Warning: This post contains details of child sexual abuse that could be triggering for some readers.
As told to Phil Brandel.
Uncle Dinny had always been around, he was part of the fabric of my family. He was the local parish priest where my mum grew up on the NSW Mid North Coast. I don’t remember life without him. According to an urban myth within my family, Uncle Dinny had even taught me to crawl as a toddler.
Once I had started school, Uncle Dinny would drop around and stay at our house.
Mostly unannounced he would pop in 3-4 times a year and stay a few days before he moved on to his next parish. At this stage, he was a supplementary priest. When another priest was moving or went on holidays Uncle Dinny would fill in, so he was always on the road and travelling.
He also did stints of mission work overseas. He would share with us around the dinner table, his stories of helping in PNG, The Philippines, New Zealand and his Aboriginal mission work within remote communities in Western Australia.
Whenever he came to stay we would find lollies suddenly popping up everywhere in our house. We all loved it when he came to stay. He was like a kind and wise old grandfather. He was always asking about our welfare and he was always raising money or working on programs for disadvantaged youth.
Out of all of my siblings, I was the closest to him. While I was at school and he was travelling we would write to each other. I would tell him about school and boys and what was happening day to day in my family.
He would tell me about his mission work here or overseas or just where ever he was going to be posted next. It was a tradition that we started when I was 10 years old and we kept writing to each other after I got married and had children of my own.
When I would visit my grandparents up on the Mid North Coast, and Uncle Dinny was around we would spend time together going for walks or just chatting. I remember when I was about eight or nine, he picked me up from my grandparents’ house and I spent the whole day with him at the local church, while he worked on church admin, I was free to muck around exploring the church and playing on the organ.
I remember being in his room and sitting on his bed, I felt a bit sad for him as all he had was a single bed, one chair, a small table and some cutlery. It was a very sparse and lonely existence for a child to try to comprehend.
One day around 2003 he surprised me at my home, I had just given birth to my first child and he popped around to see how life was going for me. I was so proud to show him my beautiful baby, the house that I just bought and my husband. He stayed the night and said he had to be gone the next morning. One of the last things he said to me when he was getting in his car was “if you speak to anyone in the local parish, please don’t tell them I was here, they may get upset that I didn’t pop in and say hello.”
I gave him a big hug and a kiss as he got it his van and drove away, it was the last time I saw him.
In 2005, one of Uncle Dinny’s relatives rang my mum to tell her that he had died in palliative care. We didn’t even know he was sick. When my mum said ‘I’m so sorry he was a wonderful man’, she didn’t get the remorseful or grieving response she expected.
Instead, the relative on the other end of the phone said words to the effect of “good riddance to bad rubbish”.
Mum was then told what type of man Uncle Dinny really was.
There were accusations and on-going investigations into Uncle Dinny’s activities. He had been on the run for a few years, always moving around, staying one step ahead of the police. He had allegedly molested many young girls when he was younger and the police had wanted to have “a chat” with him for some time. By the time they caught up with him in palliative care, it was too late.
Mum rang me to tell me, as she knew we had been very close. At first, I couldn’t believe it, not Uncle Dinny he was the sweetest old man. It was like finding out my grandfather had a second life that we didn’t know about. In some respects, I was closer to Uncle Dinny that my real grandfather due to him popping in and staying and his constant letters to me about his travels.
Mum then asked me, “Did he ever touch you?”
I replied truthfully – he never had.
After hanging up I was in shock. How can someone that you love so much, be something that you absolutely hate? I still believed that Uncle Dinny’s purpose in this world was to do good, but he did so much bad, I was torn.
Since then I’ve often wondered when someone is convicted of sexual assault, do their friends and loved ones desert them or do they still love them regardless of the evil that they have inflicted upon their victims? Do people like George Pell or Robert Dolly Dunn still get visits or letters of support?
After his death more and more people came forward with allegations against Uncle Dinny. My heart was breaking, and my mind was racing. As an adult you question and look at things differently than you do as a child, memories started to slowly filter through my mind.
I remember when he used to visit my family as a child, he would always tickle me. Mum would always be in the kitchen and he would get me to sit on his lap and he would tickle me a little too rough. I didn’t like it, it didn’t feel right, it wasn’t the fun-style tickle of my parents, it was rougher, slightly more aggressive.
I always thought he had a very hard lap or legs, as an adult I now realise what that hardness was.
What happened in that room at the church? Why was I as an eight or nine-year-old doing alone in his room? I have no memory where he was while I sat on his bed. Was he near me, did he touch me, was he even in the room? My memory fails me.
When I found out about the allegations against him, it was another nail in the coffin in my belief of the Catholic church. I no longer worship or pray; how can a just God allow this evil to happen to young children?
During the recent Royal Commission more and more allegations came out about Uncle Dinny. I could no longer read the news reports.
Recently, while cleaning out my garage I found some old boxes from my parents’ house. Inside were some religious items that my family had kept, including a rosary and a scapular. A scapular is a piece of jewellery that is meant to protect you from evil. Denis McAlinden had given it to me when I was a child.
Denis McAlinden died in 2005 before he could be charged for over five decades of sexual abuse that spanned Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea.