Catholic church officials were strongly opposed to the ordination of a priest who was later accused of molesting children and who was repeatedly transferred despite concerns from clergy and parishioners, a royal commission has heard.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is investigating how Catholic church authorities at Parramatta, in Sydney's west, and Armidale, in northern New South Wales, handled allegations of abuse by the former priest John Joseph Farrell.
In her opening statement, counsel assisting the inquiry Gail Furness SC said that, at one point, Farrell told a Bishop there were incidents that could have "brought him 14 years apiece", but that he was not questioned about that.
Ms Furness said concerns were raised about Farrell from the beginning of his career.
Ms Furness said the royal commission would examine the approach taken by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference from the late 1980s until 1996, "an important time in the evolution of the church's approach to child sexual abuse".
The first complaints against Farrell emerged in 1984 and were reported to the then Vicar General in the Diocese of Armidale Monsignor Frank Ryan.
Ms Furness said Monsignor Ryan told the assistant parish priest "Farrell had been 'mucking around with some boys' ... At that time there were thought to be six or seven boys".
The royal commission also heard Farrell was sent to a "very Catholic" psychologist, Gary Boyle, for treatment in relation to sexual misconduct with children.
"After one session with Mr Boyle ... Farrell declared himself a new man," Ms Furness said.
Ms Furness said the Armidale Bishop Henry Kennedy — who lived with Farrell — told the parish priest that Farrell had "made a mess of things in Moree and he needs a new start".
"It was clear that a number of parishioners in Tamworth East had heard about the allegations against Farrell in Moree.
In 1987, Farrell was charged with 11 counts of child sexual offences in Moree, but those charges were later dismissed.
In July 1988, Mr Boyle provided a report to Bishop Kennedy.
"[The report] expressed the opinion that Farrell did not present as a man with true paedophilia," Ms Furness said.
That perspective was challenged the next year when Farrell was transferred to the Diocese of Parramatta.
At the time, Father John Usher was the director of the Catholic welfare agency Centacare.
He interviewed Farrell and, according to Ms Furness, found "Farrell's ongoing need to spend time with children was a matter of grave concern".
"He expressed concern at Farrell's appointment."
The royal commission heard Bishop Kevin Manning replaced Bishop Kennedy as the Bishop of Armidale in 1991 and was aware of complaints against Farrell "through the clerical grapevine".
Bishop Manning sent Farrell for an assessment by a psychiatrist with expertise in the area of sexual offending by priests.
Dr Alex Blaszcynski found Farrell posed a potential risk to children.
In 1992, there were more complaints about Farrell's behaviour and language around children.
Bishop Manning stripped Farrell of his duties and asked him to stop referring to himself as a priest.
Counsel assisting said Farrell told Bishop Manning there were three other incidents which could have "brought him 14 years apiece".
Bishop Manning has been excused from giving evidence at the royal commission for health reasons.
His barrister Maria Gerace said the 82-year-old "has been diagnosed as suffering from a major neurocognitive disorder which affects his ability to give reliable evidence and his competence as a witness".
"Those conditions appear to have commenced several years ago and have been confirmed by independent testing," she said.
This is the final hearing relating to the response of Catholic institutions to allegations of child sexual abuse.
Justice Peter McClellan said that since January 2014, the commission has received information that children had been abused at more than 4,000 institutions across Australia.
Justice McClellan said it was impossible for the commission to investigate every matter, but that it had passed on a large volume of information that is putting police forces under "significant pressure".
"So far prosecutions have been brought against 71 people," he said.
The hearing was set down for two weeks.
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