Cardinal 'knew about priest's conviction'
By Megan Neil, July 13, 2017, Australian Associated Press
Australia's first Catholic cardinal suspended a priest who exposed himself to children but the man later returned to parish work and allegedly abused a boy, documents before a royal commission reveal.
The Catholic Church's insurance company refused to cover a claim that Father Robert Alban McNeill abused a boy in the 1980s because of Sydney archdiocese's prior knowledge in 1969/1970 of "the offender's propensities".
A 2004 Catholic Church Insurances Ltd letter to the Diocese of Broken Bay said Fr McNeill's 1970 conviction for sexual offences involving children was brought to then Sydney archbishop Sir Norman Thomas Gilroy's attention at the time.
The 1940-1971 Sydney archbishop became the first Australian-born member of the Sacred College of Cardinals in 1946 and was the 1970 Australian of the Year.
Tendered documents released by the child abuse royal commission show Fr McNeill was fined for exposing himself to children in 1969 and 1970 when he said he was suffering from depression and a nervous breakdown.
Cardinal Gilroy suspended Fr McNeill, who refused to be laicised, and placed him with the Brothers of St Gerard Majella for six years, also allowing him to do some "supply work".
Fr McNeill claimed Cardinal Gilroy apologised before dying in 1977.
He intimated the apology excused his behaviour because he was ill, and Cardinal Gilroy then allowed him to return to a parish, a 2002 report for the Sydney archdiocese said.
That investigation into a complaint first made to the church in 1997, alleging Fr McNeill abused a boy from 1959 to 1964, found Cardinal Gilroy appropriately suspended the priest.
But Cardinal Gilroy and the church later lacked discretion in placing Fr McNeill back into the parish community without an appropriate medical assessment, the report said, noting there were no protocols in place at the time.
The documents show Fr McNeill was appointed a parish priest in 1976 by the late Edward Bede Clancy, then an auxiliary bishop and later elevated to cardinal while 1983-2001 Sydney archbishop.
A 2004 church interview with Fr McNeill revealed a vague reference to a similar incident to the earlier ones occurring in that parish that involved police but no action was taken, CCI's lawyers noted in a letter to the insurer over the 1980s abuse claim by GEA.
"What all of this appears to reveal with reasonable clarity is that Cardinal Gilroy (and perhaps also Cardinal Clancy) had knowledge of a serious sexual problem, and nevertheless Fr McNeill was later posted to the role of parish priest at (redacted) where he is alleged to have re-offended against GEA," the 2004 letter said.
The Sydney archdiocese received three child sex abuse claims against Fr McNeill, who died in 2009.