Really Good Liars (Or: A Priest in Sheep’s Clothing)

The author will resort to using the first person for this personal account. It concerns a situation which should serve as a warning about really good liars.

It was early 1990. I was accompanying a few people who had been in the Catholic Church’s orphanages at Rockhampton and Brisbane, in Queensland, Australia. They were St. Joseph’s Orphanage (known as “Neerkol”) and Nazareth House respectively. We arrived at the Brisbane headquarters of the Catholic Church to meet with a senior nun, the Bishop for social welfare and some administrative type. The object was to air their complaints about the orphanages, from the 1950s.

At that time, little had been publicised about the problem of paedophile priests, so no-one was surprised that there was a level of incredulity demonstrated by the church officials. Also, the victims were only concerned to have acknowledgment of their claims and some sort of official apology from the church. Compensation was not on the agenda. No lawyers were present.

There were many assurances from the officials that the victims were believed and that processes would be put in place to ensure such things never happened again. An apology would be forthcoming. The victims were presented with a cheque for $200 to help produce their newsletter. Smiles and looks of concern all round. It was all in stark contrast with officials from the Goss Labor government a few days earlier. At that meeting, an official had glibly stated that we would all die soon and the problem would go away, lost in history. The delegates felt relieved.

The Catholic Church officials of course were lying. Later, one of the victims was threatened with defamation action for her claims in the media. No action was taken against the abusers by the church authorities. Ten years later, two priests, one associated with each of the orphanages, were jailed for the abuses raised at the meeting. The apology never occurred. Compensation, averaging about $1,000 per victim, was eventually paid, with attendant secrecy provisions. They had been had.

In a follow-up meeting a few days later, with just myself, as head of a general organisation of victims from the old Children’s Homes (FICH – Formerly in Children’s Homes), more assurances were given. I was told that there had indeed been a problem with a few violent nuns and paedophile priests in the past. The church was importing a specialist psychiatrist from the U.S. to “treat” offenders, who would then be removed from contact with children. I was assured the church took the situation very seriously and all efforts would be made to help any further victims who might contact me in future.

A letter to me, from the Archbishop, was produced which essentially thanked me for bringing the matter to the church’s attention. I was declared “a friend of the church” for this action. I then mentioned that, since the events occurred in the Homes, there was likely to be a can of worms, because there was a high probability that such things had occurred in the wider community. Much wise nodding of agreement. On reflection, perhaps, that statement was what set the local church attitude.

Then, a priest, Paul McLachlan, was brought in. He was the church’s media man, having a TV show and producing their newspaper, the “Catholic Weekly”. This forever smiling man assured me that the church’s media resources would be available to me to help promote the issue and to reach out to as-yet unidentified victims. Not being totally naive after meeting with government officials and representatives of other churches, I was nevertheless totally fooled by Mr. McLachlan, who I had contact with in the 1970s through the local public relations institute.

No articles appeared.

McLachlan was relieved of his positions later in the year.

Fast forward to 2000. Judge Brazabon sentenced McLachlan to 3 years 8 months jail for child sexual abuse offences committed in the 1970’s. (Another sex-abuse priest who worked at the Catholic Media Centre, while McLachlan was there, was Father Ronald McKeirnan, who was also later jailed). The trial heard that the boy and his 15-year-old brother were entrusted into the care of McLachlan for the day by their parents after another brother had died.

The victim, aged 38 at the time of the trial in 2000, said he had not complained until 1998 because of shame and the fear that nobody would believe him over a respected priest. He said McLachlan took away his childhood, his religion, his family, his self-esteem and destroyed his sanity and his marriage. He had been told he would go to hell if he told anybody about the abuse.

Publicity surrounding the case brought out further victims. For these offences, Judge Julie Dick, in 2001, sentenced McLachlan to 18 months’ jail on top of the time he was already serving. The court was told McLachlan used his position of trust to intimidate his victims. “He was a predator who molested his victims while all the time masquerading as a man of God,” the prosecutor said.

Yes, McLachlan had fooled me totally. Perhaps those who routinely encounter people who plead not guilty, but are later found to be guilty, can spot a good liar. Most of us can’t, so beware the really good liar hiding behind a dog collar.

For details about McLachlan, see here:

TOMORROW: The Salvation Army

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)

 

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