Admitted to have played down sexual abuse by priests: Bishop Michael Malone. Photo: Simone De PeakNot everyone laughed when Bishop Michael Malone joked in the witness box at the Newcastle sex abuse inquiry that he should have destroyed documents relating to criminal priests in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese.
There was disgust in the public gallery, where victims of paedophile priests and their families have spent several weeks following the evidence on whether the Catholic Church and police covered up sex abuse allegations.
Counsel assisting the inquiry Julia Lonergan, SC, asked the bishop about Catholic canon law, which requires bishops to keep files on criminal cases involving priests at their dioceses secret, locked and closely guarded. He agreed the church law requires bishops each year to destroy documents where the guilty party has died or 10 years have passed since sentencing.
Asked whether he had followed these rules, Bishop Malone replied: ”No, I didn’t destroy any documents in my time as bishop.” Then he joked: ”Perhaps I should have.”
Gesturing at the hefty volumes of evidence laid out on the witness stand around him, he added: ”They’re all here.”
A little later, Ms Lonergan asked him to clarify that his comments were jocular.
”Only in so far as we might not be in this court room now had I destroyed them”, he said.
Speaking outside the court, Newcastle man Steven Smith, 52, said the comments were offensive and hurtful.
”You know, we are talking about people’s lives here,” Mr Smith said. He said he had been abused by an Anglican priest as a boy.
”I know people who are struggling personally because of this process and what is being revealed,” Mr Smith said. ”It certainly should not be joked about.”
Bishop Malone admitted he had played down sexual abuse by priests to defend the church’s reputation.
He said he had regretted that sexual abuse issues were ”impinging on the stability of the church” so ”in my earlier time particularly, I tried to prevent that from causing damage to the church by trying to play it down, perhaps, a little”.
He gave evidence on Friday that sexual abuse was ”very divisive” within the church. He said he had decided, in 2004, he ”could not sit on the fence” so had decided to look after the victims.
He said he had met resistance from priests within the diocese after he changed his stance. Asked whether this had improved with time, he said: ”I would say not.”
The inquiry continues.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.