Institutional Child Abuse at the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle
Established in 1847, the Diocese of Maitland Newcastle – formerly known as the Diocese of Maitland – has caught itself in the epicentre of a Catholic Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Scandal in the heart of Australia. Many priests, bishops and other religious appointments were convicted of sexual abuse and abuse against children.
A diocese is a group of fellow worshippers who establish a small community led by a bishop. This group set themselves up in Maitland-Newcastle and held the authority of 56 schools and 50 parishes in the area. Their territory spanned over 13,034 square miles and accumulated a population of 666,292 individuals with 23.9% of them being Catholics.
Father Thomas Brennan was the Vicar-General of the diocese from 2005. This was one of the highest positions that you could hold in the diocese, and with it, Father Thomas Brennan took advantage of high authority and failed to act upon child sex abuse complaints.
In 2008, Father Thomas Brennan was charged with making a false written statement, covering up the child sex abuse claims against staff members at St Plus X Catholic High School, Adamstown, Newcastle throughout the 1970s.
He claims to be unable to recall any students or parents making any complaints to him in the 1970s regarding any sexual misconduct at the high school. However, evidence came to light that in fact, former students, parents and even teachers all said they expressed their concerns to Brennan about the sexual misconduct.
Brennan was resolute in his certainty that no one under his leadership could behave in this manner, even calling complaints ‘fantasy stories’.
Vincent Gerard Ryan
Vincent Gerard Ryan is a former priest, that is now unable to dress as a priest or even identify himself as a priest due to his sexual misconduct with children. Ryan had spent 14 years in prison after it was found that he had abused over 30 young boys.
After he had served his imprisonment, he said that he should remain a priest stating that he had completely committed himself to the role.
After his 14 years sentence, the former priest was convicted for the fourth time in March 2019 for sexually abusing two boys throughout the 1970s and 1980s in the Newcastle region.
Many individuals have condemned Vincent Gerard Ryan but more importantly criticised the Church’s inability to remove Ryan from the priesthood.
Bishop Bill Wright
Legally known as “William Joseph Wright”, he became the eighth serving bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle in June 2011.
Concerning Thomas Brennan, Bishop Bill Wright had sent a letter to James Miller, one of the victims of child sex abuse. Bishop Wright issued an apology, explaining that he feels great shame and that he is sorry. Whilst Brennan’s misconduct had been persevering for some time, his letter to the victim was the first time a church representative had formally confirmed that Brennan was a sex offender.
Whilst it was the first time that the Church had formally condoned the behaviour, it isn’t the first time that they have been criticised for their lack of action.
Bishop Bill Wright, and more importantly the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, were criticised for not stripping Mr Ryan of his priesthood sooner. His reply to these allegations was that it was much harder to remove a priest than people had thought. He said that the right to remove a priest from the clerical state was only reserved for the Pope and that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith were able to give advice.
He mentioned that he had petitioned the congregation first in 2016 and then following his conviction in 2019.
The Child Abuse Royal Commission statement written by Bishop Bill Wright stated that he had gotten away with his behaviour for too long and that he was a ‘sexual predator who abused his status as a priest’.
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