A HUNTER Valley Catholic parish priest, Father James Fletcher, has been charged with sexually assaulting a child.
Father Fletcher, 61, faced Maitland Local Court yesterday on seven counts of having intercourse with a minor without consent and one charge of indecent assault.
Magistrate Richard Wakely granted Father Fletcher bail on condition that he have no contact with children younger than 16 without adult supervision and that he give his residential address to the officer in charge of the case’s investigation, Detective Peter Fox.
Mr Wakely ordered that nothing be published to identify the alleged victim or the alleged place and date of alleged offences, other than to say they referred to a time that was “not recent”.
Father Fletcher did not enter a plea to any of the charges.
Police prosecutor Daniel Maher said Father Fletcher had stood down from his church duties.
Sergeant Maher unsuccessfully asked for a total suppression order so nothing at all could be published until the Director of Public Prosecutions took charge of the matter.
Sergeant Maher said the case would get media attention due to the current Australian political climate and other cases that had received publicity.
He said he felt uncomfortable about suggesting the court apply a total suppression, but was concerned that Father Fletcher would not receive a fair trial.
Sergeant Maher said that while Father Fletcher had no prior police record and a presumption of innocence applied, Father Fletcher may suffer victimisation if his address was publicly known.
When granting bail and adjourning the case to Newcastle Local Court on May 23, Mr Wakely said he would not grant a total suppression order.
Mr Wakely said there was public interest in such matters, the community would be aware that the case only involved allegations at this stage and he expected the public to maintain an open mind.
NO PLEA: Father Fletcher.