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.
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.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.
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."