14 Nov 2012

NZ Bishop can't find any warnings about priest

9:09 pm on 14 November 2012

The Bishop of Hamilton says he can't find any records warning about a paedophile priest who was sent to the city from Australia in 1984.

The late Father Denis McAlinden, who is known to have abused dozens of girls as young as four over nearly five decades, spent at least six months in the Hamilton diocese.

In 2008 the church wrote an open letter to Gisborne parishioners about the priest, sparked by a woman coming forward to say she'd been abused 24 years earlier.

She was paid compensation by the Australian church.

The leader of the Catholic Church in New Zealand, Archbishop John Dew, asked the Hamilton diocese to check records on Father McAlinden.

Bishop Browne says he searched through the records of his predecessor looking for any references about why he had been sent from Australia.

Bishop Browne told Checkpoint the lack of records is surprising, but he does not think it means there was a cover-up.

NSW investigation

Interest in the case has been renewed by a police investigation in New South Wales into whether the Catholic church there covered up for Father McAlinden, and the announcement of a wider Royal Commission in Australia into how institutions including schools, foster homes and churches have handled accusations of abuse.

Radio New Zealand learned on Wednesday New Zealand police were asked by the New South Wales police about a month ago to help investigate child sex abuse in the Catholic church.

But little is known about this - police here say as far as they know it is not about Father McAlinden, but the Australian police have been unable to confirm what the investigation is about exactly.

Detective Inspector Graeme Parker of Newcastle, who is heading Strike Force Lantle - the NSW investigation - says any cover up in New Zealand would have to be taken up by police here.

He says while police were aware of Father McAlinden's movements, which involved a number of countries, "we were particular to limit our investigation to the area that directly affected New South Wales. Any prosecutions would more than likely have to come from the New Zealand side of things."

Just the beginning - Australian group

John McNally of Broken Rites, a support group in Australia, says the McAlinden case is the tip of the iceberg, and police want to talk to some members of the Catholic order, St John of God.

Mr McNally says some have already been prosecuted in New Zealand.

He hopes the Royal Commission in Australia will recommend changes to allow victims to sue the Catholic church.

Father McAlinden was sent to Papua New Guinea after New Zealand. He died in a church-run home in Western Australia in 2005.