Friday, 6 July 2012

Silence, discretion or straight-out lies? Sexual abuse and the Catholic Church

This Blog post is about the Catholic Church and its apparent cover-up of sexual abuse incidents. A sub-theme of this article is the call by some people for a Royal Commission into sexual abuse in Australia.
Wilcox's brilliant cartoon
from today's Sydney Morning Herald

Firstly some disclaimers:
  1. I was raised as a Catholic. I no longer practice that religion, but it is something which is part of my culture, training and family background. It is not something which I can ignore, nor deny.
  2. I was never subject to sexual abuse at school - unless you widen the definition slightly, to include Bullying and aggressive and painful Nipple Tweaking by a sadistic Christian Brother. At the time I only thought of this as sadistic behaviour - in retrospect I am no longer sure it was as innocent as that.
  3. I went through a few years in a NSW Catholic seminary (St Columba's at Springwood, NSW), between March 1966 and June 1968, and then went to Rome for a further 18 months. One of my seminary colleagues is mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald article. John Usher (now Monsignor John Usher), was a "senior student" at the time, not a close colleague. He is now a highly trusted colleague of Cardinal Pell, and is now Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Sydney (one of many other functions he fulfills).
  4. One of my classmates in Springwood subsequently (years later) came to public attention: "John Sidney Denham pleaded guilty to 29 child sex charges involving 27 boys under his care while a Roman Catholic priest in Newcastle in the 1970s." At the time I knew him, I saw no signs of his propensity for abusing children. But isn't that usually the case?
Yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald Editorial is worth reading in full.
it states, in part:
  •  "When Patrick Parkinson calls for a royal commission into sexual abuse and its cover-up in the Catholic Church, he deserves a good hearing. As a Sydney University law professor, he knows a thing or two about the machinery of inquiry and the suitability of extreme powers possessed by royal commissions. As an adviser to the Catholic Church on sexual abuse cases, he is well acquainted with the church's obstructionist culture of concealment. ''We need a royal commission with subpoena powers,'' Parkinson said this week. ''The files of the Catholic Church must be opened up.''
    "This is the running sore that won't leave the church alone."

    Read more:
"Broken Rites" story (updated on 9 June 2012) says:
  • On 3 September 1991 (according to an official document in the possession of Broken Rites) Father XYZ was called to a meeting at the Sydney Cathedral presbytery, attended by three church officials:

    • Reverend Brian Lucas (then based at the Sydney Cathedral), who was involved in the administration of the Sydney archdiocese.
    • Reverend John Usher, of the Sydney archdiocese, chairperson of the Australian Catholic Welfare Commission.
    • Reverend Wayne Peters, a senior priest of the Armidale diocese, whose responsibilities then included the Armidale diocese Tribunal (Peters later became Armidale's vicar-general).
    Interviewed by the three officials, Father XYZ admitted that he had been committing sexual acts on young boys in his parishes. [According to the New South Wales criminal laws, these offences would constitute the crime of indecent assault of a child.]

      That story has been followed-up by the Four Corners program on Monday Night - which I could not bring myself to watch in full, as I find the subject too stressful. But I did follow their main points.

      As I indicated in line 2 of my Disclaimer, above, I was never subjected to sexual abuse, but a number of my friends and colleagues were (but I only learned that much later in life). It is a painful issue, for sexual abuse is one of those things, where the pain continues for years after the incident. Psychologically, it resurfaces when one's vulnerability is greatest, and when one least expects it. A casual comment, a headline in a paper, or a familiar face on the street, can bring issues flooding back into one's head.

      I have followed at a distance, reports from the USA of the corruption in the Boston Diocese, and more recently I saw much of a very stressful BBC program about an Irish-American priest who had retired to Ireland after years of sexual abuse of children. To say he lacked empathy and understanding of his offences is an understatement. It was shown on the ABC in May. The powerful and painful program, called "Deliver us from Evil", documented the long-term and systematic abusive behaviour and yet the apparent lack of empathy, or remorse, of the main offender, Fr. Oliver O'Grady.
      There have been some rare, but famous cases in the USA where convictions have been recorded, not for perpetrators, but for other Priests who failed to act to disbar offending Priests, or who failed to report them to civil Authorities - which would parallel the suggested legal action against the three NSW priests, mentioned in the Four Corners program.

      To read the open letters on the ABC comments page is an eye-opener.
      And it goes without saying it is not just the Catholics, though as Wikipedia records, they are extremely frequent offenders. That is an appalling litany of offences - and they are only the proven cases.

      We all know that it is not just the Catholics, but lets state that "for the record".
      Anglicans, Salvation Army, Jehovah's Witnesses (whose victims are still so scared, they talk on Facebook and the Internet in coded terms, for fear of retribution), and there is a big question mark over the Boy Scout movement in Australia, or specifically the history of sexual offences by Scout leaders. And State-run orphanages have been involved as well. And locally, we cannot forget the highly placed persons who were involved as collaborators in the Frank Arkell and Tony Bevan circle of child abusers in Wollongong. 
      •  "... long running campaign to expose paedophilia in the Wollongong community and in the local Catholic Church. In 1993 the Mercury first revealed the problem of widespread sexual abuse of young boys by exposing two paedophiles, Father Peter Comensoli and Brother Michael Evans. The Page 1 exposé was preceded by four months of investigation during which Mercury staff obtained statutory declarations from seven young men. 
      • Involved in the paedophile network, as revealed by the Wood Royal Commission into the NSW police, was a former Wollongong Lord Mayor and Independent NSW MP, Frank Arkell.
        When Arkell was the victim of a gruesome murder on June 27, 1998, about 10 weeks before he was to have appeared in court on sex charges involving young males, the Mercury published with its next issue an eight-page wrap-around, labelled “Arkell Murder Edition”. The
        Page 1 story, written by Cullen, described the appearance of Arkell's body in detail: “His skull had been caved in, and a
        Rotary Club pin driven into one of his eyes. Tie pins were jammed into his cheeks.”
      In many of these cases, there are highly placed members of the legal profession who act as cross-examiners, ridiculers and intimidators of inexperienced children trying to give evidence. They act to "run interference" on behalf of their powerful, deviant and abusive friends, and in all likelihood, some have been participants in the abuse themselves.

      Educational Institutions, especially Boarding Schools, seem to be the greatest "targets" for paedophiles. 
      Christian Brothers schools, Marist Colleges, and in particular St Stanislaus College at Bathurst all seem to be magnets for these people. 

      Leading clerics, even the present Cardinal Pell, (then Bishop of Ballarat) supported known sex offenders such as Fr Gerald Ridsdale.

      Why did Bishop George Pell
      accompany Fr
      Gerald Francis Ridsdale
      to court on 27 May 1993
      when Ridsdale was jailed for child-sex crimes?
       And now a Victorian report states:
      • CONFIDENTIAL police reports have detailed the suicides of at least 40 people sexually abused by Catholic clergy in Victoria, and have urged a new inquiry into these and many other deaths suspected to be linked to abuse in the church.
        In a damning assessment of the church’s handling of abuse issues, the reports say it appears the church has known about a shockingly high rate of suicides and premature deaths but has "chosen to remain silent." 

      It seems to me that wherever adults are involved in "caring for children" there is a great likelihood of abuse, unfortunately. It seems to me, that the first thing society ought change is that we ought to stop pretending that sexual abuse does not happen. 

      Let us all open our eyes and ears.

      After writing this I feel obliged to issue a general warning:

      please be careful with your children.


      What are the chances that a Royal Commission will be called and given wide terms of reference?

      With regard to the possibility of a Royal Commission, one has to ask which level of Government ought conduct such an Inquiry?

      The Federal Government is currently not over-run with Catholics, indeed many profess to be atheists. But, certainly there are enough "cultural Catholics" amongst the Federal Government - for many of them might well have been educated in Church schools. Anthony Albanese, Tony Burke, Stephen Conroy, Craig Emerson, Laurie and Martin Ferguson, John Murphy,  But if this call for a Royal Commission carries on until the next Government is sworn in, if it is led by Tony Abbott and his ilk, look out. There are many, many Catholic-trained politicians on that side of Politics. Tony Abbott himself, Joe Hockey, Christopher Pine and there are many more.

      In NSW, where the Liberal-National Coalition is in office:
      • Barry O'Farrell is Catholic educated, with an Irish family background, but I see little evidence of his religious views. But it is one thing to not be an active supporter of the Church, and a totally different thing to preside over a Royal Commission into the Church. That's unlikely to happen. 
      • Chris Hartcher is a Riverview boy, educated by the Jesuits, and I would describe him as aggressively Catholic in his attitudes.
      • Andrew Stoner, while seemingly not a Catholic, describes himself as a "committed Christian"
      • the "back-room boy" who controls the hard right grouping is David Clarke, a member of the Opus Dei, a right-wing religious organisation which has managed to infiltrate itself deeply within the power-structure of the Catholic Church. 
      • Greg Smith is the NSW Attorney General, and another active Catholic.
      • And there are many more.
      There is no way the O'Farrell Government will call a Royal Commission into sexual abuse by the Catholic Church, in my opinion.

      Any Royal Commission on this subject would have to be called by the Federal Labor Party and quickly. Otherwise this idea is simply not going to get the necessary political support. Tony Abbott, who styles himself as a confidante of Cardinal Pell certainly would not call such a Royal Commission.

      The Catholics have achieved a strangle-hold on politics in Australia.

      You might assume that many of the Catholic politicians are decent people: 
      • unless you are a woman, who wishes to control her fertility
      • or unless you are gay or lesbian.
      but those are matters for another day.

      But after writing this
      I feel I need a good shower.
      But more importantly I feel
      obliged to issue a general warning:

      please be careful with your children.


      If you can stand it, there is a vast amount of references available about sexual abuse in Australia. Here are just a few of the readily available sources:



      Brigid O'Carroll Walsh said...

      Denis, thank you this. I know it took quite an effort to step into this mire and bring forth a creditable post. I understand the need for a shower. I have done a complimentary post over at my blog, The Network. I haven't covered the same ground as you have done.

      Denis Wilson said...

      Thanks Brigid

      Brigid's matching post is on her Blog Brigid's "The Network"

      She comes at this issue, sharing my concerns, but she comes from a different perspective to me.