POLL: Clergy to give evidence in private

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SENIOR members of the Catholic clergy will give evidence behind closed doors when an inquiry into the handling of allegations of child sex abuse by Hunter Valley priests resumes next month.

The list of more than 20 witnesses released during a short hearing in Sydney on Tuesdayincluded Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle William Wright, who will be called to give evidence publicly at the start of the inquiry’s next phase on July 1 and at its conclusion.

His predecessor Bishop Michael Malone will also appear as well as Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, and a number of police, clergy and abuse victims of Father James Fletcher and Father Denis McAlinden.

Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson will be among at least half a dozen witnesses to give evidence in closed hearings. Another will be Peter Gogarty, a victim of Fletcher, who had sought to give evidence publicly.

Counsel assisting the inquiry Julia Lonergan SC said some evidence needed to be given in camera, because of ongoing police investigations into the alleged concealment of child abuse offences.

But she emphasised no adverse inference should be drawn against those who gave evidence that way.

The first phase of the inquiry focused on police inquiries into abuse, including allegations from Mr Fox that senior police interfered with investigations.

Further evidence will be taken later this month from other officers and Herald journalist Joanne McCarthy, before the second phase gets underway.

Commissioner Margaret Cunneen SC also dismissed on Tuesdaya request from lawyers for the NSW Police Force that she refer Mr Fox to the Registrar of the Supreme Court for possible contempt proceedings over a tweet described as inaccurate that he sent during a previous hearing.

On May 13, Detective Inspector Dave Waddell gave evidence that at the time of May 2010 a strike force was ‘‘essentially closed’’.

Using social media, Mr Fox tweeted: ‘‘Detective Inspector Waddell gives evidence that in May 2010 he was closing down Strike Force Georgiana investigating child sex abuse by Hunter clergy’’.

Tweeting about evidence alone did not necessarily constitute contempt, and its substance was unlikely to influence the evidence of other witnesses, namely police officers, Ms Cunneen found.

If the tweet was inaccurate ‘‘I would not be prepared to find that it was deliberately so’’, she wrote in her decision.

Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson will be among at least half a dozen witnesses to give evidence in closed hearings.

But she would ‘‘firmly discourage’’ other witnesses from similar conduct.

‘‘Such practice may distract from the important work being undertaken by the inquiry,’’ Ms Cunneen found.

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