THE Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide’s claim that he urged parents of children abused by an alleged pedophile priest to inform the police has been directly challenged by a teacher and the mother of one of the alleged victims.
Before he became archbishop, Philip Wilson was the first senior church official to investigate allegations that Father Denis McAlinden was abusing girls in Merriwa, in country NSW.
The mother of one of the priest’s alleged victims said she was interviewed last year by detectives investigating what NSW police describe as “alleged cover-ups by current and former senior members of the Catholic church” relating to McAlinden.
“When I went to the police station they brought out a piece of paper that I had signed. It said I had met with Bishop Wilson and he’d discussed the issue,” the woman said. “I can’t remember signing it. There is no way – I would swear on a stack of Bibles – that I met Bishop Wilson.”
The woman, who asked not to be named, said her eight-year-old daughter had been abused during the early 1980s by McAlinden, who “would entice her with lollies”.
“He used to fondle her. He’d put his hands up her school uniform. I didn’t find out until later,” she said.
Archbishop Wilson declined to answer questions yesterday but, in a 2007 statement, said he visited Merriwa in 1985 and spoke to “one woman (who) expressed concern her daughter had been abused”.
“I treated her account with the utmost seriousness and asked her to report her concerns to the police, but she decided not to do so.”
The archbishop has also declined to be interviewed by NSW police. Detectives have several “waiver” documents produced by the church, and are preparing a brief of evidence for the state Director of Public Prosecutions.
Archbishop Wilson has also claimed that he urged the principal of Merriwa’s primary school to report his own suspicions about McAlinden to police.
Yesterday, Mike Stanwell, a committed Catholic who no longer works in education, said: “There is no way in the world that he said that to me.”
Mr Stanwell himself contacted the diocese after walking into church one morning to find McAlinden sitting with an eight-year-old girl on his knee.
Soon after Archbishop Wilson’s visit to the town, the priest was moved to another parish in NSW’s Hunter Valley.
Other moves followed, to dioceses in Western Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, before he was finally defrocked following a 1995 church inquiry into his abuse, at which Bishop Wilson acted as notary.
Mr Stanwell is now distressed that he did not go to police. He has since spoken to five of his former pupils who allege they were abused by McAlinden.
“We used to send them down, one at a time, for confession. If only one of them had said when they came back, ‘This is what’s happening to me’,” he said. “I was serving him up his desires, his fun – however he saw it. That’s what I was doing.”
McAlinden died in 2005.