A WIDESPREAD conspiracy to conceal child sex abuse by a disgraced priest was orchestrated by leaders of the Catholic Church and Victoria police, an inquiry has heard.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard Former Victorian police chief Reg Jackson was the “architect” of a secret plot to conceal child sex abuse by notorious paedophile Monsignor John Day. Former Mildura detective Denis Ryan told the inquiry how his investigation into numerous child sex abuse allegations against Day was thwarted by senior police officers in the early 1970s. He said the men were actively working for the church and against officers investigating rogue priests.
Mr Ryan told the inquiry the police officers were known as the “Catholic Mafia.” A group of men who concealed crimes, tipped off offending priests and allowed them to continue to sexually abuse children in a disturbingly misguided attempt to protect the Catholic Church.
"The common law of the police force was not to charge a priest, short of murder," Mr Ryan said. "The Catholics looked after the Catholics and the Masons looked after the Masons."
Mr Ryan told the inquiry he was thrown off the case by his seniors who he described as staunch Catholics. Among them was Detective Sergeant Jim Barritt and Swan Hill superintendent and chief investigator Jack O'Connor. Mr Ryan also implicated Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns as a pivotal person in the cover-up.
His evidence was backed by Former Chief Commissioner Mick Miller who told the inquiry it was a shameful event in the history of Victoria Police. Mr Miller directly blamed his predecessor Mr Jackson for enabling a culture of secrecy to prevail over justice for children.
Mr Miller said while he did not know of the existence of a "Catholic Mafia", as described by Mr Ryan, he had heard stories about Catholic clergy being let off by police in investigations not related to child sexual abuse. Mr Miller called for Mr Ryan to be compensated for his premature resignation.
“The driving force behind his crusade was the desire to achieve justice for all victims of a hypocritical paedophile priest,” Mr Miller said. “It couldn’t have proceeded in the manner it did without his knowledge and consent. Everybody down the chain of command, including Superintendent McPartland, Inspector Irwin, Superintendent Duffy and Assistant Commissioner Crowley appears to have fallen into line. In my opinion, this points to Reg Jackson as the only one who could have produced and achieved that particular outcome.”
Mr Ryan said after a former principal of St Joseph’s College in Mildura reported sexual abuse allegations of children to him in 1971, the two men wrote a letter to Bishop Mulkearns.
They told Bishop Mulkearns they wanted Day immediately removed from the parish.The contents of the letter detailed the names and address of victims and set out the nature of abuse and locations where those allegations occurred.
Mr Ryan told the commission Bishop Mulkearns dismissed the letter in his written response back to the men and said police cleared Day of any wrongdoing. Mr Ryan also told the inquiry Bishop Mulkearns made reference to an earlier complaint to police which detailed some parishioners believed Day was misappropriating parish funds.
Bishop Mulkearns allegedly wrote “one cannot help wondering whether a concerted effort is being made to discredit a parish priest.” Mr Ryan said he believed Day sexually assaulted more than 100 children.
Before being stationed in Mildura, Mr Ryan told the inquiry how he caught Day in a car in St Kilda in 1956 with two prostitutes. Mr Ryan said Day’s pants were around his ankles and he was wearing a priest’s collar. There was an empty bottle of sherry on the floor.
Mr Ryan told the inquiry he questioned the other police officer at the time why they did not charge Day but was told; “You don’t charge priests or you will be in more trouble than enough. You don’t pick fights that you can’t win and you don’t charge a priest short of murder.”
He said when he mentioned the incident to another police officer in Mildura he was verbally attacked. Mr Ryan broke down and was unable to read his statement when asked to reveal the personal toll of the cover-up.
“Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of the police force and what they did to the kids who were victims of Monsignor Day,” it read.“Those children were being mentally and physically destroyed by Day and the police protected him. Bishop Mulkearns also protected him. I wonder how many kids would have been saved if Victoria Police had gone on with the inquiry into Day.” The gallery applauded as he left the stand. Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said Victoria Police would formally apologise to Mr Ryan. He said the last few decades there had been profound changes in the way police responded to allegations of sexual assault.
“Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of the police force and what they did to the kids who were victims of Monsignor Day. Those children were being mentally and physically destroyed by Day and the police protected him. Bishop Mulkearns also protected him. I wonder how many kids would have been saved if Victoria Police had gone on with the inquiry into Day.”Former Mildura Detective Denis Ryan