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June/July 1996

The Catholic Response to Clerical Corruption

MARGARET JOUGHIN

I.

BROKEN VOWS: HYPOCRISY: DENIAL

In a recently recorded interview, theologian Fr. Malachi Martin speaks openly of turmoil and treachery within the Catholic Church. Fr. Martin, eminently qualified to speak on such issues, was for many years Professor at the Vatican's Pontifical Biblical Institute. He notes the lack of discipline and changed structures following post-conciliar "Renewal" programs implemented from the 1960s in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Martin says: "In the new conciliar Church everything's allowed" and "homosexual networks" operate to protect deviant priests. Good priests and bishops are, according to him, "in the minority" and "most of them will not admit the trouble we're in."

The grim, hard truth, says Martin:

"is that faith has diminished amongst the clergy and we now have bishops, cardinals and priests who we know in their intimate lives don't believe a damn thing.

"But they are not going to quit their jobs because what are they going to do? And why should they quit membership in a gilt-edged club which assures them dignity, stature, privilege, money and lifestyle?"

Those who are dealing with the Catholic Church's victims on a daily basis at Broken Rites(1) have long since arrived at many of the same conclusions as Fr. Martin. The hypocrisy that we have encountered in clerical ranks is profoundly disturbing. And the continuing cover-up surrounding the sexual proclivities of an ever growing number of priests and religious is a constant source of scandal to us. So common now is the breaking of vows and so brazen the double-dealing that Helen Last, assistant to Melbourne Vicar-General Gerald Cudmore, informed us without the least hesitation that "the expectations of the laity with regard to celibacy are NOT the same as the expectations of the hierarchy."

It was Helen Last too, in her role as Pastoral Advocate for the Archdiocese of Melbourne, who confirmed for us that the corruption of those she works for extends to the "removal of sensitive riles" and to the widespread ecclesiastical tolerance of priests and nuns in sexual relationships.

Not all Catholics can bear to face up to the truth of their situation. And the efforts of certain clerics to destroy Broken Rites is a response to the fact that the group knows too much. Australian observers are familiar with the unconscionable attacks on us by Fr. Michael Shadbolt in his failing bid to dress up the image of the decaying clerical culture. Other priests know what's happening (with the interstate transfers and sudden overseas postings of their confreres) and pretend things are fine, or count on wily lawyers to defend corrupt members within their ranks. The attacks on Broken Rites are calculated attempts to keep the laity in the dark about the real situation. For it can be claimed with the utmost certainly that if the laity had any idea of the deception being practised on them the game would have been over long ago.

Shifting the Blame

In my capacity as a writer I have attracted a steady stream of commentary regarding my work. Some priests who would be gravely inconvenienced if the truth were to be revealed have taken to spreading the idea that "Margaret Joughin has joined the enemy" (ie. Broken Rites). It is interesting to note that this foolishness is spread by some of the same priests who have for years expressed their own grave misgivings about Archdiocesan policies, programs (eg. "Tomorrow's Church") and other initiatives (the promotion of Fr. Michael Morwood's heretical book "God is Near"). I rather suspect that these pathetic clerics, paralysed by the realisation that they in fact work for the enemy, now need to shift the focus elsewhere. Then there are a few naive souls who would rather question the credibility of Broken Rites than admit that a priest could possibly, deceive them. An some of these are parents who have complained for decades that their children lost their faith in "Catholic" schools!

A Catholic friend who supports the work of Broken Rites writes that he is in touch with a number of priests who seek to blame the group for the current distrust of clergy: "Who needs Broken Rites to destroy the priesthood?" they ask. It's the wilful blindness or mischievousness of such remarks that make one cringe at the depths to which these "men of God" have sunk. What regard can these clerics have for the legal system which has jailed the Glennons, the Ridsdales, the Rapsons, the O'Donnells, the Mulvales et.al.?(2) This criminality they can wink at so long as they silence the victims by attacking their support system.

It is cowardice, corruption and clerical self-indulgence that has destroyed the priestly culture.

A NSW priest, attempting to discredit Broken Rites, telephoned me recently accusing the group of sending out "a letter to priests soliciting funds." Remaining calm I asked him to send me a copy of the offending letter. He was, of course, suitably embarrassed by my request as no such letter exists. This priest also suggested that innocent priests suffer through the work of Broken Rites. Invited to name one declined.

In another instance a Catholic friend in NSW wrote to me in July, 1995 saying: "I recently had a phone call from a Melbourne priest distressed by unjust accusations of sexual immorality against a priest friend who is undoubtedly innocent". The implication was that Broken Rites had framed an innocent man. I asked for more details in order to determine the truth of the matter. I was assured that the Melbourne priest would contact me. Nearly a year later I am still waiting.

Melbourne priest Fr. Shadbolt is devoted to spreading the transparently false idea that Broken Rites operates on anonymous tip-offs and that the newspapers print "uncorroborated stories" from these sources. The idea of course is to generate fear that the authorities are acting on the basis of false accusations carried by Broken Rites. Shadbolt also describes Broken Rites' exposure of corruption in high places as "outing". Is there a particular reason this priest uses language most commonly used in homosexual circles, and applicable to homosexual activists?

Broken Rites' Safeguards

A number of points need to be made here. Firstly, Broken Rites is not in danger of acting on false accusations. There are any number of safeguards as any sane person will readily understand. To their credit Broken Rites demands a wealth of corroborating evidence before they will even discuss a case of abuse. If this were not so, I and other members of Broken Rites who are practising Catholics, could not have placed our confidence in them. In addition to this, Broken Rites' policies, set out in print, are sound. Their brochure (freely available) urges victims to "Go to your local Community Policing Squad" and "make a formal statement." The Catholic Church, on the other hand, has produced its "Protocol" for dealing with sexual abuse by clergy. This insidious document, drawing on legalistic as opposed to moralistic tenets, actually promotes denial by instructing offenders to admit nothing.

If Catholics were to make themselves more familiar with police procedure and our Court systems they would be far less concerned with false accusations than with false denials by predatory priests which are so common as almost to be predictable. Can we reasonably expect deviant clerics to be honest?

Honoring the Dead: Catholics Betrayed

A more serious concern of some conscientious Catholics has been the exposure of the crimes of some priests following their deaths. I will draw here on an example published in In Fidelity (December, 1995). The story related to the crimes and premature death of Fr. Daniel Hourigan of the Sale diocese. Fr. Hourigan was a prominent figure in ecclesiastical circles. I met him when he was a spiritual director at a Cursillo weekend for the Catholic laity. He was a member of a well-known family and he has been listed for years as the Editor of the Catholic Life magazine. But Broken Rites' research has revealed the sordid history of the man and a cover-up by Church authorities.

Broken Rites and the victims of sexual abuse are scandalised by the concelebrated extravaganzas which now seem to form the pattern prior to the burial of these offending priests. The crux of the issue is this. Several victims of Fr. Hourigan's crimes made police statements. The police charged Fr. Hourigan three days before his death in September. He had been ordered to appear at Korumburra Magistrates Court on 8 November. The Catholic laity were kept in ignorance believing that Fr. Hourigan went to his grave as a decent and honourable cleric. What then happens to the claims of the victims? Are they to be treated then as liars? Will their wives, children and parents disbelieve them because the Church chooses to pretend that the priest who wrecked their lives was really a good man? Who will then acknowledge their pain and need for recognition? Make no mistake, the elaborate funeral services provided for these criminals is a travesty of justice and a gross insult to their victims and their families and part of the continuing cover-up of the truth.

Some Catholics want so desperately to be told that all this isn't so, or that innocent priests are victims of the "False Memory Syndrome," or that the situation in the Church is improving, or that maybe Broken Rites has got it all wrong. It's almost as if they want to wake from a bad dream and be reassured that it was not real after all. To these people I would say "you haven't seen the half of it". To date we have only seen the merest tip of a very large iceberg. The Catholic Church is able to draw on vast resources to ensure that much remains hidden. It's an uphill battle all the way for groups like Broken Rites but they continue in confidence because they do have truth on their side.

Because Broken Rites supports victims in their fight for justice against corrupt clergy some people appear to assume that the group must be anti-Catholic. But the opposite is the case and the group are to be thanked by faithful Catholics everywhere for exposing the corruption which threatens to engulf the Church in Australia and overseas.

Broken Rites is not so much anti-Catholic as some clerics have a vested interest in proving. They are, rather, anti-hypocrisy. It's true to say, however, that the evil they have discovered in ecclesiastical circles has been a cause of great scandal to many members. The information received by the team of researchers at Broken Rites is indeed overwhelming. These people are amongst the very few who understand the depth of corruption in the Catholic Church today. But neither they nor Fr. Malachi Martin are wrong in warning Catholics that the fort is betrayed. As Fr. Martin says, the Catholic Church has been "overrun, penetrated, overcome and infiltrated." And so many of its representatives "are a disgrace."

II.

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH APOLOGISES

Yes, indeed, things have changed mightily in the Catholic Church. In the Catholic College I attended, students and staff worked under the motto Facta Non Verba, or in more familiar terms, "Deeds not Words." We had little trouble in understanding that words are cheap. Words can deceive. It's what we actually do that counts.

Now the Catholic Church, at the behest of Melbourne Vicar-General Mgr. Gerald Cudmore, appears to have ditched the dictum that we held dear. It seems no longer to matter what Church officials actually do so long as their words are soft, fine and reassuring. The latest endeavour to employ words as a smokescreen for the truth lies in a "statement" offering to victims of sexual abuse by clergy a "sincere apology."

Bureaucratic Compassion: Looking After No. 1

Prior to this latest initiative the Church prepared its 'Protocol' - pages and pages of words purporting to help the Church cope with their problems. It set up a "crisis line" for victims at the Mercy Hospital. It set up a "counselling unit" in Collins Street. It set up a "Pastoral Response Office" in Melbourne and the "Professional Standards Resource Group" to cover other dioceses. And all of these projects were launched with much fanfare, and advertised, I presume, with the laity's money.

Does all this apparent flurry of activity signify, however, that the Church is genuinely concerned to secure justice for victims? Let's look first at the Church's 'Protocol.' On p.10, 7.4, this document states: "...in all conversations with the complainant ... pending investigation and resolution of the allegation, it is standard procedure for the accused TO BE GIVEN ADMINISTRATIVE LEAVE..." Broken Rites, through their contact with complainants know that this procedure is not followed. And it appears to us that the accused cleric is only removed if media attention is likely to prove embarrassing.

Make no mistake, it is only media attention and public exposure which has forced the Church to remove offenders.

As proof of what we say we have only to cite the case of Convicted paedophile Fr. Desmond Gannon. Mgr. Cudmore received Gannon's admission of guilt following police questioning in 1992. However Gannon was left with his unsuspecting parishioners to say "Mass" and provide "Sacraments." When the law closed in on Gannon the laity were told merely that he was ill.

The Church's 'Protocol' has other serious flaws, notably its promotion of false denials by offending clerics. On p.9, 7.3, the document states, "no admissions should be made to the complainant or victim OR ANY OTHER PERSON..."

Does the "crisis line" at the Mercy Hospital provide the practical assistance needed by victims? In my experience, having interviewed one of the counsellors providing this "service," and victims seeking help from them, I have learnt that these people are simply mouthpieces for Church bureaucrats.

Is the Collins Street "counselling unit" better equipped to assist the sex abuse victim? Again, an example should suffice. A victim who contacted Broken Rites was professionally assessed as needing long term therapy ("40 to 80" counselling sessions). He received Church assistance for 10 sessions. At the time of writing he has been unable to secure further help from the Church.

Has the Pastoral Response Team the integrity to act with justice on behalf of victims? This is the Archdiocesan body headed by Pastoral Advocate Helen Last. And Last, as previously mentioned, spoke openly to us of corruption in the Catholic Church and the widespread disregard amongst clerics of the celibacy vows. No victims will receive the assistance they need until the Church attends to its own problems.

Restitution before Absolution

The Catholic Church has always preached to the laity (more words) the importance of making restitution to those we have harmed. Indeed it is a necessary condition for the penitent who seeks forgiveness. Restitution must be made wherever possible before absolution can be given. This is what the Catholic Church teaches. In the case of sex abuse by clergy, then, verbal apologies are completely inadequate when compensation, i.e. restitution for crimes, is denied. So long as the Church continues to steer victims into the legal arena where they use their superior power and vast wealth to defeat victims' claims for compensating their shattered lives, their fine words are going to be meaningless.

Catholics everywhere must be made aware too, of the extraordinarily cunning tactics used by Church authorities to evade making restitution to sex abuse victims.

A Melbourne lawyer, David Forster, has cautioned victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and religious orders to be wary of seeking assistance from the Pastoral Support Group of the Church: "These services are paid for by the Church and it is conceivable that material provided by victims may be used against them in litigation." He urges victims not to sign any agreements and to demand the right to choose an independent counsellor. In addition, he says that the apology offered to the victims by Msgr. Cudmore is "totally hypocritical". Church officials pretend to be concerned for victims and yet they use the following tactics:

  1. Keep lay Catholics ignorant of the extent of sexual abuse.
  2. Keep responsibility away from the Archbishop and relevant Bishops.
  3. Confine the payments of compensation to the minimum.
  4. Allow suspected offenders to remain in parishes.
  5. Pay for expensive legal Counsel to defend perpetrators in court.
  6. Employ every legal tactic to avoid responsibility.

Mr. Forster says the Church, on the one hand, purports to be compassionate, and on the other, uses legal tactics to deny victims justice. He believes that "the Church leadership is so implicated in the controversy surrounding sexual abuse by the clergy, they are acting illogically" and considers that if the Church were to mediate all civil claims, only then could Catholics look to the Church for moral leadership.

In the case of motor vehicle accidents and just about any other liability one could name, the Church covers her ministers. When it comes to sex abuse compensation and maintenance of the offspring of clergy, however, the Church claims "the priest is responsible." Then if the priest can be found (i.e. if he hasn't been sent interstate or overseas to escape his responsibilities) he simply cites his "vow of poverty." And the victim, of course, goes begging. If the Catholic hierarchy wants to be believed they must learn to put their money where their mouth is.

Furthermore, if this latest "apology" had a shred of sincerity about it, the Catholic hierarchy would apologise and make amends not just to the sex abuse victims, but to the Catholic laity like those parishioners of Fr. Gannon who have not only been deceived but treated finally with the utmost contempt. This latest statement, I believe, is designed to deflect from the real problem which is the continuing cover-up by the Church. And in closing we are entitled to ask: "Would there be any apology if the Church was not now forced to face the glare of publicity?

Mrs Joughin, B.Phil (Hons), is a housewife and mother who resides in Melbourne. She has commentated on Church affairs for many years and is a periodic contributor to Christian Order. In May 1996 she resigned from Broken Rites when, despite its good work, some members began challenging the beliefs of the Church rather than simply focusing on Church corruption and helping victims.

FOOTNOTES:

(1) This is a slightly edited, enlarged version of two articles that appeared in the March 1996 edition of In Fidelity, the quarterly newsletter of Broken Rites, an independent Melbourne-based group which exists chiefly to provide support for victims of abuse by Church leaders.

(2) A small selection of the Australian priests already sentenced - mostly for sexually molesting boys - to prison terms of up to 18 years.

 


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