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Church leader 'doesn't recall' confession

AAP logoAAP 19/09/2016 Miranda Forster

A senior member of the Catholic Church insists he doesn't recall NSW priest John Farrell making child abuse confessions during a meeting they both attended 24 years ago.

National director of Catholic Mission Brian Lucas has told the child sex abuse royal commission he doesn't remember Fr Farrell making detailed admissions about abusing five boys in the 1980s, while he was an assistant priest at Moree in northern NSW.

Fr Farrell allegedly confessed at the 1992 meeting to touching some of the boys on the leg, and fondling the genitals and having oral sex with others.

Fr Lucas and two other senior priests, Wayne Peters and John Usher, were at the meeting.

The admissions were detailed in a letter by Fr Peters to then-Bishop of Armidale Kevin Manning eight days after the meeting, but Fr Lucas said he doesn't remember them.

"I'm as confident as I can be, had he (Fr Farrell) said those words and used those words I would have been so shocked that would be something I would not forget," he told the royal commission on Monday.

The inquiry has heard Fr Farrell wasn't defrocked until 2005, 13 years after the meeting.

Commissioner Peter McClellan said it was difficult to accept the words weren't said at the meeting.

Fr Lucas replied that he couldn't explain why Fr Peters wrote them and suggested he had conflated the admissions with other events.

"I've pored over it every way and I'm sorry, I cannot make sense of it," he said.

Fr Peters said on two occasions before his death last year that he stood by his letter.

The explosive document was included in a July 2012 ABC Four Corners report about Fr Farrell.

Email trails show that before the program aired, Frs Lucas, Peters and Usher jointly decided to tell Four Corners that Fr Farrell had made no specific admissions during the meeting.

When later challenged over the letter by Four Corners, Fr Peters rang Fr Lucas in America in "a bit of a state" and asked him to draft another response, the commission heard.

Fr Lucas said he drafted Fr Peters' response without knowing the contents of the letter, saying he'd been careless and negligent.

"It was a foolish thing to do, it was the middle of the night and I regret that I did it," Fr Lucas said.

He is due back at the royal commission on Tuesday.

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