Catholic Bishop Bill Wright orders priest’s name taken off Gateshead school building but will not say why

Newcastle Herald [Newcastle, Australia]

April 24, 2021

By Ian Kirkwood

The name the “Roger Kennedy Centre” has been removed from a hall at St Mary’s Catholic College, Gateshead, but the Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle, Bill Wright, will not say why.

The diocesan refusal to explain its actions coincides with its call for public help – including through the Newcastle Herald – to plan a memorial to the victims and survivors of its sexually abusing clergy and teachers.

Monsignor Roger Kennedy, a long-serving priest at Gateshead, died in 1994.

Robert O’Toole, a co-founder of the Clergy Abused Network (CAN), said Kennedy stands accused of historical sexual abuse of both boys and girls.

“Monsignor Kennedy was at Muswellbrook, New Lambton, Kurri Kurri, Newcastle, Carrington and Gateshead,” Mr O’Toole said. “CAN is aware of allegations of abuse against Monsignor Kennedy in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.”

Mr O’Toole said he told Bishop Wright about the allegations in December.

Mr O’Toole said he told Bishop Wright about the allegations in December.

Mr O’Toole said Bishop Wright had said it was the first he had heard of anything against Monsignor Kennedy.

“He told me he had checked the Broken Rites website and there was nothing about Kennedy on it,” Mr O’Toole said.

“My response is why would he need to check with Broken Rites?”

Mr O’Toole said he believed the diocesan abuse response arm, Zimmerman Service, had been advised about six years ago of allegations against Monsignor Kennedy.

Roger Kennedy Centre: The building in question as seen from the Pacific Highway at Gateshead. The church and school are refusing to say publicly why Monsignor Kennedy's name has been removed. Picture: Ian Kirkwood
Roger Kennedy Centre: The building in question as seen from the Pacific Highway at Gateshead. The church and school are refusing to say publicly why Monsignor Kennedy’s name has been removed. Picture: Ian Kirkwood

If that was the case, it seemed that Zimmerman Services had not kept the bishop informed.

Zimmerman services, like Bishop Wright through the diocesan office, responded with “no comment” when the Herald asked about the allegations.

Because Bishop Wright will not confirm what happened, the Herald is using non-official sources to reconstruct the events that led to the removal of Monsignor Kennedy’s name from the hall titled after him.

Mr O’Toole and other sources who spoke with the Herald said parishioners were told during a mass in March that the Roger Kennedy Centre was being renamed because of allegations against him.

Parishioners were told to contact Zimmerman Services if they wanted to know any more, and Mr O’Toole said the church had refused to provide a copy of the statement that was read out at the mass.

Mr O’Toole said Monsignor Kennedy had come to the Hunter from Ireland.

An article in the May 2, 1960, edition of the diocesan journal, the Newcastle and Maitland Catholic Sentinel, describes “Fr [Father] Roger Kennedy” – before his elevation to Monsignor – as the “Organising Secretary” of the diocesan Provident Fund, which was used to provide money to parish projects, including school buildings.

Mr O’Toole said Monsignor Kennedy had not come to public attention at the peak of the reappraisal of Catholic clerical behaviour, and his name did not appear in a search of Child Abuse Royal Commission documents.

But Mr O’Toole said CAN was aware of nine allegations against Monsignor Kennedy. He described the alleged behaviour by the late priest as “serious” abuse.

He agreed it was unusual that Monsignor Kennedy would be accused of abuse against both girls and boys.

Most of the Catholic figures accused of sexual crimes against children perpetrated their advances on boys, but there have been exceptions, including the notorious Denis McAlinden, whose crimes against girls were thoroughly canvased during the Royal Commission.

Mr O’Toole said the church repeatedly insisted it had “changed” and was “listening to people”.

He said its refusal to say anything to the public about the Kennedy matter – even after it had acknowledged the validity of the complaints against him by removing his name from the school hall – smacked of arrogance or a failure to understand its public obligations.

In discussions with NSW Police, the Herald was told that because Monsignor Kennedy had died in 1994, there would have been nothing to “investigate”, as such, if people came forward, because the alleged perpetrator had died, there would be no “case” to pursue.

This meant anyone alleging abuse at the hands of Monsignor Kennedy would have to lodge a civil suit or engage in negotiations with the church for recognition and compensation.

NSW Police said Strike Force Georgiana had resulted in at least 18 arrests and about 600 charges since it began in March 2008.

Police advise anyone with information about child sexual abuse to contact Lake Macquarie Police or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000