THE Catholic Church says it has accepted that notorious pedophile priest Vince Ryan sexually abused a young boy while another clergyman looked on.
The Herald has learnt that the Maitland-Newcastle diocese paid compensation to Ryan’s victim several months ago after the man came forward under the church’s Towards Healing program.
The diocesan child protection and professional conduct unit manager Helen Keevers said the church informed police and the NSW Ombudsman of the fresh claim immediately after it was revealed in a formal statement from the victim earlier this year.
Ms Keevers said the victim’s statement that a “second unidentified priest” was present during the abuse had been “completely accepted” by the church and diocesan head Bishop Michael Malone.
It is the first piece of evidence accepted by the church that points to other clergy knowing of Ryan’s pedophilia more than 20 years before he was convicted of child sex crimes.
Ms Keevers said the church had investigated the victim’s story to try to confirm the identity of the second clergyman but was unable to do so.
The incident occurred in the early 1970s when Ryan was working at East Maitland.
The sex predator is serving a 20-year jail sentence for 53 offences on young Hunter boys aged six to 14 between 1972 and 1991.
The church had investigated whether the second priest was another convicted pedophile, Jim Fletcher, who was sentenced earlier this year to 10 years’ jail for the continuous sexual assault on a teenage boy about 20 years after the East Maitland incident.
“We don’t know if it was Father Fletcher, it could have been him or several other priests,” Ms Keevers said.
“We have taken it as far as we can so far, but we need this person to come forward again.
“The [investigation into the identity of the second priest] is closed at the moment. We can’t make a complaint if we don’t know the identity of the priest.”
The victim was unable to name the priest but gave limited information about what type of car he drove and other factors that could lead to his identification.
Ms Keevers said the unit, which was only set up earlier this year to combat sexual assault in the diocese, launched an in-depth investigation to find the priest but had run out of leads.
The church would not disclose the amount of compensation paid to the latest Ryan victim.
It also revealed it was aware “that potentially, there are victims of Father Vince Ryan and Father Jim Fletcher who may not be known to the church or to the police”.