Wollongong Catholic leaders to give evidence in royal commission

Former priest John Gerard Nestor, the handling of whose actions will be central to the commission's proceedings, before a 1996 court appearance.

Former priest John Gerard Nestor, the handling of whose actions will be central to the commission's proceedings, before a 1996 court appearance.

Some of Australia's most senior Catholic leaders - as well as key Wollongong church figures - will appear before the royal commission into child sexual abuse's investigation into Wollongong's Catholic Diocese over the next two weeks.

The public hearing, which begins in Sydney on Tuesday, is the first time the actions of the Catholic Church in Wollongong have come under the microscope of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

It will focus on how the diocese and the Vatican responded to allegations of sexual assault against then Father John Gerard Nestor in the 1990s.

The witness list includes Adelaide Archbishop Phillip Wilson, who was Wollongong's bishop from 1996 to 2000, and the general secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference Father Brian Lucas.

Last week, former premier Barry O'Farrell called for Fr Lucas to be sacked, after Commissioner Margaret Cunneen's report found he had failed to act since 1993 when he knew about child sexual abuse in the Newcastle Maitland Diocese.

Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Sydney and former Wollongong chancellor, Bishop Peter Comensoli will appear at the Wollongong hearing, as will current Bishop Peter Ingham and a number of other parish priests and senior figures.

Father Kevin Matthews will appear as the canonical advocate for Mr Nestor, who was a priest in the Wollongong diocese in 1991 when he was charged with the indecent assault of a teenage altar boy.

In his 1997 court case, the priest admitted he had slept on mattresses on the floor with the boy and his younger brother, but denied assaulting him.

During that court case, Tony Abbott - then a parliamentary secretary in the Howard government - described Fr Nestor as a "beacon of humanity" in a character reference.

The Wollongong magistrate found Fr Nestor guilty and sentenced him to jail, but seven months later he won an appeal and served no time.

But the Church never allowed him to return to the ministry and about five years ago he was struck off the clergy list by the Vatican, which said it had "grave reasons".

Last year, when Mr Nestor said he suspected the Church paid his alleged victim in return for evidence against him, the victim denied that and called for the case to be referred to the royal commission.

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