CATHOLIC leaders simply could not accept that ordained priests might commit child sex abuse, a senior church figure has told an inquiry.
And where they did, they believed it was a “one-off”.
Asked whether there was a “cultural disinclination” among senior Catholics to confront claims of abuse in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Monsignor John Usher replied: “It was not so much cultural but spiritual”.
The monsignor on Monday fronted the special commission of inquiry into how church leaders and police handled child sexual abuse allegations against two Hunter Valley priests.
He said that 20 years ago the first response from bishops and other senior Catholics to claims of child sexual abuse by a priest was disbelief.
“(They thought), ‘this couldn’t be true’,” he said.
“‘And if he did, it was only a one-off, and we’ll forgive him and he won’t do it again’.”
Many in the church believed pedophile priests could be “cured” if they received counselling, he said.
“I’m not saying it was a universally held view but our church is strong on forgiveness and reconciliation and if someone said ‘I’m truly sorry, I’m not going to do it again’, there was a tendency to believe them.”
Monsignor Usher said he did not recall dealing with the two clergy at the centre of the inquiry, Denis McAlinden and James Fletcher.
But the Sydney Archdiocese chancellor said he went straight to police in two cases involving a brother and a priest who admitted to abusing children.
On other occasions parents sought his help reporting abuse to the authorities.
But he said “adamant” victims often dissuaded the church from contacting police.
“In those days, victims were very frightened or scared … that if they reported the matter to the police, they would have to go to a court and give evidence and it would become public,” Monsignor Usher said.
“Trying to respect their wishes was one thing.”
The monsignor told the inquiry his recollections did not always line up with those of senior priest Brian Lucas, who has already given evidence.
The pair travelled together through NSW and the ACT for six years, until 1996, meeting priests accused of child sexual assault and other criminal behaviour and trying to convince them to leave the priesthood.
Father Lucas revealed in July that he never took notes during the confidential meetings.
Counsel assisting the commission Julia Lonergan SC asked Monsignor Usher if this was a deliberate move to avoid “a paper trail”.
“No, I did keep notes and records of cases that seemed to be important,” he replied.
The inquiry continues in Sydney before Margaret Cunneen SC. – AAP