Bishop to release panel report into two Hunter priests criticised during Special Commission of Inquiry

Bishop to release panel report into two Hunter priests criticised during Special Commission of Inquiry

The Maitland-Newcastle Catholic bishop says two Hunter priests, who have retired after being described as “unimpressive witnesses” at an inquiry, have done nothing illegal.

Bill Wright says he will publicly release today the independent panel’s report into the fate of Monsignor Alan Hart and Father William Burston.

Bishop Wright established the panel because of pressure from the 2013 Special Commission of Inquiry into alleged cover-ups of child sexual abuse.

Monsignor Alan Hart retired recently because of sickness.

The commissioner found the two men were “unsatisfactory witnesses” and Bishop Wright said he is satisfied with the panel’s recommendation to retire Father Burston.

“What does it mean for a priest to be have been deemed to be an unsatisfactory witness? It’s not in itself a crime, but we have tried to look at it very carefully and make a measured decision,” he said.

“Neither of these men is rated in any way as a risk to children.”

Bishop Wright says he has acted on the panel’s recommendations.

“Father Burston, on the panel’s advice, I have asked him to retire and he has done so.

“With Monsignor Hart, he became very seriously unwell some months ago and he retired at that time.

“In the light of that the panel did not further consider his response, nor did they provide me with advice or recommendation.”

Bishop Wright said both priests will still be allowed to conduct mass and perform baptisms.

“Other retired priests from time to time help out when there’s someone away or sick.

“There’s no child protection risk issue around these gentlemen.

“It’s an expression of finding that he (Father William Burston) did not perform in that regard as we would really have wished, but what he has done is not something that disqualifies him from ever conducting a mass or a doing baptism.”

Hunter region child abuse survivor Peter Gogarty said the Bishop’s response is disappointing and does not go far enough.

“Very, very disappointed,” he said.

“The Bishop has treated this as if it was a legal issue when the legalities of this have already been settled.

“What we should be doing is the moral issue. I think the Bishop should have made a strong statement that these priests have let him down, let the Church down.

“But more importantly (they) have failed the most fundamental obligation of the Church, to protect children.”


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