Monsignor Patrick Cotter was the vicar-general of the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese in the 1970s. During his time, he had multiple paedophile priests working beneath him – but none so infamous as Father Vincent Ryan.
Ryan was a globe-trotting journeyman before he settled down in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese. He studied in Rome and London before returning to New South Wales in 1971 when he became an assistant-priest at the St John the Baptist parish in Maitland.
He later served in a parish in Newcastle. He was a respected pastor in the area and the people loved him – but he was hiding a monstrous secret, worse than his parishioners could have imagined.
Behind closed doors, the paedophile priest was abusing their children – and it went on for decades. It wasn’t until 1995 that he was arrested. It took two years before he was charged with 53 offences involving child sexual abuse, including but not limited to:
- Six counts of indecently assaulting four boys aged 10 – 12
- Five counts of intercourse with a boy by anal or oral penetration over a six year period when the boy was 10-years-old
- Two counts of indecency involving two boys
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese knew about the abuse allegations against Ryan as early as 1995. Rather than contacting the police, church leaders decided to send Ryan to Melbourne for a year to see psychiatrist Peter Evans.
Who recommended this?
Monsignor Patrick Cotter.
Cotter wrote to Doctor Evans in 1976 hoping that the paedophile priest could be cured of his interest in altar-boys.
“I hope you will be able to help him with his problem because I know if he can be cured, he can be a most effective priest,” Cotter wrote.
Doctor Evans was later questioned by the Royal Commission about the letter. Doctor Evans said he offered an “assessment”, not treatment, and described the church’s hope for a cure for paedophilia as “unrealistic”.
The sessions were confidential and Doctor Evans hoped Cotter would be responsible and contact the police.
This is not what happened.
Ryan was allowed to come back to the Newcastle-Maitland Diocese a year later, not cured and no less attracted to children. He was allowed to continue working in ministry with full access to children. He continued abusing altar boys.
In the 1980s, he was promoted to parish priest and over the next decade, he was awarded three parish appointments throughout New South Wales. He was sent to work in rural areas where he kept molesting children.
The Melbourne cover-up was uncovered in 1995 when two victims decided to report the abuse to New South Wales authorities. Within a few months, Newcastle news sources were reporting an “unnamed priest” who had been arrested for child sexual abuse charges.
The story of “Sylvester” also came to light around this time. According to court proceeding, Ryan sexually abused Sylvester more than 200 times from the age of 10. Ryan groomed the boy with pornographic movies and magazines.
He would also gather the altar boys after mass and masturbate them or force them to have anal sex with each other.
Ryan was initially given a two-year jail sentence which outraged parishioners and the families alike. Bishop Michael Malone refused to defrock Ryan, stating “Vincent Ryan is still a priest until such time as he wants to leave the priesthood and return to the lay state — that would be his decision.”
During police investigations, a letter was found from Cotter regarding Ryan’s crimes. In the letter, Cotter stated he knew about Ryan’s love of altar boys but “chose to do nothing”.
The police considered charging Cotter for this – however, Cotter was in his 80’s by the time the letter was found, so they decided against it.
This “do nothing” approach has been a major contributing factor to the continuing problem of paedophilia in the Catholic Church. Many priests have chosen to remain quiet or cover up the crimes of paedophiles to save face and protect the church.
This kind of behaviour needs to be weeded out of churches and institutions and stopped for good. Lives have been ruined due to this disgusting, disrespectful attitude whereby the interests of the Catholic Church have been preferred to the interests of the victims.
Get the justice you deserve with Kelso Lawyers. We want to hear your story. Call (02) 4907 4200 or complete the online form before you accept payment from the National Redress Scheme.