The wide-ranging special commission of inquiry into the police investigation of child sexual abuse allegations in the Catholic diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, conducted by NSW Senior Counsel Margaret Cuneen, has handed its four-volume report to the NSW government.
The inquiry followed allegations by a senior NSW police officer, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, that senior police had prevented him from investigating allegations of cover-up by church leaders of sexual abuse of children in the Hunter region.
Mr Fox further alleged that there was a "Catholic mafia" operating in the NSW police force who were determined that there be no proper investigation of child sexual abuse associated with the Catholic Church, and assisted the concealing of such crimes by senior church officials. He even suggested that Cardinal George Pell (whom he called "Mr Pell") was implicated.
These sensational allegations were made on the ABC TV program Lateline, and were extensively repeated over following months on other TV channels, on radio and in the print and social media.
The inquiry found that successive bishops of Maitland-Newcastle had indeed covered up allegations of sexual abuse by at least two priests over many years in the belief that it would cause scandal, and that the retired Bishop of Maitland had given false evidence to the commission and issued a "misleading" pastoral letter about sexual abuse of children in 2003.
While accepting that Chief Inspector Fox had acted professionally in prosecuting one of the priests who had been convicted of sexual abuse, it found no evidence to support his claims of a police cover-up, nor of the existence of a "Catholic mafia" within the police force.
The inquiry concluded that Fox had "developed what amounted to an obsession about both the Catholic Church and alleged conspiracies involving senior police".
Unfortunately, these findings received only a fraction of the media coverage of the original damaging allegations.
– Peter Westmore is Publisher of AD2000.