Sex-abuse priest took secrets to grave

The Sydney Morning Herald/May 24, 2009

Today a woman will stand in a Catholic church in regional NSW and watch her niece being baptised.

Normally an occasion for joy and faith, the experience will be much different for Sarah (not her real name). Along with two of her older sisters, she was sexually abused for eight years, from the age of four, by the now-dead priest Denis McAlinden.

"I feel strange putting a little girl on the altar to become a member of the church when you've seen what the church has done to its members," said the woman, now in her 20s.

Sarah is one of hundreds who were sexually abused by Irish Catholic priests, detailed in the findings of a nine-year investigation into 250 Irish Catholic care institutions from the 1930s to the 1990s.

The 2600-page report by Ireland's Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse, released last week, found rape was endemic and church officials shielded pedophiles from arrest in a culture of secrecy and disdain for "alleged victims".

It also found that an unknown number of perpetrators moved to Australia. One was Father McAlinden, who moved to Australia in 1949 and died in 2005, two years before sexual abuse allegations were made public.

Broken Rites, a church sex abuse support group, along with The Herald in Newcastle, established McAlinden had been a serial child-molester during his 50-year career in the ministry, with at least 20 known victims. The church had moved him between parishes in the Hunter Valley and Western Australia, with stints also in New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

One victim was Sarah, from a Catholic family with five daughters. McAlinden was her parish priest in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese during the 1980s and 1990s.

"He pretty much straight away started to visit our house and would regularly ask our mum if he could take us away on picnics and sporting events and things like that, so there were occasions when some of us were alone with him, and that's when things happened," she said.

"Any child knows it's wrong, but he was a man in a position of trust - he was Father Denis; he was a priest."

The recent flurry of reportage has also been challenging.

"Since it all came out it's been 10 times harder."

Sarah is frustrated that McAlinden died before he could be held to account. "He died with his secrets, whereas we have to live with them for the rest of our lives. It's unfortunate he wasn't exposed a long time ago, so that he had to live with the same sort of shame that you, as a victim of abuse, have to live with."

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