Ms. Ingham, Fr. Brown And The Lismore Bishop (Or: Even Jesus Wept)

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Image: Catholic Church lawyer, Stephen Keim

The actions of the Lismore diocese of the Catholic Church came under scrutiny at the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse today. The case study used was the abuse of Jennifer Ingham by priest, Paul Rex Brown (who died in 2005), and her treatment by the “Towards Healing” process, set up by the church to deal with abuse allegations. Ms Ingham said she suffered bulimia, had ongoing psychiatric problems and attempted suicide.

Previously, the enquiry has heard of a case in the Brisbane Archdiocese, led by Mark Coleridge (see previous posting), who is a member of the “Truth, Justice and Healing Council”, the PR Unit set up by the Catholic Church to handle the fall-out of the Royal Commission. Coleridge, given he was a witness, should have resigned his position with the church’s PR Unit, beforehand.

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Image: Archbishop Coleridge

The bishop of Lismore, Geoffrey Jarrett, apologized earlier this year to Ms. Ingham, for not being available for her “towards Healing” process. Ms Ingham said she wanted Jarrett to answer some questions: “Why in the Diocese of Lismore, then across all of Australia, then the world, why not one good fearless person could have stepped out against the depravities and wrongs that existed…why no one in the church spoke out against turning a blind eye to the abusers and moving clergy from town to town to protect them and the church from being discovered….Why did nothing happen when I finally acknowledged my abuse by Brown to the church?”.

When she finally met bishop Jarrett, Ms. Ingham told him she thought it was “that they were given a direction by the Vatican to bury evidence and lie”. Jarrett’s response seemed to be that “He was shocked by this and tried to answer her “but to me it was just noise. He said he could not understand how a man of faith ‘held her captive’ for four years and could not fathom the corruptness in the church in recent years…I felt in reality Jarrett had no answer … he simply did not know.”

Nevertheless, Ms. Ingham expressed a positive attitude towards Bishop Jarrett and his influence in her healing process.

She had found the church’s director of professional standards in Brisbane, Patrick Mullins (whose wife is a Supreme Court judge), very compassionate but when he left the role the facilitation “got murky”. She was then told it was “an insurance matter”.

Mr. Mullins, a lawyer, addressed the enquiry, saying that the church should “stop scoring legal points to block every sexual abuse claim brought against it in the civil courts…. The church’s actions in the courts were inconsistent with its aims to be fair and compassionate towards victims.” He said he did not think using the “Ellis defence” (see previous postings), or the statute of limitation laws, were fair.

In the case of people who were sexually abused as children, by the time they feel they can talk about it it’s too late. It is believed there has not been a single court judgment against the Catholic Church anywhere in Australia, although numerous cases had been settled. “But I am just a small cog in the Catholic wheel, a lay person,” Mr Mullins concluded.

Ms. Ingham first approached the church through a priest, Francis Mulcahy, who she trusted because he had been a school friend of her father, and had visited him often before he died. She told the enquiry that Mulcahy had cried when he heard of her abuse at the hands of Brown, and told her he knew of two other girls, both of whom went to school with her, who had also been abused by Father Brown. Her ex-husband Colin Riches told the commission that he had been at that 1990 meeting, and confirmed her version of events.

Mulcahy denied the meeting took place and any details, such as admissions, given to the enquiry, and indeed had no recollection of Ms. Ingham at all. His lawyer, Stephen Keim, cross-examined Ms. Ingham for several hours, reducing her to tears on occasions. The chief commissioner finally stepped in when Mr. Keim asked for a description of the room where the meeting took place in 1990, and Ms. Ingham again began to cry. The commissioner commented that “For any of us to remember the precise details of the room we were in… 23 years later, is impossible.”

Concerning the claim that Mulcahy had cried when he heard of the abuse, the chief commissioner posed the question to him of “”Are you a man capable of tears when upset?” Mulcahy replied “No. I can’t recall having tears in my eyes since I was a child, even when my father died.” Ah, the ultimate compassionate, yet stoic priest.

Read more here:

[Postscript: Pope Francis named Time magazine “Person of the Year”.]

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That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)

 

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