Papal nuncio refuses Australian abuse inquiry
Nuncio claims diplomatic immunity, refuses to open archives
Archbishop Paul Gallagher (picture: CathNews Australia)
- Stephen Crittenden for National Catholic Reporter
- December 20, 2013
A diplomatic standoff appears to have developed in recent months between the Vatican and the New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry into sex abuse, chaired by Deputy Senior Crown Prosecutor Margaret Cunneen.
Copies of correspondence released by the Special Commission this week show the papal nuncio to Australia, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, claimed diplomatic immunity in response to repeated requests for archival documentation that might assist Cunneen with her inquiry.
The inquiry was established in November 2012 to investigate sexual abuse by two priests of the Maitland-Newcastle diocese, Fr. Denis McAlinden and Fr. James Fletcher (both deceased), following allegations made by a senior New South Wales police whistleblower, Chief Inspector Peter Fox. The commission continues to inquire into and report on matters relating to the police investigation of the diocese.
The New South Wales Crown Solicitor's Office made the request on Cunneen's behalf Aug. 30 and again Oct. 22, asking for copies of any relevant documents held in the archives of the Apostolic Nunciature in Canberra or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.
The documents sought relate to "any allegations, complaints, suspicions or reports" regarding child sexual abuse by McAlinden or Fletcher, including a specific incident in 1995, when Australian church officials requested then-papal nuncio Archbishop Franco Brambilla to intervene on their behalf with the papal nuncio of the Philippines.
At the time, it had been discovered that McAlinden was operating as a priest in a remote diocese in the Philippines despite the suspension of his priestly faculties by his bishop in Australia.
McAlinden, an Irishman, arrived in Australia in 1949. His diocese of Maitland-Newcastle became aware he was a risk to children as early as 1953, but he was moved from parish to parish for more than four decades.
He was also posted to Papua New Guinea for extended periods and for a short period to New Zealand.
McAlinden was charged in Western Australia in 1992 but acquitted and died in 2005 without being convicted.
The Crown Solicitor's Office says relevant documents from dioceses in Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and the Philippines have been made available voluntarily.
Similar repeated requests have also been sent directly to Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, but there has been no reply.
The commission released the correspondence with Gallagher on Monday as part of a bundle of exhibits.
The correspondence shows that on Sept. 2, the nuncio sent an interim response, stating that he was submitting Cunneen's request to his superiors in Rome and would write again soon when he had a reply.
On Nov. 13, Gallagher replied again, reminding Cunneen that his office is "the high diplomatic representative of the Holy See to the Commonwealth" and citing "the protections afforded by international agreements, including the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations."
Source: National Catholic Reporter