Tears For Decades of Child Abuse

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A PEDOPHILE Catholic priest allegedly abused dozens of children across Australia and overseas over at least four decades, including after the church became aware of his crimes.

During its final day of public evidence yesterday, the NSW special commission of inquiry into church child abuse heard that a diocesan official had spoken to 28 of the priest's victims, who were abused between 1949 and 1987.

Maureen O'Hearn, a current employee of the NSW diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, said Denis McAlinden had abused children in New Zealand and a number of Australian states.

A Catholic cleric in The Philippines, where McAlinden travelled and worked as a priest after being asked to retire from Maitland-Newcastle, told The Australian yesterday he feared the priest might have abused children there.

"I worked with him," said the cleric, who asked not to be named. "We heard about him, what he had done after . . . he had left.

"Yes, we fear for our children. He worked in a college, with children: we pray to God nothing has happened to them."

Many in the courtroom wept during yesterday's hearing as Ms O'Hearn read statements prepared by two of McAlinden's victims, describing how he infiltrated trusting Catholic families and schools.

"He became part of our family, and was welcomed into our home by our parents," said one, written by a woman who was abused as a 10 year-old girl in 1954.

"He would sexually abuse me and . . . I believed him when he said that if I told anyone, he would know because he could read my mind and I would be in a lot of trouble."

After she married and had children, the woman said, McAlinden would continue to pay "surprise visits" to her home.

"My parents died not knowing of the truth about McAlinden," her statement read. "They would have been so devastated if they were alive today and knew about my abuse and that so many other girls were abused over so many years. They trusted him."

Another of McAlinden's victims, abused from the age of 11, described living with the subsequent trauma. "There's sadness, so much sadness -- you become friends with sadness because it's here more days than it's not," her statement read. "I have carried the burdens of the Catholic Church for far too long . . . I want to know why? Why did no one stop him before he got to me?"

McAlinden died in 2005, without being charged.

The inquiry's commissioner, Margaret Cunneen SC, is due to report next month.

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