Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Very Disconcerting Story From Down Under

Cardinal Levada head of the CDF with Archbishop John Hepworth after a meeting concerning the creation of the Anglican Ordinariate.  Things have gotten a tad bit messier since this meeting of the minds.

The following story represents a true mess for the CDF.  I can not believe however, that the CDF wasn't aware of most of this before they worked hand in glove with Archbishop Hepworth in creating the Anglican Ordinariate.  That this story was carried in the Legion news outlet Zenit, is interesting in it's own right.

Anglican Archbishop: Abuse Drove Me From Church

Says He Still Feels Called to Life as a Catholic Priest

MELBOURNE, Australia, SEPT. 9, 2011 (
A decade of systemic sexual abuse at the hands of priests and an older seminarian was what drove Father John Hepworth to flee Australia and the Catholic priesthood in the 1970s, the leader of the Traditional Anglican Communion has revealed. (Archbishop Hepworth claims to have 400,000 followers willing to cross over to the Anglican Ordinariate.)

Archbishop Hepworth, 67, is primate of the traditionalist communion of Churches that separated itself from the Anglican Communion in 1991, and formally expressed a desire to reunite with the Holy See in 2007.
In an exclusive interview published today in The Australian, the archbishop broke the silence regarding more than 12 years of abuse he suffered as a seminarian and young priest until he finally "fled in fear" to England.
"I never wanted to leave," he acknowledged. "The Church is full of sinners, ... but it is God's gift to the human race through Jesus Christ. ... I have never lost the sense of vocation of being a priest."

In 1960, at the age of 15, John Hepworth entered Adelaide's St. Francis Xavier Seminary. He said the abuse began a month after he entered, and he was threatened with expulsion if he spoke of the forced sexual encounters.

He named his initial abuser as John Stockdale, who at the time was an older seminarian. The priest, who died at the age of 57 inside a "men-only" club, has also been accused of sexual abuse by several altar boys who served in his parishes.

Hepworth said that after two years, he was "passed on" to another abuser, Father Ronald Pickering of Melbourne. In 2002, the Archdiocese of Melbourne admitted that the late Father Pickering had sexually abused boys throughout his 36-year career as a priest. Some estimate he abused more than 100 boys.
Later, Hepworth said he was raped by a third priest during a trip to a seaside town. This priest -- unnamed in the interview -- remains in active ministry in South Australia.

The archbishop charged several senior churchmen with covering up his abuse, including Adelaide's then Auxiliary Bishop Philip Kennedy, and then Archbishop James Gleeson, who are both deceased.
Bishop Kennedy warned Hepworth that if he accused any of his friends, the bishop would "destroy" him. Archbishop Gleeson told the young priest that if he brought up charges of abuse, he would have to leave the archdiocese.

It was at that point that Father Hepworth left for Britain.


In 2008, Archbishop Hepworth wrote a letter to Archbishop Wilson of Adelaide in an attempt to heal his rupture with the Church. He wrote that he felt "deeply cheated of a priestly life."
After four years, the archdiocese has yet to take action on the accusation, or to investigate the priest who is still engaged in active ministry. (This is not precisely true.  The priest is still in ministry but Hepworth's charges are theoretically being investigated for their validity---the usual stalling, obfuscating, and fumbling around is operative.)

Hepworth also approached the Archdiocese of Melbourne regarding the abuse he suffered at the hands of Father Pickering. Last month, Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart issued an apology and offered compensation of 75,000.
"We cannot change what has happened," Archbishop Hart stated. "You may never be rid of the memories or the hurt. ... "On behalf of the Catholic Church and personally, I apologize to you and to those around you for the wrongs and hurt you have suffered at the hands of Father Ronald Pickering."

Hepworth told The Australian that he has suffered many side-effects of the abuse, including panic attacks, insomnia, and at one point, thoughts of suicide.

The archbishop has been divorced and remarried, and he has three children.


The Hepworth situation presents the Church with some serious conundrums.  What does one canonically decide with a non laicized Roman Catholic priest who was sexually abused in two dioceses, but acknowledged in only one of those dioceses,  jumped ship to the Anglicans, became an Archbishop, leads a very large following of potential conservative traditional Catholics, was married, divorced, remarried, has three children, and has decided he wants to come back and fulfill his priestly calling?  This true Australian story is light years beyond the fictitious Thorn Birds.  

Whatever will Rome decide to do?  In the back of my mind I see what Rome has already decided to do with Bishop William Morris, who was 'retired' for stating he would consider married and women priests if the Vatican went in that direction.  Archbishop Hepworth certainly went in that direction. I see what the Vatican, through Detroit's Cardinal Vigneron,  has done with Bishop Tom Gumbleton, another clerical abuse victim,  when Bishop Gumbleton came out testifying in Ohio about extending the statute of limitations for sexual abuse victims.  The Church fought that notion tooth and nail and Bishop Gumbleton was 'retired' out his home parish of St Leo's. Archbishop Hepworth's abuse is also decades old, involving two dead priests and represents the exact type of case the right wing of the Church castigates with impugnity.  Also in the back of my head are the Vatican statements about ex Catholic priests who became married Anglican priests and wanted to return.  They are welcome home, but not home behind the altar.  Except Hepworth is an Archbishop,  and an Archbishop that was heavily involved in creating the Ordinariate from the Anglican side.  He is no Fr. Cutie.  Just what will Rome decide to do?

I don't doubt for a minute that Archbishop Hepworth was abused because his story is unfortunately not uncommon. Sexual abuse in seminaries and monasteries is a generational and systemic problem.  It is the very point Richard Sipe and others have been making for decades.  It is not a gay problem so much as it is a cultural problem.  In Africa this culture is expressed as a convent problem. It's what happens when power is coupled with truncated sexual maturity.  Sexual expression becomes an issue of power over dependent others.  It becomes a twisted form of both a rite of passage and a form of hazing.  This whole notion of the influence of a 'lavender mafia' is an attempt to dress up a far more mundane and universal phenomenon.  It is a  problem that leaves a ton of wreckage in it's wake and it's also one uni sex patriarchal societies seem loathe to address.  As one priest told me, the seminary was some 'thing' I survived.  It was not some 'where' I thrived.

In the end Archbishop Hepworth may serve to remind the Vatican what happens when mutually exclusive absolutes collide because in this story there are a number of mutually exclusive absolutes on a collision course. Yesterday I wrote about Fr Mychal Judge and the collision of traditional Catholic fantasy with the reality of a gay priest who is an acclaimed saint.  Today's story is all about another such collision trajectory.  Will the Vatican determine Hepworth's clerical fate through rigid adherence to Canon Law or will they leave room for reconciliation, conversion, and the spirit of the law?  The only thing we know at this point is no such room was extended to Bishops Morris or Gumbleton.  Should the Vatican all of a sudden find a different solution for Archbishop Hepworth I will be forced to conclude the letter of the law truly does apply only to the progressive wing, and the spirit of the law is only extended to the traditional wing.  Unfortunately that is the consistent message of the Ratzinger/Benedict Church so I won't be surprised if eventually Archbishop Hepworth is presiding at Mass with all his entitlements as an Anglican Archbishop intact.  I just wonder what all that will do to his soul and psyche.  He will once again have become a willing partner to the system that created his own abuse.  That is a very difficult place from which to find spiritual peace.  I wish him the best of luck.



  1. This is a problem of the Vatican's own making.

  2. You are correct Kathy, which is why I find it such 'a tangled weave'.

  3. I'm not intending to sound like I'm blaming the archbishop for having been abused. But I do wonder why he would be willing to lead so many people back to his abusers. It causes me to wonder if he has been able to do any significant healing and if he hasn't then he perhaps ought not to have such authority.

    I might think otherwise if the RCC had taken demonstrable steps to deal with his abusers.

  4. T'Pel, I don't get any of this. Hepburn is an Anglican Archbishop who could, at least by Canon Law, wind up being a Catholic layman. And then there is the sexual abuse piled on top of that.

    It's all perplexing to say the least.

  5. Interesting. Apparently somebody got tired of the stonewalling and published the name of the a still-living accused in the case:

    Maybe it was just some political grandstanding. OTOH, it might get something actually done o the investigation.

  6. I really wonder what will or will not be brought up when the Australian Bishops make their ad limina visit to the Vatican. I think this is supposed to be in October. Between the Vatican decisions concerning Bishops Hepworth and Morris, it should be lively. One would think so anyway.