Church abuse inquiry hears of ‘‘selective recall’’

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\A FORMER vicar-general of Maitland-Newcastle Diocese, Father William Burston, has blamed a lack of recall on having had 10 general anaesthetics in eight years.

In the first session of Thursday’s hearings at the special commission of inquiry, Father Burston said he ‘‘could not recall’’ – or words to that effect – more than 30 times.

The trend continued after the morning break, with dozens more questions being answered in similar fashion before the commission broke for lunch at 1pm.

Counsel assisting the inquiry David Kell put it to Father Burston that he had ‘‘no difficulty’’ remembering some things but could not appear to remember anything to do with ‘‘decisions or documents’’.

He suggested Father Burston had ‘‘selective recall’’, but Father Burston disputed this.

He was backed by counsel for the diocese Lachlan Gyles, who objected more than once to Mr Kell’s questioning.

In a section of evidence on convicted paedophile Jim Fletcher, who died in jail in 2006, Father Burston said repeatedly he had no recall of having known about any problems with him and boys until victim AH made his allegation in June 2002.

Asked by Mr Kell, he said he was unable to recall the detail of conversations with Fletcher or with Bishop Malone about the Fletcher case.

Commissioner Margaret Cunneen asked Father Burston about conversations he had had with Fletcher while providing ‘‘pastoral care’’.

Answering Ms Cunneen, Father Burston said there was little opportunity to discuss the detail of the case.

‘‘He showed me the brief of evidence and when I said that could be believed he’d change the subject,’’ Father Burston said.

Fletcher had said that AH had never stayed overnight with him, but Father Burston said he had put it to Fletcher that this was not true, and that AH had stayed overnight.

Mr Kell also took Father Burston to a February 2003 conversation between him and John Davoren of the church’s Professional Standards Office.

Mr Kell said Mr Davoren had recommended standing Fletcher down as a priest.

He put it to Father Burston that he had told Mr Davoren that AH had been displaying ‘‘bizarre behaviour’’ for four years and that this matter was just another symptom of his ‘‘pyschological disturbance’’.

Father William Burston leaves Newcastle Supreme court followed by protestor Pat Garnet of Newcastle on Wednesday at the Special Commission of Inquiry into the handling of child abuse allegations by the Catholic church. Picture Darren Pateman

Father Burston said he did not recall this, but he agreed with Mr Kell that he did not believe the diocese had enough evidence in February 2003 to stand Fletcher down.

The inquiry will continue on Thursday afternoon.


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