Fr Dennis John Corrigan is acquitted on child-sex charges


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    (Article updated 19 February 2012)

A Catholic priest, Father Dennis John Corrigan, has appeared in court in New South Wales, where he successfully pleaded not guilty to charges of having indecently assaulted a 12-year-old boy on two occasions in the late 1980s while Corrigan was ministering in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese.

Father Corrigan, born in April 1942, was originally charged with sexual offences against three boys. At an early court appearance in Newcastle Local Court, New South Wales, on 19 October 2010, the prosecution alleged that the incidents occurred in the Windale area, in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese, north of Sydney, between December 1987 and May 1988. The prosecution alleged that the boys were under Father Corrigan's authority at the time of the alleged incidents.

According to court documents, Father Corrigan served in the Philippines and in Melbourne and Tasmania before he arrived in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese in the 1980s. He worked for the Glendale parish before being appointed to the Windale parish. He was living in the presbytery at St Pius X parish at Windale where, according to the prosecution, he was alleged to have molested three boys over a period of several months.

One of the complainants told police he still had scars on his penis from the abuse he allegedly suffered.

Another of the complainants told police of an incident when Father Corrigan visited the boy's home. The complainant's statement said that Father Corrigan was intoxicated as he sat on the lounge-room floor drinking from a brown paper bag and playing with a flick knife in a way that scared the complainant.

One of the complainants stated that he was molested when he was at the Windale presbytery to do odd jobs. Another alleged that he was abused when he stayed overnight at the presbytery.

Father Corrigan was admitted to hospital in March 1988 for "burnout issues", the court documents said.

Police interviewed Corrigan in 2004 after allegations were made and he denied any wrongdoing. He was interviewed again in 2009 and 2010 before being arrested and charged.

The police investigation was conducted by Lake Macquarie Detectives, based at Charlestown, NSW.

In the Newcastle Local Court on 9 February 2011, a magistrate ordered Father Corrigan to stand trial, with a judge, in the NSW District Court on charges relating to the three boys.

One complainant died

Corrigan's trial was scheduled to start on 23 May, 2011. However, in April 2011 the District Court was told that one of the complainants has died.

Father Corrigan's barrister told the court that the deceased man's evidence was crucial to many of the 14 charges that Corrigan was facing.

On 23 May 2011 the court was told that, because of the death, the prosecution would proceed with fewer charges.

In August 2011, Corrigan's lawyer applied for a judge-only trial but the court insisted on having a jury.

Contesting the charges

In February 2012, a jury in Sydney began hearing a trial in which Corrigan was charged with having assaulted a 12-year-old boy while serving at the St Pius X parish at Windale in the late 1980s.

Corrigan pleaded not guilty to two incidents of indecent assault that were alleged to have occurred between late 1987 and early 1988, including one incident at the Windale presbytery when he invited the boy to stay overnight at the Windale presbytery.

The complainant told the court that he first met Father Corrigan after a Mass. He had walked past the presbytery and spoken on a few occasions to Father Corrigan, who would offer him a glass of milk. The priest soon met the boy's parents.

On one Friday, Father Corrigan invited him to stay at the presbytery for the weekend.

"[Him] being a priest, mum had said 'Yeah that'd be OK'," the man told the court.

The complainant said that, on this night at the presbytery, Father Corrigan asked if he wanted to sleep in the priest's bed or on a mattress in his bedroom.

The complainant chose the lounge, but said he was woken by Fr Corrigan lifting him and carrying him to the bedroom.

The complainant said that Fr Corrigan lay next to him in bed and they fell asleep, but he awoke again to find his pants pulled down.

He said the priest held his shoulders and began kissing his mouth before Mr Corrigan placed his penis between the boy's legs.

The prosecutor told the jury that the complainant could not recall the precise date of the assaults because of his young age at the time and the "bewildering and frightening experience". The prosecutor said that Father Corrigan offered "no credible explanation" for why he invited the boy to stay overnight.

But Mr Corrigan's barrister argued that there were contradictions between the complainant's evidence in court and statements that a private investigator for the Catholic Church had obtained from the complainant.

On 9 February, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty.

Footnote

After working at the Windale parish in 1988, Fr Dennis Corrigan's name vanished from the annual editions of the Directory of Australian Catholic Clergy during the 1990s. His name re-appeared in the editions from 1999 to 2001 as the administrator acting in charge of St Mary's parish, Dungog in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese.

In the 2002 edition he was listed as "on leave", care of the Maitland-Newcastle diocesan office.

In the directory for 2003, Reverend Dennis Corrigan was listed as assistant priest, St Patrick's parish, Wallsend, Maitland-Newcastle diocese. In 2004 he was listed as a chaplain at Sandgate, Maitland-Newcastle diocese.

In 2005 and 2006 he was listed as on leave, care of the diocesan office. On 20 October 2010, Broken Rites found "Rev. Dennis Corrigan" listed on the Maitland-Newcastle diocese website, "care of the diocesan office".

In April 2009 in a totally separate matter, Father Dennis John Corrigan was convicted and fined $2400 after pleading guilty to high-range drink-driving and negligent driving after his car crashed into a parked car in a Mayfield hotel car-park in October 2008. He was found to have a blood-alcohol reading of 0.210.