Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Another Government Investigation Begins In Australia

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 Catholic Church and "religious organisations" are to be subjected to a year-long parliamentary inquiry into the handling of criminal abuse of children. Premier Ted Baillieu today said the inquiry will have powers to compel witnesses to give evidence and to elicit documentary and electronic information and will be conducted by the bipartisan Family and Community Development Committee of Parliament. It is to report to Parliament by April 30 next year.
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.


  1. You are absolutely correct. Jesus did guarantee that the church would prevail. He did not say the clergy would prevail. There was no clerical caste. He did not say the bishops would prevail. There were no bishops. He did not say the papacy would prevail. There was no papacy. He did not say the Vatican (God help us!) would survive. There was no Vatican.
    He did say the Gates of Hell would not prevail against his church. I would add: Even if the gatekeepers were bishops, cardinals and popes. Let the percolating continue and grow!

    1. The percolating will continue primarily because people are becoming more and more angry as more and more comes out. I suspect the Church of the future, that is the People of God Church, is going to be considerably different than what we currently have and it won't be nearly so top heavy and centralized. We may also find out a good form of syncretism based in compassion becomes the real threat to the current Church hierarchy and not secularism.

  2. I have to make a comment about living in fear of Sister calling the parents. I had a nun who did physically abuse children and some parents did complain. The year after we had her, we lost 15 children out of our class. But the sister was warned not to touch anyone in our class. This nun actually loved the kids and if we behaved all was well but she didn't tolerate any backtalk. She needed to be educated that corporal punishment was a bad thing. I had a lot more respect for her after she stopped hitting kids. I understand how she was overworked, had too many kids in her classes and needed an outlet for her aggression. I think it is better for nuns today as they are not as regimented and can visit their families and have vacations.

    1. I have never doubted fifty plus kids in a class generated frustration. I had IHM nuns and they did not use corporal punishment. They didn't have too....most of our parents did. Seriously, all they had to do was threaten to call home and we all straightened right up.

  3. What about protestant child abuse? What about child abuse in schools and youth organisations? What about the international slave trade in trafficked children?

    Oh, no. I forgot. It's only the Catholic Church that can do wrong!

    Oh well..

    1. All child abuse is wrong, period. That does not excuse the Roman church but makes it just as(if not more) despicable, because it also regularly COVERS UP the abuse. And engages in character assassination and even castrates those who have been abused.

    2. So your excuse is: Everybody else is doing it so it must be OK. If all your associates were jumping of a cliff, you'd just join right in, right?

      Why is it that child abuse by Catholic clergy can't be put into focus, brought out in the daylight and thus treated such that perhaps some hurt human beings might find some healing and peace? Is it that the Catholic children just don't matter to you?

    3. I have written about protestant child abuse, Bishop Eddie Long comes immediately to mind. What I personally think makes Catholic child abuse singular is both it's scope in terms of numbers of victims and predators and the culture promoted by the Church with regards to the priesthood.

      The statistics about child abuse in teachers is not nearly what it was amongst Catholic clergy. Sure the numbers of abusers are much higher amongst teachers, but not the percentages, not by a long shot. Catholicism had a unique culture that both put the priest on an untouchable, unquestioned pedestal. It also simultaneously needed to keep any scandal involving the priesthood from the laity precisely to keep the myth in place. This consequently kept everybody silent while drawing predators into the priesthood because they knew they would be both protected and forgiven. All in all it's a unique and singular dynamic that held fast for decades, if not centuries. Unfortunately it caused untold numbers of Catholic children untold pain, and it destroyed a lot of souls. In my experience nothing touches it except for actual child sexual trafficking, and that unfortunately seems to be where our priestly pedophiles have now chosen to take their problem. The traffic of our clergy to Thailand and elsewhere is staggering. That's why I pointed out numerous times the real scandal with Canadian Bishop Ramond Lahey was not just his penchant for child porn, but the numerous Thai stamps on his passport. And again, we are still waiting word as to whether there will be any Canonical sanctions against this bishop or his priestly status.

    4. Colkoch,
      There is no unique Catholic culture that makes it more vulnerable to child abusers than other institutions. I sent you links to independent data which demonstrated that the myth of the unaccountable priest is exactly that - a myth.

      There were dioceses in which Church procedures were not followed, and there were eras when the secular advice of phyciatrists was followed and allowed further damage to be caused, but - look at the numbers - none of these have made the Church unusually prey to infiltration by child abusers.

    5. I invite you to pay very close attention to the testimony coming out in the Philadelphia trial. Catholicism most certainly has a unique culture which fosters abuse of all kinds. Philadelphia is not unique, it is for large Archdioceses the norm.

    6. If catholicism has "a unique culture which fosters abuse of all kinds"...why do the statistics (which I have given you previously, from different sources) show - at worst - parity between the Catholic Church and protestant sects in these abuses?

      I can answer for you. Your hypothesis is bogus and bigoted, and divorced from the reality expressed in the data.

  4. Get a grip, Veronica.

    "So your excuse is: Everybody else is doing it so it must be OK. If all your associates were jumping of a cliff, you'd just join right in, right?"

    That is plainly disgusting.

    I (quite obviously) wasn't excusing anything.

    I (quite obviously) wasn't justifying sexual abuse.

    I (quite obviously) was challenging the obsessive way in which enemies of the Church - yourselves included? - pretend that child abuse is a Catholic problem, and take the problem out of its global context, out of its human context, and thus promote profound and damaging misunderstanding about the nature of sexual abuse.

    All of you need to get a grip of your minds, and look clearly at the world. Sex abuse does not rotate around the Church. Sex abuse is something done by abusers, and such abusers exist just as much - if not more - in protestant churches, in schools, in youth organisations, in government..

    Get real, for goodness sake. Some of the stuff written here is laughable.

    1. I have a grip, thank you very much. I am Catholic, whether you like it or not. I am not an enemy of the Church as you wish to include me. I'm simply tired of people with comments like yours clearly wishing to sweep the problem under the rug. The Church is a human institution as well as one created by God. The human institution can clearly err and it does so repeatedly in its 2000+ year history. Remembering this fact and using it to criticize err does not make anyone an enemy of the Church.

      See, I've dealt with raising children. Your excuses are no more mature than theirs are when they want something bad enough. The 'everybody else is doing it' is clearly a ruse and an excuse from time immemorial - I would not justify it as any sort of 'justification'. And that is what I was pointing out.

    2. Well stated Veronica. The 'everybody else is doing it, so we are not so bad' excuse goes hand in hand with the adolescent mentality the Vatican wishes to take us all back too.

      I am not an enemy of the Catholic Church, but I will proudly admit to being an adversary of the clerical system. It has got to go.

    3. Colkoch,
      If you expect me to swallow the repeated libel that I have been making excuses for child abuse, please do me the honour of pointing out to me where I have been doing so.
      You'll find that I did not, and hopefully you'll retract the ridiculous claim.

      Until I actually try to excuse anything, don't presume to judge those excuses.
      Go and get a drink, chill out for a moment, maybe say a Hail Mary, and re-read my post. You'll see the words a wrote, rather than the bizarre stuff you've been reading in their place.
      My statement will become as clear as the letters I've typed them with: Child abuse is not a uniquely Catholic problem. The problem must be read in its true context if it is to be properly understood. It must be properly understood to be acted against.
      Ergo; framing child abuse as a Catholic problem or a clerical problem, in spite of hard evidence to the contrary, makes it harder to solve the problem.
      And that is a serious matter.

    4. But we are not discussing global child abuse, we are discussing child abuse as it pertains to the Roman Catholic clergy. You know the men who claim to be 'in personal christi'. That is the specific problem we are discussing.

      I agree one hundred percent with you that global child abuse is a major major problem. I work with devastated victims of child sexual abuse every day at work and it breaks my heart.

      I also firmly believe the place to start ending the problem is by finding some sort of containment for it in our institutions. Since it is by far and away a male problem the best place to send a very strong message is in male dominated institutions. Maybe then the message will trickle down to the family where most sexual abuse occurs.

    5. You persistently blame "clericalism" and celibacy as root causes of these abuses, you persistently paint it not just as a Catholic issue, but as a "clerical" issue.

      The numbers are very clear, and I have given you those numbers before; sexual abuse is not a Catholic issue, it is an issue of sex-offenders.

      Such serious misunderstanding will only serve to hinder efforts to protect against future such abuses.

  5. In examining the evidence of the Christian religion, it is essential to the discovery of truth that we bring to the investigation a mind freed, as far as possible, from existing prejudice, and open to conviction.