Towards Healing Hearings Resume (Or: Priests Don’t Gossip)


The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse today continued its hearings concerning the Catholic Church’s scheme for dealings with victims, the “Towards Healing” process. It is concentrating on four victims, in two dioceses (Brisbane in Queensland Sate and Lismore in New South Wales State), and two religious orders.

[The enquiry has heard from the current bishop of Lismore, Geoffrey Hilton Jarrett.  Some media reports referred to him as Geoffrey Hilton. Fr. Geoffrey Hilton was a Catholic Priest in the U.K., who recently had child sexual abuse claims against him dropped. Fr. Hilton had attracted attention because he had been a chaplain to the British Olympic Team at the London Olympics.]

Bishop Jarrett is more than a year past the mandatory retirement age of 75 imposed by the Catholic Church. Maybe, no one wants to take over the mess that is the Lismore diocese.

Jarrett told the enquiry that he had, in 2011, referred one of his priests to the Vatican because the priest had been “telling people he knew of a place in Thailand where under age people were available to foreign visitors.” (See previous postings on S.E.Asian “orphanages”) He had not yet heard back from the Vatican, but said this was to be expected since the Vatican was being swamped with such complaints.

The commission quizzed Jarrett about the issue of shifting problem priests from parish to parish. When asked what checks he would do if he were asked to accept a priest from another diocese into his own, he said he would do the “checks required by civil legislation”, that is, “Working with Children” checks.

Asked whether further checks on a priest’s employment record or reputation might be carried out beyond the basic requirement of a Working with Children check, he responded: “I don’t understand what the procedures over and above might be. A bishop is not going to allow a priest he knows to have offended in this way to go to another diocese”. [This latter comment drew incredulous gasps etc. from the public gallery.]

The enquiry was told by Jarrett that there were no specific reputation checks comparable to reference checks for other jobs.  Fr. Brown (see previous posting) was removed from active ministry as parish priest in 1986 because of a longstanding alcohol problem, but that would not be included on the diocesan clerical register, a fairly public document. Jarrett said the information would only be in the priest’s personnel file, a private file. “Things that are against the reputation of a priest are not necessarily entered in the register,” he said.

Chief Commissioner McClellan asked whether priests talked about each other, as colleagues did in any other professions, and whether someone like Fr. Brown would have been discussed. Jarrett replied that “Many priests would be in contact with other priests, they talk a lot on pastoral matters and yes, we talk about each other … but out of discretion, priests would not indulge in gossip about things that were damaging to a priest’s reputation [such as sex abuse claims]. Bishops do speak about these things in regard to priests.”

When Jarrett took over at Lismore diocese, the retiring bishop had not told him about any difficulties he had with individual priests. Earlier, the commission had heard that Brown’s victim, Ms. Ingham had told local priest Fr. Mulcahy about the abuse, but the priest has told the commission this was not true, and that he did not even remember Ms. Ingham (see earlier posting).

Bishop Jarrett said that he was “puzzled” because Mulcahy had gone to school with Ms Ingham’s father and he believed Ms Ingham that Mulcahy had been at a meeting with her. “In my mind, I didn’t believe that Ms Ingham had confected a story,” he said.

The commission then moved on to the case of a third victim, known as DG, who was abused by a Marist Brother, Raymond Foster (known as Brother Celestine), at a school in Queensland State, at age 13, in 1970. Foster killed himself hours before he was due to face court, for extradition to Queensland.

DG said that he didn’t know the man who molested him had apologized for the abuse 15 years ago, until he saw documents produced for the commission hearings. Foster left a suicide note asking for ‘‘his [DG’s] forgiveness if he would be so kind’’. DG said he was of the opinion that Foster’s suicide was intended ‘‘both to free him from prosecution and to inflict guilt upon myself’’.

DG said he had written to the Marist Brothers, in disgust, when newspaper reports in his home town after the suicide, quoted the Marist Brothers claiming Foster had died of a heart attack, was a ‘‘wonderful man’’ and had not been worried about the impending charges. “It appears from your response that I must have been harassing a sick old man, not seeking justice on a devious, slothful, and drunkenly indulgent child molester,’’ DG wrote.

The commission was told that the 1999 suicide note was conveyed to Michael Hill, a psychologist and head of the Marist Brothers Sydney area at the time. However, when Hill met DG and his wife as a prelude to mediation through Towards Healing, Hill provided no information about Foster.

“When I got the documents from the commission was the first time I had any knowledge that he had acknowledged the abuse in any way, shape or form’’, DG testified. DG eventually received a payout of $36,500 (before costs), and a written letter of apology that referred to him only in the third person, which he described as ‘‘hollow’’.

The commission is likely to hear much more about the Marist Brothers, as there have been many convictions of their members (see previous postings).

[Postscript: Prominent Sydney priest, Finian Egan, today pleaded guilty to child sexual assault and will be sentenced on Friday.]

Read more here:

Pro-Catholic Propaganda Feature: In the interests of a “fair and balanced” blog, the following photo from the Vatican PR Unit is re-posted.


TOMORROW: Week 2, day 2

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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