Child fondling was considered as a "moral problem" rather than a criminal act when altar boys first came forward with allegations, former Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Michael Malone told the Royal Commission yesterday, reports AAP/Nine News.
A group of boys, who served at St Joseph's at Merewether, told parents and teachers about sickening abuse suffered at the hands of Fr Vincent Ryan in 1975.
But Ryan was allowed to continue serving in the ministry unrestricted for another two decades before being arrested.
Bp Malone said it used to be the case that priests who offended against anybody could go to confession and be "forgiven of his sins."
"What about the touching of the genitals of a child? Was that seen as a moral problem or . . . a criminal act?" Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse chairman Peter McClellan asked yesterday.
"I think in the past it was considered as a moral problem," Bp Malone replied.
One of Ryan's victims, known as CNE, gave harrowing evidence about years of abuse in the 1980s, usually as the teenage altar boy returned his robes to the sacristy or when Ryan visited his grandparents' home.
He said a parishioner once walked in as the priest tried to force CNE to perform oral sex but just turned around and said nothing.
The Royal Commission heard the abuse caused CNE to be sexually inappropriate as a teenager and he went to jail in 2009 for abusing another child when he was 14.
Fr Ryan was in the same prison for sex crimes and the pair shared an exercise yard.
Church saw child abuse as moral, not criminal problem (AAP/Nine News)
Parishioner ‘turned a blind eye to priest’s abuse of altar boy’ (AAP/Australian)