The bishop, the priest, and the sins of omission

The Age

January 28, 2018

By Farrah Tomazin

On a Winter evening in 2016, dozens of churchgoers gathered at a local primary school in the NSW Riverina to bid farewell to the town’s most-senior religious figure.

Gerard Hanna had been the bishop of Wagga Wagga for 14 years, a servant of God who led a diocese of 66,000 Catholics in 31 parishes.

But here, in the refurbished sports stadium at Henschke Primary School, Bishop Hanna was set to step down sooner than expected, citing “continuous ill health” as the reason for his early retirement.

It was about two weeks before he was due to give evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

As the tributes flowed, few in the room would have known that this church leader was harbouring a secret.

Decades earlier, while working as the administrator of a parish in Tamworth East, Hanna had been embroiled in a cover-up involving John Joseph Farrell – the notorious paedophile now serving a maximum 29-year jail term for a decade-long reign of abuse against children. At least two of those victims ended up taking their own lives.

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