including the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Ireland and England.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse forced the Catholic Church to take responsibility for Australian victims, Mrs Halpin said.

The church had “an even greater moral responsibility to victims in developing countries who are still suffering in silence”, particularly in Papua New Guinea where Maitland-Newcastle diocese repeatedly sent McAlinden for long periods between 1960 and 1981 after serious child sex allegations in Australia, she said.

Survivor advocate Peter Gogarty has asked Australia’s Papal Nuncio, the Truth Justice and Healing Council and Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Bill Wright whether any action has been taken to assess the extent of possible abuse committed by church representatives in developing countries in the Pacific region or find victims of Australian abusers.

As Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle I have publicly acknowledged that McAlinden was a prolific abuser and that some of my predecessors had failed to protect the children of Maitland-Newcastle from his predation. Neither I nor other Diocesan leaders doubt that McAlinden inflicted his abusive behaviour on children in other parts of the world.

Bishop Bill Wright

In a statement on Monday Bishop Wright said he was in no doubt that “McAlinden inflicted his abusive behaviour on children in other parts of the world”.

“As has been repeatedly demonstrated, we will assist authorities, either locally or elsewhere, to conduct inquiries that deal with the history and consequences of McAlinden’s abuse,” Bishop Wright said.

The diocese has paid compensation to four McAlinden survivors outside Maitland-Newcastle diocese, he said. In 2008 the diocese paid what was believed to be the first Australian compensation to an overseas victim after accepting McAlinden sexually abused a New Zealand girl in 1984 after he was transferred to the parish of Tokomaru Bay. He returned to Australia only nine months into a two-year term.

In 2013 a woman advised the diocese she was sexually abused by McAlinden as a child in Ireland before 1972 and again in Australia between 1973 and 1974.

The 2013 commission of inquiry heard McAlinden boasted in a letter of hearing “10,000 confessions” at the San Pablo school complex in the more than 15 months he was in the Philippines.

Diocese documents show McAlinden committed crimes immediately before “retiring” to the Philippines in early 1994 and immediately after he was forced to return to Newcastle in August, 1995, aged 72.

Some of his Australian victims between 1949 and 1995 were sexually assaulted during confession. Some McAlinden victims were as young as five. An internal diocese report conceded he might have left hundreds of victims.

Mrs Halpin said her “heart was in my throat” in 1995 when she discovered McAlinden was in the Philippines.

“I thought ‘Oh my God, those poor little girls’. I was absolutely horrified they let him go there for all that time, knowing what they knew about him, and I made sure they brought him back,” Mrs Halpin said.

NSW Special Commission of Inquiry chair Margaret Cunneen, SC, found Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Leo Clarke only broke his “position of silence” on McAlinden in the Philippines after Mrs Halpin “demanded that something be done to stop him”.

Mr Domingo, a devout Catholic, said Maitland-Newcastle diocese needed to work with Australian and Philippines authorities to attempt to “obtain justice” for probable McAlinden victims in his country. An apology by the diocese and the Australian Catholic Church would be a first step, he said. 

Mr Domingo, who recently called on the New Zealand government to expand the terms of reference of its child abuse royal commission to include all church institutions, criticised the Catholic Church for condemning President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” and the killing of at least 12,000 Filipinos, while remaining silent about child sexual abuse in the Philippines.

The church needed to be “consistent and not selective about its human rights concerns”, he said.

Mr Domingo was “disturbed that some Catholic Church leaders seem to trivialize the whole issue” of child sexual abuse. He hoped the Philippines church would “take the same pro-activity” confronting abuse as Australian and New Zealand church leaders.

Mrs Halpin said church culpability was even greater in Papua New Guinea where Maitland-Newcastle diocese repeatedly sent Denis McAlinden for long periods between 1960 and 1981.

The diocese paid for his one-way ticket to PNG in 1976 after a parent delegation forced him to leave Forster/Tuncurry following multiple serious child sex allegations in less than six months.

He spent five years in PNG from 1976 despite Bishop Clarke and Monsignor Patrick Cotter accepting the Forster/Tuncurry allegations were true, and despite the two men knowing of McAlinden’s “inclination… towards the little ones… for many years”.

Bishop John Toohey allowed McAlinden to work in Papua New Guinea on four occasions between 1960 and 1973 despite McAlinden acknowledging his “previous misconduct” in a letter to Toohey in 1959.

At least one Papua New Guinea bishop complained to Maitland-Newcastle diocese of McAlinden being “very rough with the native people”. In 1987 McAlinden admitted to a counsellor that he was “a little over-familiar” with children in PNG.

Mrs Halpin wept when told of Mr Domingo’s comments.

“I just think that’s absolutely beautiful. I feel I played a little part in all this but I I get a bit emotional about it all,” she said.

McAlinden died of cancer in a church-run aged care facility in Western Australia in 2005 only two months after NSW Police issued a warrant for his arrest. He told police he would “beat the charges if I am around long enough”. He died without being convicted of child sex crimes.

Maitland-Newcastle diocese did not publicly confirm McAlinden was a serial child sex offender for decades untilNewcastle Herald articles about his offending in 2007.

The Truth Justice and Healing Council did not respond to Herald questions.

This story ‘We owe her a debt of gratitude’: Philippines ambassador to Hunter woman first appeared on Newcastle Herald.