In the shadow of evil

By Catherine Masters, Greg Ansley

Calls mount for New Zealand involvement in a top-level Australian inquiry into the widespread sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and other authority figures. Greg Ansley and Catherine Masters report

Former priest Denis McAlinden was defrocked following sexual abuse allegations involving minors in Australia. He spent six months in Tokomaru Bay's church. Photo / Supplied
Former priest Denis McAlinden was defrocked following sexual abuse allegations involving minors in Australia. He spent six months in Tokomaru Bay's church. Photo / Supplied

The Catholic church in Tokomaru Bay, Gisborne, is like many in small-town New Zealand - a picture of safety and innocence.

It's hard to imagine that the pretty little wooden chapel with the blue roof has been caught up in a top-level inquiry into the sexual abuse of children, which was launched in Australia but is likely to extend to this country.

Among the practices to be investigated is that instead of prosecuting paedophile priests, the Catholic church transferred them from diocese to diocese - sometimes shipping them across the Tasman to New Zealand and vice versa.

One of the worst offenders was Father Denis McAlinden - thought to have abused hundreds of little girls - who turned up in Tokomaru Bay in the 1980s.

The current Bishop of Hamilton, Denis Browne, has confirmed McAlinden was in the remote part of the diocese for six months in 1984, telling radio there was only one known victim who had come forward after 25 years "to unburden her soul".

McAlinden, who also had stints in Papua New Guinea and Western Australia, was eventually defrocked but never prosecuted. He was hidden by the church in his later years and is now dead.

Locals we spoke to in Tokomaru Bay had never heard of McAlinden or of any scandal regarding him, but priests would come and go and one woman recalled how they would live in an isolated bach-like house in the hills behind the Arthur St chapel.

"We don't have a resident priest any more, and I'm just wondering if that's what took a resident priest away, that incident."

The Royal Commission of Inquiry in Australia is not confined to Catholic priests - it will include other churches, sports clubs and youth groups such as the Scouting movement - but much of the current focus is on abuse perpetrated by a large number of Catholic priests and brothers. A spokeswoman for Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the extension of the investigation to New Zealand would be a matter for the Royal Commission to consider once terms of reference were settled and the inquiry established.

Victims' groups and child protection advocates in Australia say the transtasman links must feature in the inquiry, which has been established to enable Australian investigators to cross state borders to track the transfers and the allegations of systemic cover-ups.

A victims' advocate in New Zealand, Ken Clearwater of the group Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse, said New Zealand desperately needed to be involved.

The abuse in New Zealand was just as bad as anywhere else and he had around 120 victims on his books, many of them abused by the Catholic brothers of the St John of God order, which ran the Marylands residential home in Christchurch in the 1970s.

Children with intellectual and physical disabilities were sent there, who would never have been able to speak out.

Says Clearwater: "I would hate to even estimate how many children have been abused while in Catholic care in New Zealand. It's not just the Catholic priests, it's anywhere there are vulnerable children. It's just that the Catholic Church managed to cover it up so well and just shifted people from place to place. We get people coming forward every week."

Some of the brothers at Marylands were moved between Christchurch and Australia. One was Brother Bernard McGrath, a New Zealander who has been convicted in both countries.

Another was Australian Brother Rodger Moloney, who was eventually jailed in New Zealand but who fought his extradition from Australia to face trial here. A New Zealand victim of these brothers, a ward of the state who lived at Marylands from the age of 8 to 14 and who was involved in their eventual prosecutions in New Zealand, said that at the age of 53, life was tough.

"I went through more or less like sodomy and a lot of touching and getting into bed with them and all that ..."

McGrath was the main instigator with him, but McGrath and Moloney were "buddy-buddies."

The man said there were others there who also abused children and that anyone who was a little slow or had a mental injury was an easy target. The children were lonely and vulnerable and had no way out and nowhere to turn.

This man said his own life had been ruined, he had been in and out of prison and many of his convictions involved attacking and burning churches. "I hate them for what they done."


Long-term institutional abuse has already been confirmed across Australia - a decade ago a Queensland inquiry into institutions run by the Anglican, Methodist and Catholic churches prompted an official State apology for the physical and sexual abuse suffered by their victims.

The Salvation Army is also facing a series of lawsuits, and accusations of cover-ups have been levelled against a number of private schools and the Scouts. Redress and compensation schemes have been set up for victims of abuse in state-run institutions in Tasmania, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia.

The federal Royal Commission also comes as inquiries into child abuse continue in Queensland and Victoria. New South Wales, under fierce pressure after one its most senior investigators alleged obstruction and the destruction of evidence by the Catholic Church, announced its own inquiry this week.

Their findings, expected to be completed early next year, will feed into the royal commission. While hearing evidence of rape, sodomy, beatings and intimidation, all four inquiries will focus mainly on the systems that allowed systemic abuse to flourish, promoted concealment and protected the perpetrators.

The Royal Commission will include some of religion's most sacrosanct institutions: the inviolable secrecy of the confessions, for example, defended by Catholic Archbishop Cardinal George Pell but attacked by victims, abuse groups and politicians, including NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell, a Catholic.

Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon described the failure to report paedophile crimes related in the confessional as "abhorrent".

Discussions will also embrace police, childcare and other institutions, including victims' groups such as Broken Rites which advocates for Catholic victims and the anti-abuse campaigner, Bravehearts.

The Victorian inquiry has already heard graphic accounts of abuse, much of it assembled by Broken Rites and involving the Order of St John of God, which operated in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

The inquiry heard claims that more than 70 per cent of the order's brothers were suspected child abusers and that in Victoria it harboured up to 15 paedophiles between 1952 to 1986.

Broken Rites researcher Wayne Chamley said two boys might have died as a result of beatings, two others were committed to mental institutions after they escaped and 91 per cent of the victims suffered mental health problems.

In NSW, brothers of the order were alleged to have drugged and raped victims. Victorian Police told the inquiry the Catholic Church had obstructed investigations, destroyed evidence and protected paedophile priests, a claim repeated by NSW Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox in an explosive interview with ABC television's Lateline programme.

Fox, who had been pursuing allegations of child sexual abuse in the church for more than a decade, was pulled off investigations in the Newcastle-Maitland Diocese without explanation.

Over many years the investigation had found 400 victims, charged 14 members of the clergy and convicted six Catholic school teachers. Three priests are at present on trial.

Risking his career, Fox outlined the organised protection of priests and called for a royal commission: "I can testify from my own experience the church covers up, silences victims, hinders police investigations, alerts offenders, destroys evidence and moves priests to protect the good name of the church."

His interview was the release valve for pressure that had been steadily building. O'Farrell, who had initially refused a royal commission, established the NSW inquiry.

In Canberra, Gillard, with powerful support from her own MPs, the Opposition and crossbenchers, set the Federal royal commission in motion.

One of Fox's key targets was the Irish-born McAlinden, whose transfer to the Hamilton diocese highlights the role the Tasman has played in protecting paedophiles.

McAlinden was 26 when he arrived in Australia in 1949. Within four years the church had received the first of many complaints of his sexual abuse of mainly young girls.

As complaints mounted he was sent to Papua New Guinea for four years and later shuffled between Newcastle-Maitland, Hamilton and Geraldton and Bunbury in Western Australia.

His abuse was well known to the church hierarchy, which organised the transfers. Investigations by Broken Rites showed that at one stage, after quietly removing him from the priesthood, church officials considered giving him a one-way ticket back to Britain.

The Newcastle-Maitland diocese was finally forced to publicly admit his guilt and to apologise to victims and, along with other victims, the New Zealand woman complainant won compensation.

NSW Police are also investigating three senior clergy who were alleged to have known of McAlinden's abuse in the early 1990s and "managed" it for the church without reporting the crimes to police. McAlinden was charged but not convicted of indecent assault of a 10-year-old girl in Western Australia and in 1999 NSW police issued a warrant for his arrest but it was not executed as McAlinden was apparently overseas.

The church also shifted other paedophile priests across the Tasman. In 2003, after a long and expensive battle, extradition orders were confirmed against three brothers accused of crimes committed at Marylands in Christchurch, though victims say there were more offenders.

Moloney was convicted by the High Court in 2008 of seven charges of sexually abusing boys during the 1970s and was sentenced to a maximum two years and nine months jail; Brother William Lebler, at Marylands in the 1950s, escaped trial due to mental health issues and proceedings were also dropped against Brother Raymond Garchow, a New Zealander, because of illness.

McGrath was trained in Australia and sexually assaulted boys at the Kendall Grange boarding institution for the intellectually disabled, near Lake Macquarie, south of Newcastle. In 1986 he moved back to Christchurch, working at Marylands and the Hebron trust. In 1993 he was sentenced to three years' jail for abusing children at the two institutions.

Later, in Sydney, he was sentenced to nine months for abusing a pre-teen boy and in 2006 he was sentenced again in Christchurch to five years' jail on eight charges involving indecent assault.

Dunedin-born Father Max Murray moved to Sydney after sexually abusing Catholic secondary school boys. He returned to Auckland in 1977 and in 2003 was convicted of indecently assaulting boys between 1962 and 1972.

Broken Rites spokesman John McNally said that given the transfer of priests from one jurisdiction to another, the extension of the inquiry to New Zealand made a lot of sense.


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- NZ Herald

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