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‘The Altar Boys’ launches amid renewed calls for answers

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The launch of an explosive new book in Newcastle has marked the start of fresh calls for a police investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of whistle-blowing Hunter priest, Father Glen Walsh.

Two dozen survivors, their families and supporters gathered before the backdrop of Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hamilton, on Thursday afternoon, pledging to continue to fight for what they called “an overdue need for change”.

The crowd was joined by Greens Senator David Shoebridge, who said The Altar Boys, written by Suzanne Smith, had raised questions about the treatment Walsh was subjected to before his suicide.

Walsh took his own life in November 2017, two weeks before he was due to appear as a Crown prosecution witness in the case against Archbishop Philip Wilson, who was, at the time, the highest-ranking Catholic convicted of child sex abuse in the world.

The Altar Boys includes never-before published reports, emails and police statements regarding the alleged decades-long cover-up of clerical abuse in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese.

Smith said she believed Walsh was bullied and readers should start by asking why.

“There are 400,000 priests in the world – why did Glen Walsh get an invitation to a meeting with the Pope and what was discussed there?” she said.

“If one Catholic priest stands up against the church, we need to know what happens to them, we need to ask the questions.”

Smith, a six-time Walkley Award-winning investigative reporter, said her book was a tribute to her friend and long-time colleague Steven Alward.

Survivors and their families joined Greens Senator David Shoebridge outside Sacred Heart Cathedral.

“I made arrangements to meet with my friend Steven, he had some things to tell me, but, before we met up, he’d suicided,” she said.

“The book is about that journey – to try and find out what happened, to fulfil that pact I had with my friend. 

“This needs to be investigated. I covered the issue for eight years for [ABC program] Lateline, I’d done 40 stories on this diocese, it’s been a harrowing journey. 

“I wonder about why this area had such an epidemic.

“I think I’ve made the argument in the book. What’s the recipe for an epidemic of child sexual abuse, clerical sexual abuse, and it’s all here.

“What happens to these boys. The culture. We need to know what happened so it doesn’t happen again.”

For Clergy Abuse Network (CAN) member and survivor Stephen, who attended the event, the book represents “a call for a break in silence”.

“Coming here to witness a Parliamentarian make a statement about the grave transgressions that resulted in Glen’s death and failure to give testimony, gives a feeling of relief that it’s not been silenced,” he said.

“It’s about the vast numbers who knew and still know and are covering up. The whole church was involved, everyone in the parish who sat back and didn’t say anything either.

“This book means it’s now written down. It can’t just go away.

“If only we’d done this 15 years ago.”

* If this story raises an issue or concern for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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