|Priest "Told Me to Deny Affair"
By Nigel Hunt
September 7, 2008
THE former wife of the man who had an affair with Father John Fleming was pressured by the high-profile priest to deny knowledge of the relationship, it has been revealed.
The woman has told the Sunday Mail of a meeting she had with Father Fleming and his wife Alison, in which she was urged to "deny it" and asked who else she had told.
The revelation follows Father Fleming's denial of the homosexual affair and two other sexual encounters with teenage girls in the 1970s – one of which is the focus of a Pedophile Task Force investigation. The inquiry and the improper conduct by Father Fleming involving a teenager, "Jenny", and a young man, "Richard", were revealed in last week's Sunday Mail.
The teenage girls and the young man were not known to each other.
The Sunday Mail also revealed Catholic Church authorities – including, in one instance, Cardinal George Pell – were aware Father Fleming was the subject of allegations of sexual misconduct prior to him being appointed to head Campion College, a Catholic arts facility, in Sydney in 2005.
After being advised by the Sunday Mail of the police investigation and the apparent mishandling of the allegations, Catholic Archbishop Philip Wilson announced an independent inquiry by lawyer Michael Abbott, QC.
Following the Sunday Mail report, Father Fleming – who was ordained a Catholic priest in 1995 after defecting from the Anglican church – stood down from duties as a priest and Campion College until the two inquiries are completed. He released a statement denying he had "ever engaged in sexual or inappropriate behaviour with a minor" and rejected the allegations he had been sexually involved with either Jenny or Richard.
However, Richard's former wife Wendy said yesterday she was invited to Father Fleming's house after she had disclosed the affair to a case worker during marriage annulment proceedings.
She said it occurred in late 1994, shortly after the marriage tribunal chairperson had told then Catholic Archbishop Leonard Faulkner of the homosexual affair.
"John was wanting to clarify with me my motivations for disclosing to the marriage tribunal," Wendy said this week.
"I think they (John and Alison) were also trying to do a risk assessment because, basically, what they asked me to do was detail anybody I had spoken to and exactly what I had told them.
"They said if it got out to the media was I prepared to deny it.
"My response to that was I am happy to say I am not aware of it. John said, `No, that is not good enough, are you prepared to say no it didn't happen, you need to be prepared to say it didn't happen'.
"He said if I wasn't prepared to do that then he and Alison would move to England. I guess I felt a lot of pressure to make that commitment and I did make that commitment".
Wendy said she had decided to speak out following Father Fleming's denial of the affair.
"Basically, he was calling us liars and I guess that's what made me angry," she said. "My feeling before was if he took this on the chin or just said it was not appropriate to comment, then I didn't need to add fuel to the fire. But the statement was a personal attack on Richard for something John did and he is not prepared to apologise and say, `I did the wrong thing'."
Wendy said the 1994 meeting was the second time she had discussed her husband's affair with Father Fleming – the first was in 1986 when Richard told her about it.
She said in the 1986 meeting "John became quiet and apologised and was visibly shaken".
The woman at the centre of the PTF investigation, Jane, said Father Fleming's denial "was no surprise". "I didn't think he'd have the courage to confess," she said.
"Instead, he exhorts me to go to the police, even though it was made clear that I had made a police statement. I read this as code for `it will be your word against mine'.
"He must believe that his reputation will be proven superior to mine. But this isn't about reputation; it is about the truth and I am telling it."
Jane said Father Fleming's denial of their sexual liaison had "hit me hard". "I understand this pain is labelled re-victimisation," she said. "He has stirred up in me again those feelings of worthlessness and desperation. I could have coped with silence, but his denial feels like a threat."
Jenny said yesterday she was also upset at Father Fleming's response, particularly that her allegations were "unsubstantiated".
"The Catholic Church never investigated them, so how could he say they were unsubstantiated?" she said.
Father Fleming declined to comment when contacted through his lawyer Michael Sykes on Friday.
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