Nestor claims church 'paid' alleged victim

Former Catholic priest John Nestor.
Former Catholic priest John Nestor.

A former Catholic priest laicised by the Vatican after a child abuse case says he suspects the church paid the alleged victim in return for evidence against him.

John Gerard Nestor was a priest in the Wollongong Diocese in NSW when he was charged with the indecent assault of a 15-year-old altar boy in 1991.

He was convicted and sentenced to 16 months in jail in Wollongong Local Court on February 18, 1997.

But in October of that year, he won an appeal against the conviction, serving no time behind bars.

Tony Abbott, who was then-parliamentary secretary in the Howard government, provided a character reference for Mr Nestor in the lower court, describing him as a "beacon of humanity".

Mr Nestor now alleges the complainant in the case received compensation by the church.

"I suspect - and I have reason to say it, I don't know it [for sure] - that he was promised money in return for giving evidence against me, by the church or officials of the church," he said.

"Because they didn't particularly like me."

A spokesperson for the office of Bishop Peter Ingham, the Bishop of Wollongong, said the diocese categorically denied the claims.

Mr Nestor also said he does not want the case referred to the royal commission on child sex abuse, which is set to examine institutional handling of abuse allegations.

"Mistakes have been made in my regard and I want the church to concentrate and focus on what it needs to be doing - bringing the gospel to the people," he said.

Following the successful appeal, Mr Nestor applied to the Catholic Church to be reinstated into priestly ministry, but the church never allowed him to return.

The then-Wollongong Bishop, Philip Wilson, now Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide, advised Mr Nestor in writing that, "significant additional material that I have received ... has been a cause of worry concerning your suitability for a further pastoral appointment in this diocese, or any other".

Mr Nestor appealed to the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy, which decreed he be reinstated in 2001.

But in 2009, following lengthy appeals by the Wollongong diocese, the Vatican officially struck Mr Nestor off the clergy list for "grave reasons".

Mr Nestor said that while he accepted the decision, the church had embarked on a decade-long campaign to remove him because it was "embarrassed" by the Vatican's initial ruling in his favour in 2001.

"When I appealed to the Vatican, they saw it as a threat," he said.

"They went to a great deal of trouble to find out what they could get against me."

He said the "additional material" uncovered by Archbishop Wilson was questionable and not as "strong" as the allegations aired in court.

"Some of them were extremely minor," he said.

"One was that I'd put my hand on the shoulder of a boy after a game of cricket."