Sir Norman Gilroy, the then Archbishop of Sydney, suspended a priest who exposed himself to children but later returned to parish work and allegedly abused a boy, documents before the child abuse royal commission reveal, The Australian reports.
The Catholic Church's insurance company refused to cover a claim that Fr Robert Alban McNeill abused a boy in the 1980s because of Sydney archdiocese's prior knowledge in 1969/1970 of "the offender's propensities".
A 2004 Catholic Church Insurances Ltd letter to the Diocese of Broken Bay said Fr McNeill's 1970 conviction for sexual offences involving children was brought to Cardinal Gilroy's attention at the time.
Cardinal Gilroy, who was Archbishop of Sydney from 1940 to 1971, became the first Australian-born member of the Sacred College of Cardinals in 1946 and was the 1970 Australian of the Year.
Tendered documents released by the commission show Fr McNeill was fined for exposing himself to children in 1969 and 1970 when he said he was suffering from depression and a nervous breakdown.
Cardinal Gilroy suspended Fr McNeill, who refused to be laicised, and placed him with the Brothers of St Gerard Majella for six years, also allowing him to do some "supply work".
Fr McNeill claimed Cardinal Gilroy apologised before dying in 1977.
He intimated the apology excused his behaviour because he was ill, and Cardinal Gilroy then allowed him to return to a parish, a 2002 report for the Sydney archdiocese said.
That investigation into a complaint first made to the church in 1997, alleging Fr McNeill abused a boy from 1959 to 1964, found Cardinal Gilroy appropriately suspended the priest.
The report said Cardinal Gilroy and the Church later lacked discretion in placing Fr McNeill back into the parish community without an appropriate medical assessment, noting there were no protocols in place at the time.
Cardinal 'knew about priest's conviction' (The Australian)
Responding to sexual abuse and its aftermath (Melbourne Catholic)