Historic Background

Historical Context: Paedophile Inquiry

The Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle has had a troubled history regarding issues of child protection and the sexual abuse of children, perpetrated by clergy, religious and laity associated with the Diocese. This history has caused harm to the victims of abuse, their families and the broader faith community.

The Diocese was not alone in struggling with issues of child abuse.

Between 1994 and 1997, the Royal Commission into NSW Police, under Justice James Wood, uncovered a litany of systemic failures across all areas of child protection in NSW. Volume 1 of the Royal Commission's report said:


1.25: A very disturbing picture of neglect, indifference and concealment has emerged during the investigation extending to almost every aspect of the preventative, investigative and prosecution process. Serious deficiencies in the existing structures and procedures for the protection of children by those agencies and institutions responsible for their care have been highlighted, along with an appalling lack of co-ordination of effort or commitment. There was an equally disturbing picture of the breadth and nature of the criminal activity involved.

The Royal Commission's investigation into the systemic failures of NSW government departments, community agencies and religious institutions to protect children became known as The Paedophile Inquiry, which remains the single most comprehensive investigation and analysis of child protection in NSW. As part of the Paedophile Inquiry, churches in NSW, including the Catholic Church, were assessed.

View The Royal Commission into NSW Police reports.

From the Paedophile Inquiry a number of sweeping reforms were enacted which reshaped the nature of child protection in NSW, including:

  • Broad based mandatory reporting for persons working with children or their supervisors,
  • Pre-employment screening for persons seeking to work with children,
  • The NSW Ombudsman oversighting child protection practices within services working with children.

Development of Child Protection in the Diocese

In the first decade of Bishop Michael Malone's stewardship of Maitland-Newcastle, two Diocesan priests (Vincent Gerard Ryan and James Fletcher) had been charged and convicted of various child sexual assaults.

Bishop Malone directed that a comprehensive review of child protection systems across all diocesan services was conducted. The review recommended a centralised discrete unit for the management of all child protection and serious professional conduct matters. Consequently, in 2005 the Diocesan Child Protection and Professional Conduct Unit was established to assist the Bishop in managing the emerging challenges of child sexual abuse, help address the legacy of harm that the abuse has left and to meet changing legislative requirements. The Unit incorporated and built on the work done by the child protection team in the Catholic Schools Office and Centacare (now known as CatholicCare Social Services).

In 2007, Zimmerman House was established in the former Josephite convent, Carrington. Zimmerman House was named in honour of the former diocesan Chancellor Sr Beverly Zimmerman rsj, who was known throughout the diocese for her work and studies in Catholic Education, Church history, ecclesiology, ethics and morality.

Zimmerman House included in its mandate a commitment to walk "with survivors throughout their healing journey. We believe that healing can be achieved through a variety of therapies and strategies." Zimmerman House was designed to stand as a place of safety and healing.

In 2009 the advent of Insights provided an enriched understanding into the complexities and inter-relationships between individual harm and collective hurt, as the Diocese began to explore the ongoing consequences on a communal level of historic child sexual assault that occurred in the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

Cunneen Special Commission of Inquiry

During a regional campaign led by a number of survivors of child sexual abuse and the Newcastle Herald ('Shine the Light') calling for a commission of inquiry former Police Officer Peter Fox gave an interview on ABC Lateline on 8 November 2012. On the following day Premier Barry O'Farrell announced an inquiry into Fox's allegations.

On 21 November 2012 Ms Margaret Cunneen SC was appointed Special Commissioner by Letters Patent issued in the name of the Governor of New South Wales, under the Special Commissions of Inquiry Act 1983. Additional Letters Patent were issued on 25 January 2013 which established two terms of reference looking particularly at two abusive priests, Denis McAlinden and James Fletcher:

  1. The circumstances in which Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox was asked to cease investigating relevant matters and whether it was appropriate to do so; and
  2. Whether, and the extent to which, officials of the Catholic Church facilitated, assisted, or co-operated with, Police investigations of relevant matters, including whether any investigation has been hindered or obstructed by, amongst other things, the failure to report alleged criminal offences, the discouraging of witnesses to come forward, the alerting of alleged offenders to possible police actions, or the destruction of evidence.

From before the announcement of the Special Commission, Bishop Bill Wright had supported an independent inquiry into issues related to historic child sexual assault within the Church and led the Diocese in its support of the Special Commission. You are able to read about the Diocese's interactions with the Special Commission of Inquiry.


On 30 May 2014 Special Commissioner Cunneen submitted the report of the Special Commission of Inquiry into matters relating to the police investigation of certain child sexual abuse allegations in the Catholic Diocese of Maitland–Newcastle to the Govenor:

My report consists of three volumes, together with a confidential volume. Pursuant to s.10(3) 01 the Act, I recommend that Volumes 1 to 3 of my report be made public.... Volume 4 of my report contains material that was dealt with on a confidential basis (including evidence taken in-camera). Publication of such material at this time could prejudice future criminal proceedings. I therefore recommend that publication of Volume 4 be deferred...

The Commissioner's findings, among other things, showed that senior Diocesan leaders knew of the deceased priest Denis McAlinden's sexual abuse of children since 1976, perhaps as early as 1954; and failed to take any meaningful action that stopped McAlinden predating on the children of the Diocese, Western Australia, New Zealand and probably Papua New Guinea and the Philippines.
You can read Volumes 1-3 of the Special Commission of Inquiry report.

Current Structure of Services

The Diocese's understanding of the needs of people affected by abuse continues to evolve. Where once people were largely isolated and there were few (if any) supports available, now there are a number of advocacy and support groups. People who have been affected by abuse don't necessarily want a specific building; they want services that suit their individual needs.

Further, the combination of investigative services with healing services led to issues of conflict of interest. It was important to safeguard the integrity of the diocese's investigative service and strengthen the independence of healing services.

In response to changing needs; child protection and healing services have evolved into a more holistic response, collectively known as Zimmerman Services; established in July 2011 with the physical move of the services to its current location at 845 Hunter Street. A year later Zimmerman Services relocated again to it's current home at 50 Crebert Street, Mayfield.



Zimmerman -Services -Structure -2016-july


(click for larger version)