The Sydney Catholic hierarchy allowed a troublesome priest to roam free — and one victim later committed suicide

By a Broken Rites researcher

In 2006, the Sydney Catholic archdiocese was embarrassed by a serious revelation — that, for 37 years, the church had allowed a sexually abusive priest, Father Denis Daly, to wander around the world as a "locum" (relieving) priest, thereby putting children at risk.

Daly shuffled between Australia, the United States, England and Ireland. He carried a letter from the Sydney archdiocese, certifying that he had ministered in Sydney as a priest. The letter hid the fact that Daly had been in trouble with the New South Wales police. It was only if the Sydney diocese was asked by other dioceses for fuller details that Sydney ever mentioned what it called his "moral lapse". Thus, Daly was able to offend overseas. And he was able to do this easily because the church specifically clothed him with the authority of a priest.

Complaints about Father Daly have emerged in Australia and Ireland.

Because of the church's behaviour, one victim in Ireland ended up committing suicide.

The Australian background

Born in Ireland, Father Denis Daly trained for the Catholic priesthood at St Patrick's College seminary in Carlow, Ireland. In 1951, fresh from the seminary, he travelled to Australia where he was recruited by the Sydney archdiocese under Cardinal Norman Thomas Gilroy. It is unclear why Daly left Ireland or how he came to be accepted by Sydney. Although he was trained in Ireland, Daly's ordination took place in Sydney, not Ireland, according to one Irish report.

During the next 12 years, to 1963, Daly served in Sydney parishes at Forest Lodge, Manly and Beverly Hills and also at a St John of God establishment in Richmond, western Sydney.

In 1963 the New South Wales police investigated Daly about a certain matter. Daly's file in the Sydney Archdiocesan office described the police complaint as a "moral lapse". The police agreed not to prosecute Daly if the church removed him from New South Wales. The Sydney archdiocese then arranged for Daly to serve in Western Australia — a move which required negotiations between bishops in the two states. Thus, the Sydney archdiocese shifted Daly out of sight, allowing him to become someone else's problem. Catholics in Western Australia were not told why Father Daly was arriving in their state.

[For decades, according to research by Broken Rites, the church has often shunted troublesome priests from the eastern states to Western Australia and vice versa.]

In 1966, after three years in Western Australia, the Sydney archdiocese accepted Daly back in Sydney, to work at the Penshurst parish. But, again, the New South Wales police wanted him run out of town. According to the church file on Daly, Sydney’s Cardinal Gilroy wrote: "I recalled Father Daly to Sydney in the expectation that the three years' absence would have satisfied the requirements of the police. In this I was mistaken."

A complaint in Ireland

So Daly left Australia and was later allowed to serve in a parish in San Francisco. He also sought locum work in England before heading back to Ireland.

In 1978 the Bishop of Connor and Down in Ireland considered appointing Daly as a diocesan priest and asked Sydney for a character reference. Sydney replied that Daly had left "this archdiocese under a cloud because of a moral lapse".

Daly was eventually accepted as a locum in another Irish diocese, Limerick. Evidently, Limerick failed to ask Sydney for full details about Daly's record, which amounts to negligence by both Limerick and Sydney.

Thus, Daly served as a relieving priest in Limerick diocese from 1978 until 1987.

In 1980-81, Daly allegedly raped 11-year-old Peter McCloskey in the parish of Christ the King at Caherdavin, Limerick. According to Peter, the offences occurred in the church’s sacristy before and after Mass.

Like most church victims, the boy was too embarrassed to tell his "devout" parents.

Father Daly died in 1987.

In 2002, when the Irish church was being hit by complaints about clergy abuse, Peter McCloskey (then aged 32) contacted the Limerick diocese through his solicitors but was met with a defensive, legalistic response. The diocese was protecting itself from possible attacks on its assets.

The Sydney files

Determined to discover the truth, Peter travelled to Australia in 2004 and demanded to see Father Daly's file, held by the Sydney diocese. The file covered nearly 30 years of correspondence between church authorities in Australia and Ireland.

The file included details of Daly's movements, plus the comments of Cardinal Gilroy, as quoted earlier in this article.

The file indicated that Daly had a serious alcohol problem and was "not responsive to professional psychiatric intervention".

The file referred to a "very grave incident" and bad behaviour by Daly at a Sydney wedding in 1957.

Another complaint in Sydney

Weeks after Peter McCloskey finished his Australia trip in 2004, a second complaint against Daly was made in Sydney.

The Sydney diocese acknowledges that this complaint concerned child sexual abuse in one of Daly's Sydney parishes — Manly in 1957.

The diocese says the matter has now been settled to the satisfaction of the complainant.

A victim's suicide

After his trip to Sydney, Peter McCloskey wrote to one of the Irish churchmen handling his case, saying that he had done the trip alone, his only companion being his "never-ending determination to discover the truth". He wrote: "I can only describe it as a journey into the valley of Satan himself.”

Back in Ireland, Peter became demoralized by the evasiveness of the Irish church authorities. And this was supposed to be a process of mediation. His health began to deteriorate. Peter was admitted to a psychiatric unit, suffering repeated bouts of mental illness.

In late March 2006 Peter had a mediation conference with the Limerick diocese but the church was still defensive and evasive. Peter emerged from the talks demoralized and distressed.

Two days later, on 1 April 2006, 37-year-old Peter (the father of three daughters) was found dead.

Family’s disgust

Peter McCloskey’s brother Joseph told the Limerick Post newspaper (21 April 2006) that his brother's cry for help had resulted in his death.

Joseph said: "During his [Peter’s] search, all the Church did was throw legal jargon, Canon Law, libel and threats of being sued for legal costs at him. And this was supposed to be a process of mediation?"

The family maintains that even beyond the grave, Father Daly has enjoyed the protection of the Catholic Church, in both Limerick and Sydney.

Joseph said that the Irish church had received another allegation of abuse in Limerick by Daly, which was not brought into the public domain.

Speaking to the Irish media in April 2006, Peter McCloskey's mother, Mary, blamed the Irish church for her son's death.

As devout Catholics, the family felt cheated. Not only had they to suffer the impact of the sexual abuse, they had to cope with the Irish church's evasive legalistic response. And they believe the suffering could have been avoided if the Sydney archdiocese had taken proper action against Daly in the 1950s and '60s.

[Better still, the Sydney archdiocese should have been more careful in 1951 about the kind of person it was recruiting into the priesthood.]

The church, Mary McCloskey declared shortly after Peter's death, had nailed her son to the cross "well in advance of Good Friday". She said: "Nothing can now wipe away the pain that Peter suffered throughout his life, but justice through the truth that he valued more than life itself can be testament to his memory."

Three weeks after Peter McCloskey's death, Bishop Donal Murray of Limerick publicly accepted "the truth of Peter McCloskey's experience of clerical child sexual abuse", describing him as a man of extraordinary honesty, integrity and courage. Bishop Murray admitted that the Limerick diocese had failed to properly inform itself of Daly's suitability for ministry.

Sydney diocese is evasive

The Sydney archdiocese has refused to accept responsibility for abuse suffered by Peter McCloskey in Ireland. The archdiocese's chancellor, Father John Usher, was quoted as saying: "In terms of obligations they are clearly different today in that they are informed by recent significant developments in the means of learning and the education of church authorities concerning pyscho-sexual dysfunction and by the development of civil law accountabilities" (Sydney Morning Herald, 17 June 2006).

[In other words, the church hierarchy is only now starting to understand things about child sex-abuse that the rest of society knew years ago.]

Joseph McCloskey disagreed, saying: "The Archdiocese of Sydney enabled Father Denis Daly to work in an area which afforded him unique access to children.

"They did this despite knowing that there were serious issues around his behaviour. They endorsed his ministry on three continents and provided letters of referral and good character from 1963 until his death.

"In 1963, the New South Wales Police insisted on his removal and repeated that demand in 1966. My brother Peter was born in 1969, six years after the police removed Father Denis Daly for the first time. The greater sin is committed by those clergy that enabled a pedophile to run free in the precious world of childhood and innocence."