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Priest jailed for sexually abusing altar boy

A Maitland-Newcastle Dioceses priest has been sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in jail for child sex offences committed against an altar boy.

The ABC reports that Fr James Patrick Fletcher was a parish priest in the Maitland District in the Hunter Valley of NSW. Last year he was found guilty of nine child sex offences relating to the repeated sexual abuse of a teenage boy between 1989 and 1991. The offences were committed in Maitland, Dungog and Patterson.

In sentencing in the District Court in Sydney yesterday, judge Graham Armitage said Fletcher was a close friend of the victim's family. The family were parishioners at his church and often invited the 63-year-old into their home.

Judge Armitage described Fletcher's crimes as a gross and inexcusable breach of trust, for which he had not expressed any remorse. He sentenced Fletcher to a total jail term of 10 years. He will be eligible for parole in 2012.

Bishop Michael Malone of Maitland-Newcastle (pictured) said his primary consideration is the care to be extended to Fr Fletcher's victims. Stressing that he would accept the Court's judgment, he said it is not appropriate for him to comment on the sentence, "which will be considered inadequate by some or too severe by others".

"Victims of sexual abuse and their families must be supported by their parish and community and not be subjected to victimisation or damaging innuendo," he said. "We must not let them be criticised or ostracised for coming forward; in fact they should be thanked for bringing abuse out into the open."

Bishop Malone stated categorically that Fr Fletcher "will never again exercise ministry as a priest".

"When James Fletcher is released from prison, it is the responsibility of the bishop of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle to ensure close supervision and careful monitoring of his behaviour," he said.

The Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle is establishing a diocesan-wide child protection unit to try to prevent instances of abuse within the Church. This unit will also offer support to all affected by abuse within the Church. The unit has a toll free telephone number - 1800 234 050 - which is available so that individuals and groups can discuss their response to this situation with professional facilitators or counsellors.

Meanwhile the barrister acting on behalf of two former members of St John of God Order has told a Sydney Court that they should not be extradited to New Zealand to face serious child sex abuse charges because they would not get a fair trial.

The Order has fought for more than a year to stop Fr Raymond John Garchow, 57, and Br Rodger Maloney, 69, being sent to New Zealand to face charges in relation to alleged systemic abuse of boys by several members of the religious order at a Christchurch school for orphans and intellectually disabled children, Marylands, between 1955 and 1980.

In ordering the men's extradition in February, Magistrate Hugh Dillon likened the New Zealand case to a "war crimes' proceeding", saying the doubt lay not in proving the abuse had happened at the Marylands school, but who was involved and to what extent.

The two had argued that they were too old and sick to be surrendered. Maloney faces 28 charges, including sodomy, of allegedly assaulting 12 boys as young as eight between 1971 and 1977 at Marylands. Garchow faces four charges of an indecent act on two pupils, aged between eight and 11, between 1971 and 1980.

Yesterday, the men's defence barrister, Paul Byrne, SC, said the prospects of his clients obtaining a fair trial were diminished because New Zealand, unlike Australia, allows for joint trials.

Pictured: Bishop Michael Malone of Maitland-Newcastle

Priest jailed for sexually abusing altar boy (ABC News 11/4/05)
Statement from Bishop Michael Malone regarding Sentencing of James Fletcher (Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle 11/4/05)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle
Towards Healing protocol (Australian Catholic Bishops Conference)
St John of God Health Services

NSW bishop apologises over abuse (CathNews 7/12/04)
NSW bishop goes public on priest charged with abuse (CathNews 15/5/03)
Employment Commission denies ombudsman investigating Church (CathNews 16/5/03)
Extra protection for John of God accused (CathNews 16/2/05)
St John of God priest and brother to be extradited (CathNews 15/2/05)
Brothers face extradition to NZ to face abuse charges (CathNews 1/12/03)
Order head says give abuse victims benefit of doubt (CathNews 14/10/03)
John of God Order condemns tactics of NZ law firm (CathNews 6/8/03)
Sex abuse complainant admits lying to get payout (CathNews 3/7/03)
Brother suspended over sex claims (CathNews 5/7/02)
St John of God Brothers to pay out $3.6 million (CathNews 13/6/02)

NZ clergymen on sex charges begin appeal against extradition (ABC Radio Australia 11/4/05)
Priest sentenced to 7.5 years ( Associated Press 11/4/05)
Clergymen fight extradition ( Associated Press 11/4/05)
Ex-Catholic priest jailed for sex abuse (Sydney Morning Herald/Australian Associated Press 12/4/05)
Clergy won't get fair trial: barrister (Sydney Morning Herald 12/4/05)

12 Apr 2005