Pedophile priest John Farrell was allowed to return to public ministry in NSW just two months after being forced on ‘‘sick leave’’ due to complaints he had abused altar boys.
At a 1984 meeting of church leaders in Armidale the decision was made to send Farrell, then in his 30s, to the East Tamworth parish in northern NSW despite allegations he’d abused a number of boys while an assistant priest at Moree, the child sex abuse royal commission heard.
Bishop of Wagga Wagga Gerard Hanna, then a priest at East Tamworth, said the then-Bishop of Armidale, Henry Kennedy, had assumed two months was long enough to allow for any of Farrell’s victims to come forward.
‘‘He constantly resorted to the phrase, ’no one has come forward, there are no charges. There’s no reason why he can’t be put back into ministry’,’’ Bishop Hanna said on Wednesday.
The reasons for Farrell’s removal from Moree were kept quiet, the bishop said, and there was no report to the police or public inquiry.
When he asked Bishop Kennedy for details about what Farrell had done he was told, ‘‘It’s that usual thing, he was messing around with altar boys’’ and ‘‘you have got to regard him as a big risk and give him restricted ministry and keep an eye on him’’.
In Tamworth Farrell was forbidden from conducting school masses and given limited access to children, which he ‘‘deeply resented’’, according to Bishop Hanna.In 1987 he was charged with a string of sexual offences relating to a boy at Narrabri, but a magistrate ruled there was insufficient evidence for a trial.
After the charges were dismissed, Bishop Kennedy wanted Farrell to stay in Tamworth but Bishop Hanna thought he should have been sent to live in a disused Bondi convent with other priests.
He told the commission Bishop Kennedy should have acted decisively to stop Farrell from working with children.
‘‘I think he should have decided that there was no place for John Farrell in the diocese, in fact, anywhere, where he would exercise priestly ministry,’’ the bishop said.
The hearing continues.
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