|Chrissy and Anthony Foster were instrumental in bringing about the clerical sex abuse investigation just announced by the State Government of Victoria. Their personal story is recorded in the book "Hell On The Way To Heaven".|
The State Government of Victoria, AU is now the latest government agency to conduct an official probe into clerical sexual abuse. I have been following this story for the last week or so primarily because it is the first such probe called for because of the number of suicides associated with clergy sexual abuse. As such, it will have a slightly different angle. The hyper link in the article will take readers to an earlier article in which more details are given. A police probe linked 34 of the suicides to just two abusers, both of whom are now serving extended prison sentences. Unfortunately for many victims, these two men were not imprisoned until they each had been sexually active for over thirty years.
Baillieu bows to pressure on church sex-abuse probe
Josh Gordon - The age - April 17, 2012
The Government has come under pressure to hold an independent inquiry virtually since it took office, but the pressure intensified enormously over the past week with revelations in The Age about dozens of suicides linked to sexual abuse by priests.......
......The Government has come under pressure to hold an independent inquiry virtually since it took office, but the pressure intensified enormously over the past week with revelations in The Age about dozens of suicides linked to sexual abuse by priests.
The Age revealed police had detailed the suicides of at least 40 people sexually abused by Catholic clergy in Victoria.
In a damning assessment of the church’s handling of abuse issues, the confidential police reports said it appeared the church had known about a shockingly high rate of suicides and premature deaths but had "chosen to remain silent".
Written by Detective Sergeant Kevin Carson, the reports state that while conducting lengthy inquiries into paedophile clergy, investigators had discovered "an inordinate number of suicides which appear to be a consequence of sexual offending’’.
The reports by Sergeant Carson were dated September last year and February this year. The most recent report details the "premature deaths of young men in the years following sexual assault by Catholic fraternity".
The report links at least 40 suicides to the sexual abuse perpetrated by a small number of paedophile clergy, including Gerald Ridsdale, Bryan Coffey, Paul Ryan, Robert Best and Edward Dowlan.
This morning, Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart told radio station 3AW that some victims of abuse who came to the Catholic Church wanted to keep the matter private.
But he said he would co-operate with any independent inquiry launched into the abuse.
‘‘I would certainly co-operate fully with an inquiry and it may well clear the air,’’ he said.
‘‘With regard to what the inquiry is about and so on, I won’t commit myself until I know what the terms are but ... I said publicly on Friday that we will co-operate fully with any inquiry.
‘‘The matter has got to be addressed and ... there’s so much suffering and awful pain out there and it is just heart-rending to me and to so many others.’’
There are now government probes, trials, and investigations into clerical sexual abuse underway in roughly eight or so countries, plus the legal action at the International Criminal Court put together by SNAP. The scope of this problem is global and instead of abating as time has gone on, is getting larger. The Vatican's spin control has spun out and people's patience has run out. Finally governments are taking action.
The real question for me though, is why it has taken so long for any kind of accountability for either the priest abusers or the hierarchy that hid the problem? Whether it's easy to admit this or not, the reason is all wrapped up in the kind of Catholic culture we all grew up in. The Church dominated our lives. We lived and breathed Catholicism 24/7. This was especially true for those of us in Catholic schools, and even more true for the boys who opted to become altar boys. Catholic priests and religious held a higher authority for us than our own parents did. There is real truth in the stories from Catholics who went to Catholic schools in the fifties and sixties that we all lived in fear of Sister calling our parents, because we knew we were going to get it when we got home. Our parents put their trust in our religious teachers and nothing we children said was going to to impact that trust one wit. Any attention given the family from a priest was incredibly validating in an almost childish way. It was sort of strange to see one's parents reduced to fawning children in the presence of 'monsignor'. But it most certainly drove the point home that priests were of a different, more exalted nature. To question a priest was to question a god, and that deferential attitude only got worse the further up the hierarchical food chain that priest might be. Of course, most everything the Church taught was designed to make it that way.
I don't actually find it surprising that Catholic laity, even laity who had a responsibility to the community as police and prosecutors, shoved the problem back to the bishop. It was almost impossible to conceive of doing anything different. I also don't find it surprising that bishops did what they did because whether it was the deferential laity, the offending priest, or the bishops ecclesiastical superiors, everyone expected them to do exactly what they did---and to do it in silence and secrecy. God forbid the whole fantasy of Catholic culture be exposed for the fantasy it was.
Meaningful change always comes from the bottom up. Given that axiom, the first people to demand change and ask for some accountability were the survivors of clerical abuse. They were the most powerless and the most marginalized and they truly had nothing to lose. Then as more and more information came out, the laity began to demand change. Now, given the rise of priest associations in many countries, this call for change has made it up to the priesthood itself. The ground swell for change has gotten loud enough that our secular powers are now free to take action and we are beginning to see some accountability. The percolating hasn't made it up to the hierarchical level yet, and it may not given the psychological make up of our current hierarchy.
The one thing that has changed, and changed so radically there is no going back, is the suffocating reality of the old Catholic culture. Vatican II had a lot to do with the laity moving beyond that ghetto mentality, and it was furthered by Catholics actually moving out of their particular brand of Catholic ghetto and into the more culturally diverse suburbs. This time frame was a true break with the generational past on a number of levels. Unfortunately no real direction was given to this break, and in fact Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae so muddied the waters that no one really knew which direction the Church was moving. That is until JPII clarified it for us and we began the fruitless attempt to move backwards. In the meantime clerical abuse was handled as it always had been handled. But worse than this, it was expected to be handled that way all through out the very long papacy of JPII. This enabled clerical abuse to continue unabated until the Boston Globe began the exposure of the whole filthy mess in 2002.
Ten years later the percolating continues but it's becoming more of a flood. I suspect it will take a flood of biblical proportions to topple our hierarchy and it's conception of itself. Thank God their own actions are adding more water to the flood. Who knows, perhaps in ten more years some intrepid cardinal will realize the Barque of Peter needs to redesigned in order to survive this flood. Jesus might have guaranteed the survival of the Church, but he didn't say a word about how that church would survive. At the moment though, the task before us is to help more victims become survivors and this inquiry in Victoria is another essential part of that task.