WHEN I asked in a column two years ago what Bishop Michael Malone had done about the apparent freedom of a Catholic priest, Father Vince Ryan, to prey sexually on boys in his Maitland-Newcastle diocese the bishop made the following statement:
“When allegations of sexual abuse were made against Vincent Ryan in November 1995, he was immediately withdrawn from active ministry and the proper procedure of our legal system took its course, leading to his imprisonment.”
In June last year, when Bishop Malone learnt of allegations of sexual abuse against another priest, he did not withdraw that priest from active ministry until nine months later, in March this year, when he learnt that police charges were imminent.
Indeed, just over one month after learning of the allegations last year, Bishop Malone extended this particular priest’s area of responsibility, making him the parish priest of Lochinvar, in addition to his existing appointment as parish priest of Branxton.
An important point needs to be made here. That is that the charges against this priest, Father James Fletcher, are only allegations. They have not been proved. Father Fletcher has denied the allegations, although he is yet to plead in a formal sense, and it may be that Father Fletcher is not guilty of anything.
In his written response that contained the above quote, Bishop Malone was clearly displeased with my attack on what I saw, and see, as the Catholic diocese’s failures in regards to Father Ryan’s pedophilia. He wrote of my column as a continuing attack on the church, the diocese and himself, he pointed out that he was not “accountable to Mr Corbett”, and with a “let me jog his memory” he told how Father Ryan had been immediately withdrawn from active ministry.
Today I’m jogging Bishop Malone’s memory.
I had pointed out two days before his response two years ago that Father Vince Ryan had preyed sexually on 26 known boys while he was transferred from parish to parish within the Maitland-Newcastle Catholic diocese and while he was known at a senior level within the diocese to be a pedophile.
Bishop Malone had arrived in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese as assistant bishop only 10 months before “allegations of sexual abuse were made against Vincent Ryan”, and it may well be that he did not know that allegations of pedophilia had been made against Father Ryan before and, in the 1970s, admitted.
When the bishop referred to allegations being made against Father Ryan we must assume that was the first he’d heard of them. So, then, his statement that Father Ryan “was immediately withdrawn from active ministry” was reassuring, as it was meant to be.
So what was the difference in the allegations of child sex assault that led to Bishop Malone not immediately withdrawing Father Fletcher from active ministry? The difference was such that less than two months after hearing of the allegations against Father Fletcher, Bishop Malone extended his field of influence, adding 688 Catholics in the Lochinvar parish to the 2447 already under his ministry in Branxton.
Of course, to withdraw Father Fletcher from his ministry would have required Bishop Malone to disclose to Father Fletcher that the police were investigating an allegation of child sex assault against him.
It was the police who had told Bishop Malone of the allegation and their investigation, and their purpose, among other things, was to ask if there had been other complaints against the priest. The police had not, at that time, approached Father Fletcher.
But Bishop Malone did alert Father Fletcher to the police investigation, offering the reason in this paper yesterday that he had “a pastoral care to everyone in this diocese, being the bishop, and I felt I had a duty of care to him as well”.
To say that the police were not happy about the disclosure is an understatement.
Two years ago I incurred Bishop Malone’s public disdain when I asked what was going on.
Tell me again, Bishop Malone.
BISHOP MICHAEL MALONE