Commission hearing into relationship between Vatican and Bishop

Wollongong priest scrutinised

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will investigate the relationship between the Vatican and the Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, in his former role as Bishop of Wollongong, reports The Australian.

In a statement released yesterday, the Royal Commission said it would 'inquire into ... the response of the Catholic Diocese of Wollongong to allegations of child sexual abuse, and related criminal proceedings, against John Gerard Nestor.

'The hearing (in Sydney on June 24) will look at the relationship between the Diocesan Bishop (and, in his absence, the Diocesan Administrator) and the Holy See (Vatican) in matters concerning preventative and disciplinary action,' the statement said.

Shortly after his appointment to the Diocese, in 1997, local priest John Gerard Nestor was convicted of having indecently assaulted a 15-year-old boy several years earlier. Mr Nestor denied the charge and subsequently won an appeal to have the court’s decision overturned later the same year. But the Church ultimately declined to allow him to return to his work as a priest in the Wollongong diocese.

The Royal Commission is expected to hear that Mr Nestor appealed this decision to the Vatican, which decreed he be reinstated, only for the Wollongong diocese to challenge this ruling, which was itself overturned. The Vatican ultimately ordered that Mr Nestor be laicised, or forced to stand down from the clergy.

A spokeswoman for Archbishop Wilson said he 'welcomes the hearing into this matter and will co-operate fully,' but 'it would be inappropriate to comment any further.'

Francis Sullivan, the chief executive of the Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council, said: 'this is an example of where the Catholic Church in Australia had to press its case so that it could remove Father Nestor from active ministry. It will demonstrate the resolve at the Australian end and it will also demonstrate how long it took for the penny to drop at the Vatican end.'

The current Bishop of Wollongong, Peter Ingham, will also give evidence. In a statement yesterday, he said: 'I have been asked to appear before the Royal Commission in person, together with others who have held or hold a role relevant to the matter under consideration.'

During the initial court case, Tony Abbott gave character evidence in support of Mr Nestor, with whom he had studied at Sydney’s St Patrick’s Seminary during the 1980s. 'He was ... a beacon of humanity at the seminary,' said Mr Abbott, who was then a backbencher in the Federal Parliament and has since lost contact with the former priest.

FULL COVERAGE

Vatican defended an accused priest (The Australian)

Royal commission to investigate priest commended by Tony Abbott (Guardian Australia)

BISHOP INGHAM PASTORAL LETTER 

MESSAGE TO THE PEOPLE OF THE DIOCESE OF WOLLONGONG REGARDING THE ROYAL COMMISSION

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